I’ve known it was a problem since I was the new kid that transferred in half-way through the school year to a public school and into a classroom filled with misfits and students with behaviour problems. Yet, I was the one that got picked on.
I had been going to a private school for some time and financial issues prevented my education from continuing there. So, after Christmas that year, I was put into a new class at the public school where everyone had new clothes and even if they weren’t brand name they were certainly more modern than the style I had adapted from what my mother thought was “cool” and willing to spend our limited funds on.
Even the three other students who were my closest friends in a school full of strangers found reasons to mock me and make fun of my clothes, among other things.
I was scared. I hated it. I hated that I was mortified when students casually swore at the teacher and told him where he could go. I hated that even the poorest kid in the class seemed to dress better than I did. I hated that kids were fighting in the classroom and in the hallways during class time. And I was the one that got picked on.
I’m not afraid now to say how close I was to ending everything. The private school had been a dream in comparison – teachers who cared and students who cared, even if they too could be cruel in their comments about wardrobe. But I was not prepared for the new vocabulary that I was forced to learn just so I could understand the insults. I was not prepared for the blatant disrespect for the teacher and other authority figures at the school.
At least it was kids who were older than I was making most of the jokes at my expense. It seems we expect that behaviour of older kids.
But the following year was worse, if possible. I was in grade 7 in a grade 6/7 split class and it was the younger students making a mockery of me.
To the point that I refused to go on the school ski trip because you had to be absolutely honest about your weight and I didn’t dare give anyone more fuel for the fire. I asked my parents to refuse to sign the permission slip and stayed home.
In grade 8, I was a wandering gypsy, trying to find a place to fit in and being ridiculed by even the “uncool” people. I was a loner.
I would be lying if I denied that suicide crossed my thoughts regularly during those three years. I finally found a secure place of self-confidence based on an identity in Christ. At least outwardly, I found a way to project that I didn’t care what anyone else thought of me. I created my own style and refused to cave to pressure, though I did make some wardrobe adjustments to avoid the worst of the torture.
I have to be honest, though. Despite the outward confidence, I was still a wreck inside. I still am a wreck inside. I have mastered that mask and in turn it has mastered me. I have struggled with self-image for a while and there’s a different kind of bullying that goes on after school is out forever.
But when 9 and 10 -year olds are taking their life out of desperation and distress, when three boys in six weeks in Ontario take their lives, I can’t stay silent. I’m tired of the bullying. I’m tired of the excuses (But she’s dumb! But he’s gay! But s/he is ugly/poor/a loser!). I’m tired of the fear. I’m tired of the lip service to anti-bullying programs.
I looked up a few stats, albeit some are possibly quite outdated.
- In the US (2009), suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst youth between the ages of 10 and 24. Did you catch that? The third leading cause of death. And while 4,400 young people lose their lives at their own hands, there are more youth who have tried and failed! There are approximately 149,000 youth that are treated in emergency rooms for self-inflicted injuries.
- According to a report in 2004, suicide rates for children and youth between the ages of 5 and 14 have doubled in the last generation. Are we getting this?
- In Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst people between 10 and 24 years of age. Second. Leading. Cause. The rates of young people who have thought of suicide or know someone who did are alarmingly high. Approximately 24% of all deaths for 15- 24 year olds are from suicide.
- In 2007, the teen suicide rate suffered the highest increase (8%) in 15 years.
We have increased the number of anti-bullying programs in our schools – I personally was involved in the first stages of a peer leadership group at my high school when I was in grade 11 (that’s over a decade ago now!). We went to elementary schools and put on presentations against bullying and peer pressure. I’m guessing it didn’t make a difference. We tried to get involved in the hallways of our own school and prevent bullying and peer pressure where possible – we wore our shirts regularly so that younger students could come to us for help if they needed. I can count the number of times on two fingers I was stopped and asked for help for anything, let alone with a bullying problem.
I can’t keep silent. We are not doing enough. So I’d like to hear your ideas.
- How can we make schools, organized sports teams and other social areas safer for kids?
- How can we inspire kids who are currently guilty of bullying to change?
- How can we impose legitimate consequences for bullying?
Have you got a bullying story of your own? Some words you’d like to jot down? You can blog them, you can post in the comments here, or you can go to the Band Back Together site where they are having a blog carnival on Bullying. You can post anonymously, read other stories of bullying, share encouragement.
But speak out! Do not keep silent!