Who gives a shit about school yard bullies? In the face of endless wars and countless tragedies why are we even talking about this? I’ll tell you why. Because bullying isn’t limited to the school yard. It never was. It didn’t even start there.
People don’t stop being bullies just because they graduate from high school and when they lose the easy targets of classmates they turn to co-workers, spouses, children, elderly parents or grandparents, or strangers they pass on the street to get their kicks. Spousal abuse, child abuse, corrupt cops, street harassment, teachers and school administrators who turn a blind eye to or participate in the bullying, intimidate or harassment in the workplace – it’s all bullying. All of it.
I was bullied in kindergarten. I was five years old when a boy told me my hair scrunchie was ugly. It was my favourite, I loved it, and I never wore it again. It hid in the bottom of my sock drawer and when I moved at age twelve I found it back. That’s when I finally threw it away. Seven years later it still hurt. Hell, twenty-some-odd years later it still hurts! I let that little jerk take away something that made me happy, something that made me feel pretty.
The bullying became constant in the 6th grade. The girls teased me for being friends with boys, or with kids a year younger than me. In 7&8 I was the outsider because I liked to read, I wanted to be a writer, and because I was a practicing Catholic with actual knowledge about my faith. In a private Catholic school I was bullied for being Catholic. If there was irony there I didn’t notice it, I was too busy being lonely and watching my back.
In high school it was my braces, the fact that I was ‘out of touch’, I was sexually naive, I dressed in what I liked and not what was in style, I hung out with the boys a lot (which will never make you popular with the girls who are interested in dating), I was an introvert … the list goes on. They always put a finger on what makes you different and then shunt you to the fringes of high school society for it. There is no way to redeem yourself, but all too many ways to be noticed and being noticed means being targeted again.
So we all stand here and shout “Me too! I was an outsider! I was a victim!” And nothing changes. My five-year-old son had his sandwich thrown on the floor at lunch. Nothing has changed. We post memes and slogans and news articles about bullies winning or victims rising above and NOTHING CHANGES. Children are still bullied. People still end up in abusive relationships. The suicide rate is not dropping. Teens are taking guns to school. NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
What do we do then? We can’t claim to be raising awareness anymore, we all know the problem exists. We need to start raising awareness about solutions and that means throwing our online presence, our time, and our resources, behind groups that are providing help to our youth, and our society as a whole, through counselling, crisis hotlines, abuse tip-lines, shelters, by increasing availability of health care, both mental and physical, education, and a way out of dangerous situations. Sure, a lot of these are band-aid solutions, we’re dealing with picking up the pieces. But the #1 difference between victims who survive and victims who don’t? Having someone listen. Having someone say “I believe you”. Having someone to talk to. And the more victims who survive the better.
I stand with a few organizations:
Our Lady of Hope RC Parish – yes, this is a church, the church I currently attend. I support them because going to church helped keep me solid as a teen. It had nothing to do with faith or god and everything to do with having a safe, friendly community to go to.
Kids Help Phone – a 24/7 youth crisis hotline that is available by phone and online for teens and children dealing with ANY issue. They have centers across Canada. My debut novel Nothing Everything Nothing is in support of their much needed cause. $2 from every paperback and $1 from every e-book is sent to them.
Facebook groups – there are several that I follow and regularly share content from. These range from “stop bullying” groups to mental health awareness groups. The mental health ones are the best, in my opinion, because they are offering real advice and point you in the direction of safe help.
Will you stand against bullies, in all their forms? Will you stop the cycle of abuse? Stop being an arm chair advocate and get out there. Things need to change.