No, it’s not worth attempting — though I’d tweak that. It’s not appropriate to attempt. What could you say to make him whole? That you mistreated him because he looked different? Surely he knows that. That you grew up enough to feel bad about it now? I can’t imagine he’d care about that accomplishment.
My Puritanism is showing, but isn’t feeling bad about this a fitting punishment for the deed?
If you and he were face-to-face, I might answer differently. The chemistry of the moment is your best guide to whether an apology would heal or insult.
And had you been cruel to a friend, that would definitely change the answer, because a prior relationship introduces the possibility of misplaced blame: Your friend could still theoretically believe he or she did something to upset you. In that case, your reaching back into the past to amend the record, to place all of the blame on your own shoulders, could (not would — there’s no certainty here) heal both you and your victim. There’s still some risk your old friend wouldn’t care about a 25-year-old middle school grievance, but you clearly still do, so there’s that.
There’s also this: You can make amends in different ways.
The first is to stop rationalizing. Yes, you’re admitting fault, but in the very same thought you’re making excuses — no active teasing, I was insecure, “led me to be,” blah blah. Come on. If you’re going to own it, then own it: You had in you, and no doubt still have, the capacity for such cruelty. It’s not that you were weak, it’s that you stomped on someone weaker.
You’re not alone, of course. It’s all of us. We all have this inside.
Now you’re mature enough not to ostracize people. Well, maybe — subtle middle-school carryovers among adults pretty much keep me employed — but you insult this person all over again if you treat yours as the isolated mistake of a bygone self.
Instead, honor him by knowing your humanity, knowing this dark and selfish aspect of you, acknowledging it’s always going to be there — and never forgetting that our right to walk among decent people depends on our ongoing mastery over these impulses.
You mention a family — children? If so, then also serve this boy well through your teaching. Ask your kids what they see in school and around the neighborhood. Ask how they feel about these things. If there are kids like this boy — targets — talk about how they might feel. Ask your kids how they handle these situations. Talk, in age-appropriate ways, about the human impulse toward elevating ourselves on the backs of those we perceive as weak. Share with them that your unkindness a quarter century ago nags at you still.
Kids will be cruel, yes — but that’s no excuse for not asking better of them.
You’re family until you’re not: The saga of the serious squeeze.
I highly doubt they’re feeling weird, but I’m also a sucker for no-strings-attached good will, so it’s a wash. Trust your gut.
Except: If you mistreated your ex, or have an agenda? Stay in the sunset you rode off into.