Today is the 100th Day of School. As such, the Safe Schools Action Network has encouraged bloggers to participate in a day of awareness to the problem of unsafe environments in our schools. Chief among the issues that need to be addressed, of course, is bullying.
I was bullied as a kid. A lot.
Growing up, as I know many of us do, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. My home life was riddled with problems pertaining to alcoholism and verbal abuse. I received virtually no support from my parents, and I wasn't exactly willing to talk with my folks about anything. What was the point, really? My parental units are very German and Polish, very "pull yourself up by your goddamned bootstraps and quit yer bitchin'!" types. Short on the compassion and empathy, long on hard work and boozin'.
So I was a really weird, really strange kid. I had a very fertile and active imagination, one that was comprised of seeing myself as Olivia Newton-John by day, and having terrorizing dreams by night. I was funny and I was interesting and I was opinionated, but I was disturbed. It showed in almost everything I did and said.
I made it through elementary school mostly unscathed. I took a little crap in 6th grade for not yet knowing the facts of life (thanks a lot, parents!), but I breezed into junior high in the early 80s, with insipid visions of new friends and popularity.
Man, that was a mistake.
Because my folks didn't teach me even basic facts that 12-year-olds should know, I was woefully naive. I didn't own a bra and I wasn't even interested in make-up yet, but the cool girls in junior high did own bras and did wear make-up. Hell, they even curled and feathered their hair!
This was completely foreign to me. And it didn't long go unnoticed by my fellow classmates.
In my school, mean ruled. If you weren't mean, you weren't popular. And since I was an innocent, and I also had a helluva big mouth, not to mention a last name that was thoroughly mockable, I became a regular target of ridicule by my fellow 7th graders, mostly of the female persuasion. During lunch, in the hallways, during class even. I had my books dumped twice by one little chickadee who took a particular shine to me. It was absolutely humiliating, and I began not just crying at night at home (when my mom would go into one of her drunken episodes), but at school, in the bathroom stall.
But the names they called me and the things they said about me were the worst part. I had two horrible rumors spread about me, which were not true, but were especially vicious. I was called a "loser", a "dork", a "nerd", "ugly", "stupid", "not worth it", and "disgusting"; those are only the ones I can recall off the top of my head, but there are certainly dozens more.
One specific incident I remember quite well happened in 8th grade. I had just discovered that I could sing pretty good (who knew?), and the choir teacher wanted me to do a duet with an extremely popular boy. I was thrilled, but the boy was not. He proclaimed me "gross", and let both me and the choir teacher know that he was only doing this because his parents were making him. He complained loudly during the entire process, which was a blow to my already fragile self-esteem.
I became depressed and started getting horrible stomach aches. Even when I wasn't sick, I would lie to my parents that I was sick, so I could skip school that day. I didn't feel as if I had anyone to talk to, but I confided in my friends sometimes. They tried to be sympathetic, but they were having problems of their own.
I needed an adult to talk to, but I didn't feel that I had one. I didn't have an advocate, and that's what I needed.
Eventually, I began spending almost all of my time alone and ignoring most of my friends. They didn't seem to understand that I couldn't just "snap out of it", and they were mad at me for it.
I got through it and I got over it, but not without a significant amount of outside help. Although I wasn't suicidal, I know that some teenagers who get bullied most definitely are. To this day, I wish I had talked to someone at my school about it so that the bullying would stop, but I never did.
Bullying can only exist if people choose to stay silent. As they say, light is the best disinfectant.
Last year, I watched this movie with my daughter. We both talked about bullying afterwards, and that if Little Shiz is being bullied, she should tell someone. I think the movie helped her to understand that silence is not the best answer.
There are some scary statistics when it comes to teenage bullying :
• 76 million students will attend public school according to the U.S. Department of Education
• 160,000 students a day miss school due to bullying and harassment according to U.S. Department of Education
• 84.6% of LBGT or non gender conforming students endure harassment at school according to GLSEN
• 61% Report feeling unsafe according to Southern Poverty Law Center
• 38% of special needs students are bullied and harassed according to the Kaiser Foundation
• 42% of students that have access to the internet have been bullied online according to Harvard Law
• Every 7 minutes a child is bullied on school grounds according to Stop Bullying
• LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to think about or attempt suicide due to bullying and harassment according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
This is an important topic that I hope we can talk about more than once every academic school year going forward. Tyler Clementi is the reason for the intense focus on bullying of late, but I wish that weren't so. It shouldn't take a suicide to increase our focus on this disturbing issue.
For more information about bullying and Congressional action, please see Clarknt67's frightening and informative diary from Tuesday. Thanks!
UPDATE: in2mixin, in the comments below, led me to this wonderful kid and this wonderful clip from The View: