When I was 12 I was the victim of tween bullying. It happened over the course of an entire school year and reached a rather frightening climax. I’ve managed to forget most of what happened, and the well of anxiety that came with going to school each day. But there are a handful of vivid memories that remind me how hard it was. I can still recall the fear and panic I felt. The actions of one immature and misguided girl marked me forever. To this day, more than 20 years later, I struggle with issues of self-confidence because of it.
I was in grade 7. She was in grade 8. She was popular and from a privileged family. I didn’t have a very good opinion of myself, but I projected an air of confidence. I remember how that made me easy prey. She had a circle of friends to fortify her torment. I was afraid to greet her and her posse in the stairwell. The words and her jeering cut to the quick.
I attended the grade 8 graduation dance. It was tradition that the grade 7 students be invited. I always enjoyed dancing and celebrating with my friends, so of course I attended. We donned our party dresses and kicked it up laughing and twirling to party tunes on the gymnasium floor. As the evening wore one, the crowd seemed to balloon. I remember there were kids coming in who shouldn’t have been there, kids from other schools. There was a rather large group congregating around this girl at one point. They seemed to be egging her on.
I was sitting taking a break on a bench at the side of the gym when she decided to approach. It was dark and she had dozens of friends following her. I remember feeling a sense of doom and fear that I could almost taste. The words that were said were cruel and instigating. I tried to retort with indifference, to deflate her boldness and not show my fear. But she was fueled by the crowd’s energy. It escalated to pushing and shoving and I started shaking. And crying. I was overcome with despair and embarrassment. I remember wondering vaguely where the teachers were, why they hadn’t come to help. Eventually they came, our parents were phoned and I was left feeling somehow like it had been my fault.
As an adult, I’ve gained the perspective to know what she was really about, how terribly insecure she must have been and how keen her need to impress her friends. I now know that it really had little to do with me, and was all about her. Nonetheless her actions changed me.
So you can imagine my worry when my 4-year-old came home from school recently and told us that a boy in his class had kicked and hit him. It cut like a knife. I tried not to panic and decided to give it a day, to see if it continued, if perhaps it was just boys play out of hand. The next day he said it had happened again, and in the morning he declared he had a sore tummy and didn’t want to go to school. And I knew, I just knew.
I called the school and spoke to the principal. He assured me he would follow up immediately. Within an hour he called me back. You won’t believe this, he said, I went to the classroom to speak to the teacher and she said how interesting. The little boy was being punished at that moment for having had his hands on my son.
In some ways, that was the best thing that could have happened. It confirmed there was a problem to everyone immediately. The school took charge,and after a couple of additional minor incidents and a few phone calls back and forth, my son has settled happily back into his routine. It was just a blip, and yet how I know how important a blip it was.
Through his experience, and because of my own, I know that I have to equip my son with the confidence he needs to cope with these kind of challenges. I won’t always be there and I want him to feel secure. Always. His confidence will come from trusting adults to handle the situation swiftly and fairly. It will come from his own ability to stand up for himself and feel comfortable saying no when a situation is hurtful or unfair. He has to learn that no one has the right to hurt him ever. Important lessons, big lessons for a 4-year-old.
It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where people gain power from being mean to others. Where children as young as 4 and 5 already know fear and how to hurt. I hope for different. I think we can change this one family at a time. I wrote this post to raise awareness. As mothers, as parents, we have an obligation to teach our children how to treat others, and to give them the skills they need to be able to cope in a competitive world. A flawed world. A world where real life isn’t always easy, but where we can make a difference.Image: ‘bullyingDM2810_468x720‘ via a Creative Commons license.