The other night I watched Dr. Drew converse with Jenny McCarthy about bullying. It brought painful memories to the fore; ones I could use today in positive ways to help my own children if need be.
I was bullied in sixth grade, and then again, in ninth. Sixth was the worst. At least twenty members of the same clique ganged up on me and left me friendless. I don’t recall how it all began. Certainly I engaged in some genre of pettiness. And like a burning fire, one by one, each one of my “friends” was consumed by the flame of hate and turned on me. And overnight, I found myself alone. It sucked.
Immediately after came the barrage of heckling, teasing and name-calling. Whether it was for my apparent early-onset of puberty, gangly limbs, or hairy arms, these verbal attacks undermined my self-confidence and stung more than any physical attack ever could. I went from being a straight-A student to barely passing within the same semester. My parents were sick with worry.
One evening we drove to the private residence of the county school board superintendent, a long-time acquaintance of my folks, and tried to convince him to authorize a change of school to another zone. He said no. With a heavy heart, the very next day, I marched back into the battlefield and learned strategy.
There were other groups of kids, plenty indeed from which to choose; there were the brainy ones, the artistic ones, the athletic ones and the simply-nice bunch. Immediately, I sought out the nice ones and made an effort to learn more about their interests, hobbies and lives. They became my friends, and the ones I kept all throughout high school, despite many of the former friends’ efforts to reconcile. As time passed, I didn’t hold resentments against my old crew; I simply practiced and valued loyalty and friendship on a deeper level.
In retrospect, I believe those early encounters with rejection and humiliation helped me transform into the strong woman I am today. It took everything I had not to crumble from fear, flunk out of school and be devoured by self-hate. I was lucky I made it through.
But not all kids are alike. As we’ve seen plastered all over the media, more sensitive and insecure children react differently. Without proper guidance from concerned grown-ups, many do fall apart and take matters into their own hands. The really desperate and lost ones see no way out and commit the unthinkable.
As parents and educators, we must forge alliances to put a stop to this childhood practice that also spans throughout the college fraternity-world, affectionately called “hazing.” While at school, kids and young adults have the right to learn and socialize and not be distracted by unwarranted aggression. When not in school, the caring adults in their lives need to pay attention to the details of what’s going on with these evolving young people. We adults ought to nurture such relationships at all times, so in the unfortunate event that these kids’ lives do start to spiral out of control, they'll know where to turn.
And they also have a responsibility, a responsibility to ask for help by speaking up and confiding in a trusted adult.
Because to survive in today’s hostile real and virtual world, kids must grow some hard skin, and learn when it’s time to terminate toxic relationships before it’s too late.
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