This is actually an extremely difficult entry for me to write, but, to me, it is an extremely timely post. That’s not to say that I want to jump on the overdone bullying bandwagon. I guess it’s best to begin at the beginning.
Hi, my name is Muffin’s Mama, and I was a victim of bullying. The first time I remember being bullied was in fourth grade, and I came home crying every day begging my mom to let me change schools (back to my old school where she taught). Eventually, she did, and my fifth and sixth grade years were spent in relative harmony. Then, in junior high, I was going to be in the same situation again–a school with those same students who made my life miserable in fourth grade. I really liked seventh grade; I think that was around the time that I learned to escape through both writing and reading. I wrote angst-driven poetry and stories in which the bullies were defeated (without bloodshed, or at least much bloodshed) by the bullied. I had a few friends in seventh grade, but I was by no means popular. At the end of seventh grade, the school district redrew the school residency lines, and my friends were transferred to another school. This was the era before the Internet and cell phones.
Eighth grade was pretty much a return to fourth grade. I became very introverted and wrote and read more than ever. I decided if I could become invisible, the bullies would leave me alone. For the most part, it worked, but some of the boys in my class decided to be cruel. I learned the lesson of most bully victims–if you speak up–or worse, tell your parents and they let the school administration know so that the administration has to do something, you become no longer invisible. And if, worst of all, the boys that were bullying you are popular, you become marked. Even now, years later, I see mention of some of those boys (local businesses, etc.), and I can’t have anything to do with them. I became known as THE ONE WHO TOLD. Instead of begging to go to middle school at the feeder school for the elementary school where my mom taught (which was not a possibility at that point), I began begging (in earnest) to be homeschooled. This is years before homeschooling became a workable option for most people. I just wanted out–and away–from being afraid to walk the halls.
High school I faded into obscurity again–gratefully. I took to spending time in the library at lunch, writing and reading, with the other people who were just enough “off” to not fit into the ideal that my high school society (that the popular students) demanded. A few notable moments of being bullied–mostly freshman and sophomore year–stick out, but, by my junior year, I had perfected my invisibility act. Or I had just grown up and stopped being a victim.
Often, people say that bully victims today should just deal with it. The prevailing logic behind that is “As a bully victim, I dealt with it and got over it.” I remember the rite of passage of learning to deal with it and wouldn’t recommend that torture on anyone. (And only once in fourth grade was the bullying physical for me. I was always only bullied by those in my own grade level–and never by “older” kids in my grade because they were usually the misfits, like me)
The solution to the problem is never that simple.
Personally, from being bullied, I learned self-reliance and how to be comfortable just being by myself. I learned to HATE injustice and to always root for the underdog (because someone needs to). I developed a “tough skin” that has served me well in my profession.
But I know this: bullies today have even more of an unfair advantage. In a world saturated with text messages sent via cell phone, Facebook (known in my class as “the-other-F-word”), Twitter, and other social media, a victim really cannot escape his or her tormentors. Yes, they can get off Facebook and Twitter, but, in my experience, someone at school will be just dying to tell the victim (as a “friend,” of course) that someone was talking about them on Facebook. And that doesn’t really keep someone from texting you.
Several states (including my own) have enacted legislation to protect the victims, with very specific guidelines and steps teachers and administrators (and even police!) are to follow. Yes, bullying is a violation of state law punishable by criminal prosecution if the bully is found guilty. As a former victim myself, I applaud the proactive measures to protect today’s youth.
But what if…? (Have you started to ask yourself that question yet?) But what if the victim doesn’t talk? It falls on the teacher and the administrator to notice the signs of being a victim (frequent absenteeism, a drop in grade point average, withdrawn behavior, walking with head down everywhere) and to be aware! Let’s say that you make a report as a teacher or an administrator. There is no provision in the law for the victim that is too afraid to stand up. And, sad to say, that happens. Frequently. What if the victim does speak to a counselor or a parent about it but then won’t speak to the administration or the police? The case against the bully cannot stand.
Another problem is that rarely does bullying involve only the bully and the victim. There are the “innocent” bystanders. The friends of the boy who saw a weakness in me in 8th grade and pounced on that weakness, using it against me? They laughed. They thought he was funny. By bullying me, he provided them with entertainment. And once he got in trouble, they made sure that I knew that I shouldn’t have ever spoken out. I never spoke out again when someone bullied me, just made sure that I was easily forgettable. If you are forgettable and invisible, you rarely get bullied, remember?
There are those “innocent” bystanders that don’t want to get involved because they don’t want to be a “snitch.” I had to explain to Muffin this week the difference between being a “snitch” and being a “hero.” Hint: a snitch or a tattletale does so to get someone in trouble. A hero does so to save and/or protect someone.
I’m a big believer in blaming the “innocent” bystanders, can you tell?
Ultimately, bullying is truly a paradox. Yes, it’s a problem. Yes, states have enacted legislation to prevent it. But it’s still going on. And I, the person who likes to have all the answers, just really don’t know the answer to this problem. But as a mother, and an aunt, I know it has to be solved–like, decades ago. In eighteen months, my son will enter kindergarten. Public school. Like his father, he’s going to be bigger (taller and broader) than others his age. I doubt he will be bullied, but how can I know for sure? I am scared for my son.
Maybe, if we all are proactive enough about it, either 1) the bullies will realize that, like the old song, “we aren’t gonna take it anymore” or 2) the victims will eventually be allowed to have a voice without recriminations, reprisals, or fear of peer punishment from the “innocent” bystanders. All I know is, “Life isn’t fair, and they should just learn to deal with it” is not, nor should it ever have been or be, an excuse. And it definitely isn’t a reason.
Tomorrow will be a brighter, shinier, happier, and funnier day as I implement Funny Muffin Friday. I promise. Take care, and don’t forget to root for the underdog.