If you blame the times we live in, such as social media, the Internet and reality television, on why there’s a lot of bullying today, you’re missing a whole bunch.
We know bullying has been around for decades. We hear about it more now, sure. There’s new ways of bullying, this is certain. Or I should say, new ways of targeting a victim. But it has been around since original sin, I’m guessing. At least since Ralph from A Christmas Story, Nellie from Little House on the Prairie, or more poignant tales, like Judy Blume’s Blubber. Most recently famous, the movie Mean Girls had a burn book- a tome of hate-filled vengeance. No internet or social media there. Just old fashioned nastiness.
I just don’t want parents to turn a blind eye and think that because they shelter their children from outside aspects and influences, their children will not fall prey nor be perpetrators of bullying behavior.
Let me tell you a story about someone I know.
There was a little girl with special needs. She was developmentally delayed since infancy. Her life was a struggle of therapists, doctor appointments and medical mysteries. Milestones didn’t come easily for her like other kids. She didn’t learn to walk until she was well past the age of 2. She wouldn’t speak until the age of 5.
When it was time for junior high, she went off to school like all the other girls her age. But something about her was different. Special Ed kids they called them, or kids that rode the short bus, were easy to pick out. They had Down’s Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy or some other disability ‘more obvious’. Not this girl. This girl looked mostly ‘normal’ on the outside, but was developmentally delayed on the inside. It was hard to place her. Administrators would integrate her with mainstream kids as well as offer her special education.
Socially she was awkward. She seemed immature for her 13 years now that she was in junior high. But her parents did what parents do. You send your kids to school and you want them to get an education, to acclimate to their peers, to socialize.
Well, sadly, this girl was the target of many other girls, and probably boys too. Mean girls. Such an easy victim to taunt, make fun of, point and laugh at. She didn’t know how to speak up for herself. She probably had her pants pulled up too high, or her shirt untucked, or her sweater askew, things that weren’t ‘cool’ to the other kids. She had terrible teeth. Gray from medications given to her as a baby. The awkward teen years were accentuated by braces and glasses. She seemed to walk somewhat duck like. Her legs never getting the gait and stride my parents hoped for her.
Maybe she said the wrong things in certain situations. Maybe she picked her nose in front of the other kids or chewed her finger nails.
She wasn’t fashionable, or good with hair and makeup. She tried, but it was especially hard. School was hard. Just understanding the material was difficult sometimes. But navigating through puberty and the hazing of her classmates was devastatingly hard.
There were no cell phones. There was no Internet. No Instagram or SnapChat. But there were their laughs and snide remarks. Their late night prank phone calls. Their locker room taunts. Notes written on paper. Pranks behind her back. Like the obscene word written in permanent marker on the back of a brand new winter coat. I think that was devastating to those parents and their hard earned money as it was for the victim, blindly walking around school like that.
Who is this girl? This girl is my sister. Leslie. Today, she is a 49 year old developmentally delayed adult living with my parents. She needs care and an appointed guardian. She can’t live on her own, drive a car, or have a family of her own.
The time I was speaking of her childhood was in the 1970s. I was too young to know what was going on. I’m 8 years younger.
But I knew there were struggles. I knew when my mom was furious communicating with administrators. I knew when she intercepted rude and cruel phone calls. I didn’t understand the pain.
There was no Anti-Bullying Awareness in schools. Sometimes the excuse, “kids will be kids”, was used.
My point is this- If you think bullying is a problem in this day and age because of all the technological tools that are out there, and that if you keep your kids from cell phones or reality television that they are less of either becoming a victim, or becoming a bully themselves; you are sadly mistaken.
Bullying is a problem today because of shitty human nature.
Yeah. I can’t explain it like a psychologist could. But that’s really what it comes down to.
Kids can be mean. Grown ups can be mean.
My suggestion- Watch what you say about other people around your children.
If you are critical or degrading about strangers or celebrities and your children hear you, they could model that talk for themselves.
Using deprecating words like wuss, slut, lazy, slob in your home vocabulary can also rub off. Don’t make things like hairstyles, weight or clothing a focus of judgement when you’re around your kids. Do you get mad at other drivers while driving with your kids in the car? Do you yell at players of sports teams when they lose the game? Or maybe you’re the opposite. Everything is sweet and kind but you’ve stuck your head in the sand when it comes to recognizing what kind of kid your kid actually is.
Be nice. Kids might learn to be assholes if you’re an asshole. Usually bullies are bullied somewhere else in their lives. I’m not saying that the parents of the kids that bullied my sister were total assholes. Who knows? I bet the majority of those young people have grown up with children of their own, and have done a decent job raising them. I wish I knew.
I would love to show them that while they are off living their lives of independence, the weak and helpless teen that they thought was fun to make fun of; uses a cane and leg braces, has limited hearing and mobility. Still relies on her parents to get her places. Has had two brain surgeries. Is that funny to you now? I didn’t think so.
Pay attention to your children and their relationships. The dynamics that they engage in around their peers. Monitor their phones and computers- absolutely. But spend time with them around other kids. Observe and don’t assume.
Kids do stupid stuff. Help them to be empathetic, compassionate people. With or without technology.
October is Bullying Awareness Month. I wanted to tell Leslie’s story. I think all the stories need to be told.
Mother Theresa says the most important thing we can do as a person is to be kind. Yes, yes it is.