Junior high school was a special hell for me, a daily torture made especially terrible by one particular boy I’ll call “T.”
He delighted in standing behind me and pointing out to everyone in the band room that, though I was in eighth grade, I didn’t shave my legs or wear nylons. (My mom had five kids, worked full-time, and had an alcoholic husband. My beauty regime -- or lack of it -- was the least of her worries.)
Anyway, those days were spent with my nose in a book. As I devoured Gone with the Wind, every page convinced me that if Scarlett could survive the burning of Atlanta, I could attend another horrible day at Lance Junior High in Kenosha, Wis.
Dealing with T was bad, but I’ll never forget that bus incident involving “Miss M.” Since my dad was already at the factory and my mom was at work, I rode the bus home to babysit my four younger siblings. On this particular day, my heart literally sank to the floor when I saw the only seat was in the back with the “bad” kids. When I reached the seat next to Miss M, she spread out, indicating that the seat wasn’t available for me. I was stuck, because the bus driver was giving me the evil eye. My knees gave way as I scrunched my body into the littlest slice of seat I could manage. That’s when my seatmate began shoving me off the seat hoping to dump me onto the dirty bus floor.
I just couldn’t take it. All I wanted was a seat on the bus. I shoved back until another seat opened up. I dropped into the seat behind the bus driver. Opening my latest book, I never saw Miss M coming down the aisle. Before exiting the bus she reached over and slammed my head against the bus window. As I nursed my new goose egg, I just couldn’t understand why people hated me so much.
The bus driver was strangely silent. I was sitting directly behind him, so he must have seen it. But my shame kept me silent. I never told my parents, siblings or neighborhood friends. And, it never occurred to me that I had the right to report Miss M. I thought it was all about me, like I had a pheromone that attracted other kid’s hatred.
Today, when I read the news reports about young people being relentlessly bullied and then committing suicide, it rips my heart out. Marlo Thomas wrote a Huffington Post article entitled Free to Be... Not Anymore. “Just how many dead teenagers, driven to end their own lives, is it going to take for adults to stand up and say, ‘What the hell is going on?”
What is going on, according to Stomp Out Bullying, a national Anti-Bullying program sponsored by Love Our Children USA, is devastating:
- 1 out of 4 teens are bullied.
- 9 out of 10 lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender (LGBT) students experienced harassment at school and online.
- As many as 160,000 students stay home because they're afraid of being bullied.
- 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month.
A new form of bullying is on the rise because of new technologies such as Facebook and smart phones. Stomp Out Bullying researched cyber-bullying and reported that:
- 97 percent of middle schoolers are bullied while online.
- 58 percent of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online.
- 58 percent have not told their parents or an adult.
What is causing this strange silence? If we truly want to stop this epidemic in American schools, it needs to be made the FIRST conversation we have with our kids when they come home from school. And the second conversation is with the teachers, other parents and our community leaders. Then let’s have a fierce conversation with our school administrators to find out what policies they’ve put in place to stop bullying in the school, because it IS happening in my child’s school. I’m thrilled about my school being named a Drug-Free Zone, but it’s just as important to make it a Bully-Free Zone for my sons as they navigate their school years.
BULLYING HAS GOT TO STOP TODAY. It will only happen when we wise up.
- First acknowledge the problem of bullying in our homes, schools and communities.
- And, second, educate yourself.
I for one, vote we make school the safest place for children. Especially for the shy, bookish ones.
If you’re a parent, or someone who works with young people, EDUCATE yourself. The following websites have great tips on how to bully-proof your child or how to stop a bully: