I remember the feeling. I would stand, my back up against the fence, my legs weak. I'd stand there and wonder which way I would run this time and if they'd chase me, or if I'd get away with just having rocks thrown at me. I'd watch them close in, chanting their stupid name they made up about my nose, which was upturned "like a pig's". And I'd wonder when this hell would be over. When it would be my turn to watch them squirm? But more than that, when would I just be accepted like they all seemed to be? Why did I have to be the one everyone made fun of?
It's not a new feeling. Kids all over the world feel this way. No matter how many times we're told, "Kids just tease," or "Kids are just mean," or "Suck it up, because it gets better," when you're in it, it doesn't feel like it ever does get better. Yes, the teasing may eventually fade. You might move away, like another girl I know did, to another school. It might follow you there, like it followed her. You might have something about you that just tells the other children you're a target. You might be too shy, or too different; read strange books or listen to odd music. You might be gay, or trans, or just not like the rest of the kids. And so it doesn't matter -- it doesn't matter how long you wait. You don't care if it might get better someday. When will it get better now?
Living in that hell is horrible. Some teachers often refuse to do anything about it, bound by school rules or just the hardened point of view of "I've seen this before; I have enough problems." Some principals, like mine at the time, may not care because there are just too many kids like me -- kids that are teased in every grade. Kids that are stolen from, that are pushed in the mud. They can't protect them all, so they stop trying. Or maybe they do try to do something, but they're met with resistance from the bullies' parents. Or they're met with resistance from the school board, urging them not to get involved. It's a catch-22, often, for everyone involved. There seems to be no way to stop bullying, and it's the children that suffer.
And there are messages of hope from the grown-up bullied: it gets better. But how does it get better? And how do you stand it when you're constantly tormented?
I was bullied from age 11 to age 16. Every time I walked by the group of bullies that plagued me from grade 6 through to grade 11, I cringed, wondering if today would be the day they'd finally decide to beat me up. And what helped me get through it was knowing that in my heart, I was a stronger person than any one of them. That, and a lot of support - from the few friends I had, from the family that worked so hard to protect me, even offering me a chance to transfer to another school to get away from it. And I stopped cowering away from them and just walked past them, my head held high. It worked out for me. They left me alone.
But it doesn't work out for everyone. There are kids killing themselves because they can't stand one more day of being beaten up. There are kids that turn to drugs and alcohol, to behaviour that is destructive. How do we tell these kids that it gets better when it might not ever? Adults get bullied. I have been called names and taunted. I've had my character maligned, things I've said thrown in my face, stories I've told used against me, both in the workplace and online.
So does it get better? In my opinion, it does. It does because you get stronger. You develop a hardened skin. You stop caring about what others think as much. You are able to see past the bullying to people who are insecure and hurting, who might not have the support you do. And sometimes it's hard to see that. Sometimes it doesn't help at all to even imagine it. But it helps. You start to change your demeanour -- and sometimes, they start leaving you alone, because their bullying just doesn't work anymore.
What would make it better is an educational administration that was able to do more. That being said, they do their best in many cases. I have friends in the educational system who were bullied, just like I was. They will work tirelessly to stop other kids from experiencing the same thing they did. But there's only so much you can do. There's only so far you can go to protect someone. Zero-tolerance policies don't punish the bully -- they punish the bullied kid for fighting back. I was given detention in school for burying the hat of one of my bullies in the snow to get back at him for throwing mud and rocks at me. He was not punished for "starting it". That just gives bullied kids a sinking sense of hopelessness. They feel that the administration isn't going to pay attention to them, so why bother trying to access help there?
Parents do their best to help their children, but my parents ran into a number of problems with uncaring teachers and an uncaring principal who refused to punish the bullies or protect me. There's a general feeling of "let the kids work it out," but that doesn't work in every case. Kids don't always have the tools to work out problems alone, and sometimes, it's not even a case of there being a problem between children. Sometimes, it's simply that the bullied kid is too "weird". That alone is cause for bullying.
I believe it helps kids to empower them. Adults in children's lives should be people they can bring problems like this to, especially if the problems happen online. There's a sense of "online isn't real" that's worrisome -- the words hurt just as much when they're said online instead of in real life. Monitoring conversations and interactions online may help, but what helps more is being someone that a child can turn to when they feel overwhelmed and attacked. What matters more is teaching a child that they don't have to keep it secret, no matter what the bully says. Cyber-bullying can be reported and kids can be saved before they do something drastic to get away from the bullying.
Kids should be taught from a young age that they have the confidence and the strength to get past any bullies. And bullies should be given support, too -- because maybe the reason they're bullying has to do with a bad home life, or their own set of confidence issues. There are programs in place to try to fight bullying, but it starts at home. Kids who are taught to accept everyone, despite issues, or traits that make them different, grow up to be kids who will stand up for their peers and resist bullying. I believe that's the only way it can get better.
I also believe that knowing that this, too, shall pass -- and even if it doesn't pass completely, it can lessen significantly -- helps kids get past bullying. There are too many kids who lose hope. We need to be supportive figures for them so that they don't believe it will never end.
If there are bullied kids reading this, it will get better. School ends. Life changes. And you get stronger. It's not about running away -- it's about finding your niche and your confidence. There are those of us who remember what being bullied was like, and we're willing to listen and help the best way we can.
It's hard to grow up at the best of times. Kids are mean, but they don't have to be. Kids can be brave and strong -- but only if they get the support they need from adults.
I know, because I'm one of them.