"The common mistake that bullies make is assuming that because someone is nice that he or she is weak. Those traits have nothing to do with each other. In fact, it takes considerable strength and character to be a good person." - Mary Elizabeth Williams
It's hard to miss all of the pictures of children everywhere going back to school. These photos are shared like crazy on Facebook during the first few weeks of school as kids head back to the classroom one year older, and some parents see their youngsters head off for the first time to school. For my friends who are parents, it's touching for me to see how much their children have grown and how proud my friends are to be sending them off into the world.
However, this time of year is not always a happy time for children who may face a bully in their classroom. Bullying is a real problem in our country, and as a grown woman, I can tell you -- in extremely vivid detail -- about the experiences of being bullied I had as a child. I was too short. I was too dark. I was too fat. I was simply not cool, cute or anyone to be bothered with.
I was not alone, either. For a little girl, in particular, the experience of being bullied is enough to want to make her hide in the bathroom, stay inside at recess or leave her school altogether. (In fact, this happened several times in the grade school I attended.) There is always at least one ringleader, the mean girl, whose sole purpose is to torment other girls in her class.
It has bothered me for many years that while I have certainly moved on and made doubly sure to excel at everything, despite some less-than-happy experiences as a young girl, that I never was able to get the apology I wanted from one girl in particular (now woman, I suppose) who tormented me and many of my classmates. This girl-now-woman I went to school with as a child is now a mother, as are many of the other women who I knew as a child. I thought to myself, How do former bullies talk to their children about bullying? It must be a fascinating conversation. And I often wondered if the mean girl thought about the considerable ramifications that her actions and words had on our fragile psyches.
So, I decided to tell her.
I sent her a message via Facebook. I sent her a message so my voice could say something back after so many years of keeping quiet like the nice girl I was. I sent her this message on behalf of my former classmates who have not had the chance to tell her how her bullying impacted them. I simply got tired of keeping quiet.
I am not sure if you remember me or not, but I wanted to reach out to you. I struggled for a while as to whether or not I should write you a message, but at the end of the day yesterday, I was fairly convinced that it was worth it. I'm a member of a volunteer organization in Wilmington, DE. Last night, as a group, we discussed bullying prevention efforts in Delaware. There are many mothers in this organization, and they want their kids to know how to stop bullying when they see it occurring in schools. The long-term effects on kids who are bullied are numerous and long-lasting. It may seem like grade school was a very, very long time ago, but scars from bullying are rarely forgotten.
I remember you in our classes at -----------. It was very difficult to be a classmate of yours. You may or may not remember that there were some girls in our class who were just not as cool as you, as popular with the boys, as thin or as well-dressed on the few days when we weren't stuck in our uniforms.
I was not the only receiver of teases, exclusions or unthoughtful comments. I was not the only one who went home in tears on many days of the week. t is hard, when you are so young, to think about what might be going on at home for the kids you teased or made fun of or excluded.
But, the truth of the matter is that many of us other girls were struggling with much more than just teasing at school. And, for all I know, you might have been fighting a battle I did not see. I will not go into the personal battles I have had to fight or the craziness of my own family life when I was younger. That is not the point of this message. My point is that we all remember how we felt when we were shunned, teased, made fun of, etc., and it will probably not ever be forgotten.
Please teach your children to be kind, even when it is hard. Teach them to stand up to those who bully others who do not look like or speak like them. Teach them that everyone has value and worth and that belittling others actually does have long-standing consequences for both the child who is bullied and that child who bullies.
I hope you are well and are enjoying your family.
Something odd happened after I sent this message. I didn't actually care whether or not she replied, or even if she offered an apology. I could see the date and time that the message was read. Radio silence followed. And it's been silent ever since. The silence was a gift -- I now know what I will teach my children someday if they ever face a bully -- Use your voice. Be kind, but don't keep quiet. You may not get an apology, but that's not the point. Standing up for yourself with dignity and kindness is the point.
And, having the last word is surprisingly satisfying.