By Jill Richardson
Bullying’s been in the news a bit lately, in part because of the Parkland shooting.
In response, some people suggested that school children themselves should befriend kids who get bullied to prevent school shootings. Others say this is victim-blaming.
I’m not thinking about it too much as a national issue, however. It came up in my life in a more personal way. I suffer from the lasting impacts of childhood trauma, mostly anxiety and migraines.
This past week, I realized that the school bullying I’d experienced must have made a far deeper impact on me than I’d thought. It happened between about first and third grade, and again in junior high. I’ve spent most of my life trying to just bury those memories and not think about them.
Deep down, bullying made me feel like there’s something wrong with me, and if I got too close to another person, they’d discover it and reject me. It’s made me feel mistrustful, and powerless.
My parents comforted me — and sometimes scolded me for being an easy target — but they rarely took action to stop the bullying. Finally, in eighth grade, they asked the school to keep a particularly nasty boy out of my class.
The bullying went on under several adults’ noses: my teachers, soccer coaches, and Girl Scout leaders. The adults didn’t intervene.
Some of this took place in relatively unsupervised spaces, like when we walked to school or played outside. But so much of the bullying happened in the classroom.
Why didn’t the teachers ever do something? I hold the adults who watched and did nothing far more responsible than the seven and eight year olds who perpetrated it.
This week, I decided to change my own narrative. I reached out to people I was friends with as a child. Most aren’t my close friends as adults, but they grew up to be good people. I asked them, what do they remember?
Back then, I felt like everyone in our grade heard what the bullies said about me and they believed it. I thought as soon as anyone heard the awful truth about me, they wouldn’t be my friends. Like a cancer metastasizing through the school and resulting in an inevitable social death for me.
Instead, the people I went to school with told me that they got bullied too. I had no idea.
They have no memory of people picking on me. They remember getting picked on themselves. Each of us was in our own private hell, entirely oblivious that everyone else was in their own private hell.
One person told me she felt like a huge dork, and she thought I was cool and wanted to be my friend.
Oh. Really? Because I definitely thought it was the other way around, and she was the cool one.
Talking about painful elementary school experiences with old friends has been eye-opening and healing. I thought I was the freak, the reject, but it turns out I was just one kid among many, all getting picked on.
Where were the adults? Why weren’t the teachers intervening? So much less bullying would have happened if only our teachers didn’t stand for it.
Why didn’t our parents contact the school? Or call the parents of the kids who did the bullying? It seems everyone just took it for granted that little kids were going to pick on one another, and they let us get on with it.
Kids are going to be kids. That’s why they’re under adult supervision. It’s the adults’ jobs to stop bullying.
Jill Richardson is the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.” She is a columnist for OtherWords.org.
Bullies prepare us for the real world, without them none of us would be ready for what lies ahead. We would have no idea how to stand up to them as adults if we don’t figure it out as kids. Parents just need to teach children their self worth and to stand up to bullies. I was bullied heavily as a child, in turn I bullied smaller weaker kids around me. It’s a perpetual cycle and human nature, you can’t stop bullying but you can teach kids to stand up against it.
joseph Pulitzer says
Like chickens in the pecking order, huh Dave. Two wrongs make a right I guess.
I am not proud of the bullying I did, it makes me sad and I still want to find Robert Burrell and tell him I’m sorry ,but bullies create bullies and in time you either do the right thing or you don’t. You can’t change the nature of humanity without teaching the children what’s right, parents can not stop bullying, it has to start with the culture and teaching the children. There will always be bad parents. But if the kids from those parents have positive kids to learn from they can have a chance, Parents teach your kids what’s right and let the world shine on!
It’s up to everyone to stop bullying.
I was bullied in school because of my excess weight back in the 50’s but never turned that same aggression onto other more subversive kids due to the excellent supervision by my parents, teachers, and scout masters. Society has changed dramatically over the last 70 years. Parents, teachers and scout leaders are no longer allowed to do their jobs in fear of being arrested and sent to prison. SAD
Ok…Dave? i can’t even put into words how ridiculous your first comment was. Let me ask you something, do you ever hear about kids shooting up schools, and taking there own life just for the hell of it? NO! ..They do it because there are a bunch of clueless wanna be kids out here that think they can say and do whatever they want to other kids, and either there parents are so unaware of whats going on and don’t care enough to pay attention or they just let there kids do whatever they please. The fact that adults can raise there kids like this just blows my mind, but im not saying that the adults that witness kids getting bullied and don’t say anything are any better in fact there the same. Getting bullied doesn’t prepare you for the future, it makes you doubt yourself worth, lower your confidence, and you carry that for the rest of your life.
Trailer Bob says
I too was bullied in school when I was young. I had bad acne, was shy, stuttered, had major problems at home via alcoholism and mental illness that affected my parents. But apparently lots of kids get bullied when young. The vast majority of us pull through it and go on to build a decent life. I went on to live a life of drugs, alcohol and crime until I was about 17 and joined the military. And of course, even in the military..the drill instructors in boot camp bully you. I found that the best way to deal with bullies is to have friends to back you up. Even if those friends are messed up people…you are not walking around alone…you have backup. Today I am successful, confident, and better off than any of those who bullied me. I didn’t realize it in my younger days, but those days pass and who you really are comes out with maturity. No one bullies me now.lol. My point? I don’t really know. Maybe it is that you are not alone by far, and you have to fight back even if you get your ass whipped. Also, a good number of those bullies are now good friends of mine. Bullying doesn’t last forever and you cannot count of your parents to understand it or to fight along with you. So I guess my comment isn’t actually meant to inform any of you adults reading this, but rather to be read by kids who feel alone and are full of shame. A little advice to parents…give you kid boxing or karate lessons. I builds strong character, keep them in shape, and then they can practice on the dooshbags that like to bully. Hang in there.
Little Town Big Problems says
You know, I was bullied, from 6th grade to 9th grade. Teased about everything from my ethnicity to my weight to being one of the “mountain kids” to my family name. Everything. One day, I had enough. I unscrewed the chair legs on one of the obese football players that liked to tease me and his chair broke with him landing hard on the floor. I said, “now whose fat, jerk,” and walked away while he sat on the floor red faced near tears because of the class laughing at him. Later on that day, some of the girls that teased me went at me again in the locker room after swimming. I punched one of them in the mouth and she fell into her open locker. I pushed her inside and closed the door until she begged me crying and screaming to let her out and that she was sorry for all the things she said and did to me over the years. That day ended years of bullying. What I did wasn’t right but no one did anything to help me either, no teachers, no administrative staff, no one. I had to help myself and show them I was done taking their crap. I served the afternoon in detention with both of them but it was well worth it and no cops or lawyers were involved either. We all actually became friends after that day. End of story.
Brian Smith says
Best advice i got was on the playground, a kid was picking on me and I told the teacher and she told me “why are you telling me, Take care of the problem yourself, I can’t be everywhere to protect you” Bottom line no one is going to fight your battles. Its part of growing up to stand your ground, its part of self reliance. It’s a tough lesson but necessary later in life if you want to succeed.