Tag Archives: bully

Bullying: It Never Stops

26 Jul

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Once upon a time—in the late 90’s—I was sitting in math class at my Christian high school.  We had some free time so I was working on homework when a student in the back of the room began harassing me.  “You’re a lesbian, you know that?” he taunted.

One of his smirking friends joined in pointing out that I must be a lesbian because I didn’t have a boyfriend.  At least they didn’t call me ugly or fat—that day.

Finally, unable to stand it anymore, fighting back tears I told them to stop, which just encouraged them to continue their torment.  My teacher was standing at the front of the classroom, no more than 15 feet from where I was being verbally abused.  I looked straight at him and asked, “Aren’t you going to do anything about this?”

I’ll never forget his response.  It’s one I’ve heard used by educators, parents, and adults everywhere when they talk about bullying.  Dismissively, he said, “If you ignore them, they’ll stop.”

If you ignore them, they won’t stop. 

I know because I tried that, too.  The bullies only jeered more loudly.  Other joined in or laughed, while a few girls sometimes giving me pitying glances.

Back in those days I didn’t cry nearly as much as I do now.  I would hold it in knowing that they could never see you cry.  You can never let them see that they got to you.  I knew I would come home and drag a razor across my wrist or thighs or stomach and somehow that would release my pent up rage.  No one called it “cutting” or “self-injury” back then, just para-suicidal behavior.

Sometimes during middle school and high school, I imagined I would stand up and give an impassioned speech, which would change everything, like I was staring in some sort of Hollywood blockbuster.  I would tell them how much it hurt to be called names, to be pushed into my locker, and to be left out.  They would finally understand, apologize, and we’d all become best friends like on “Saved By the Bell” episode where Zack dated the fat chick.

I couldn’t wait to grow up because I thought there wouldn’t be bullies anymore, or at least I wouldn’t have to go to school with them every day.  When I became an adult or at least went to college everything, I assured myself that everything would be OK.

When I went to college, everything was OK.  I met and befriended real lesbians on campus and wondered what those immature high school boys would say about that.  I excelled in my classes, like I usually did, and felt secure in my environment of friends who accepted me.  Finally, I was part of the “in” crowd or maybe just in a crowd.

They (whoever “they” are) say that bullying is just one of those things kids do and the victims will survive.  Students just need to toughen up, educators say, because kids will be kids.

I wish I could say it still didn’t hurt.  I wish I could say the kid who made fun of my voice every single say in sixth grade science class hasn’t affected why I sometimes feel awkward when my voice is amplified over a microphone.  So many of these lies still rattle around in my brain and the lies have become my truth.  It is something God and me are working on together. 

The truth of the matter is that words do hurt.  The far reach of social media has made bullying even worse.  I recently watched a documentary called The Bully Project and I cried through much of it.  I couldn’t even watch the entire thing.  Emotions I thought long dead resurged.

Finally, it occurred to me that no matter where you are, what age you are, or what you do, there will always be bullies.  Work bullies, neighborhood association bullies, church bullies (who do it in the name of God), road rage bullies, mommy group bullies—and you know what?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Frankly, I’m sick of bullies.  They’ve taken too much from me and I’ve let them.  I don’t have any deep answers on how to solve the bullying epidemic.  I don’t know how to make teens stop sending stupid text messages or posting ridiculous nonsense on Instagram or Snapchat.  All I know to do is to tell them over and over again the effects of bullying. I can’t change them, but I can change me.  I can stop giving their words meaning and move past the hurt they inflicted.

I refuse to be like my math teacher, who incorrectly told me they would stop.  They never stop.  Instead, I work with students as they deal with conflicts and teach them about who they are in Christ so the truth can overcome the lies, so the light of God can overcome the darkness

In this work, I have found redemption for my own middle and high school years eaten by the locusts.  There is healing in ministry—something that makes the scars bring forth His light. 

My junior year of high school was more than half a lifetime ago and I still remember the words of the students and my teacher.  I still feel the sting because I am human.  But I don’t let it consume me because I am redeemed.

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She Didn’t Want Me Anymore

2 Sep

I sat in the guidance counselor’s office with tears pouring down my cheeks, snot running out my nostrils, and a broken heart.  He eyed me wearily, like he hated middle school girls who cried.  I am convinced that he was the Grinch, even looked like the Grinch minus the green skin pigmentation.  “So, your friend told you that she doesn’t want to be your friend anymore?” he asked suspiciously, almost mockingly. I nodded, unable to croak out an answer.

He called her down to the guidance office, my former friend.  When I walked to school that morning, she was my friend, or so I thought.  Little did I know that just before homeroom, she would end our association—not only as best friends, but as friends altogether.  It seemed that I was holding her back from accomplishing her true popularity potential, and well, we all know that in sixth grade it’s all about who you know.  A sad, but true, life lesson I learned at the tender age of 11, before I was officially a teenager.

She walked into the Grinch’s office, her head held high, threw a contemptuous glance at me (which I don’t think the Grinch noticed), and explained her case.  She was merely trying to tell me that she needed to make other friends, too, that I was no longer to be her sole companion on adventures in her backyard, in playing Nintendo, in long chat on the phone after school.  She needed to let other friends into her life.  But she was lying through her teeth; she was good at that.  The Grinch applauded her for making such a mature decision, and dismissed her.  With a haughty over-the-shoulder glare, she was gone from my presence, and I wish, from my life.

She made the rest of middle school difficult for me, convincing other kids that I was a nerdy loser.  She would sit in class and make it clear that the small cluster of girls around her were talking about me.  The boys in the class would throw spitballs at the back of my head during French class.  A lot of kids hated middle school; I hated it more.  I had another friend, jealous of my placement in the gifted class who assaulted me from the other end. To stay afloat, I focused on my studies, trusted in God, and found solace in my church youth group.

That day—the first week of sixth grade—was one of the worst days of my life.  I’m sure people will tell me to move on; it happened a lifetime ago.  But I don’t think anyone really gets over a thing like that, the first time someone tells you that she doesn’t want to be your friend—your best friend—anymore.

Bullying in the Age of Technology

28 Nov

Traditional methods of bullying such as hassling underlings for lunch money or giving wedgies seem to have fallen by the wayside in light of new technology. For example, is it better to call a girl a slut in front of a few friends or to send a text message about her to everyone on your phone list? Would you rather leave a nasty message in someone’s locker or post it on your blog for all the world to see? Technology has given us great methods to communicate over large mediums, and yet it’s precisely these mediums that have caused a rise in cyber-bullying.

According to a recent article from Reuters (read article), bullying has spread from school yards and girls bathrooms into the very homes of students through text messages, instant messages, blogs, and other types of advanced technological harassment. The article goes on to state some statistics and mentions some measures schools are taking to make rules against cyber-bullying.

Despite our best efforts, bullying will always be a sad part of life for kids. For the kids who are bullied, they will doubt themselves, withdraw, and wonder if they matter at all. The bullies dehumanize themselves acting out of insecurity and anger or even both. Even the kid who wins the lunch money in the epic school yard battle loses himself in the end. But, hey, maybe bullying isn’t that big a deal, right? I mean, we all got through middle school and high school, didn’t we?

We all got through it; some of us barely got through. One thing I’ve learned in talking to a lot of youth workers is this–an awful lot of us invested in the lives of teenagers were bullied. And some of us were even bullies. While many act like the effects of being pushed around in gym class or teased mercilessly in middle school are over, our actions speak otherwise.

Maybe we just won’t let anyone get that close or perhaps we’re people pleasers. Maybe if we make fun of ourselves, then no one else will. Perhaps it’s that back-biting gossip we enjoy, since we’re no longer the butt of the jokes (we can always disguise it as a prayer request). Or maybe we just like the feel of being one of the “popular” kids…you know, the one who gets to sit next to the senior pastor or the author of the hottest new youth ministry book. For some of us, the effects of our pasts scream loud and clear.

And, yes, I was bullied and yes, it effects me to this day, though not entirely negatively. I know what it’s not like to be included, so I try to include others, to be kind, and to share. Those of us who were bullied cruelly can compassionately share our stories with teenagers to offer hope and perhaps remind bullies of the hurt they can cause.

However, I feel sick to my stomach to think of the humiliation of being scorned in this day and age on blogs, e-mails, text messages, and so on and so forth. While students may not be worried about having a bully steal their lunch money, they have to wonder whether or not they’ll be slammed on their arch rival’s blog after school. Maybe teenagers shouldn’t care what other people think…but then again, isn’t that part of being a teenager?

I’d love to open a proactive discussion on how youth workers and those interested in teen culture can start raising awareness about this issue without coming across as lame do-gooders. Please post or e-mail me with your ideas. This is a topic I’m interested in exploring with like-minded individuals. Or, hey, let’s get a list of resources going.

Thanks to Gman for making me aware of this article via his blog!

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