. . . that my mother is an alcoholic who spends all my child support at the bars, so I can't afford cool clothes.
. . . that just because my parents are lesbians, doesn't mean I am one too.
. . . that just because my humor is a bit on the dark side, doesn't mean that I am mean.
How would you complete a sentence beginning with If you only knew me you'd know. . . ? Kids in high schools are bullied at an alarming rate. Bullying by exclusion from activities, whispers from peers, facebook bullying, sexting, old-fashioned getting beaten up at the bus stop or after school, and getting stuffed into trash cans.
If you only knew her, you'd know that her father takes sticks to her and throws rocks at her. Maybe you wouldn't have stuffed her in the dumpster if you knew that. . .
Bullying is a national epidemic, and it's causing harm to our most precious natural resource, our children. YOUR children. How is a student supposed to learn in an environment where he is ragged on because his voice is higher than normal due to having undergone throat surgery to erradicate a tumor? How is a student supposed to excel at a sport if others exclude her because she wears hearing aids? How is a student supposed to feel safe when every time her phone beeps it is a 'sext' text from someone she doesn't recognize . . . even after changing her phone number twice?
What can we do about it? What can I do about it? What can our elected officials do about it? Right now, at our school, we are working on an anti-bullying campaign titled, "If you only knew me, you'd know that. . . " The quotes listed in this blog are actual anonymous statements from students who live in our community. Students who, on the outside, may show no signs of being hurt or of dispair, but who are filled with their own personal despair that NOTHING will EVER get better for them.
It's funny how things take on a life of their own, once they get started. This is the second blog in a row that I've written where I started it with one goal in mind, and once my fingers started flying, the focus shifted, and I am unable/unwilling to bring it back. I'm usually somone who works hard to showcase positivity in everything I see. Bullying however, is a horrible sport, and it devastates children - yes, teenagers, despite their entreaties to the the contrary, are children too. Perhaps our most vulnerable ones at that. By the time your child becomes a teen, he looks more like a man than a baby. Her thought processes are capable of rationalization occasionally, and they are not so frequently prone to lying down on the floor, kicking their feet and screaming at the tops of their lungs until they are either carried out kicking and screaming or until we give in to their demand for just one more something!
This is when we parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors need to click it up a notch, and start giving them feathers so that when they learn to fly, they have something quality to fly with. We need to make sure that those children we see every day inside our homes know that they can tell us ANYTHING, and we won't judge them. I'm good at hugging, wiping tears, listening (sometimes) and making sure that the teens in my life know how much I care about them, and even love them. But today I was taught a lesson from one of our gym teachers.
We both interacted with a girl today who was being bullied by another girl. This bullying had been going on for months, and the girl was exhausted. I hugged her, tried to calm her down, because she was crying so much, I couldn't even hear what her real problem was. By the time I got her calm enough to go to gym, her lunch was over, so I gave her a pack of cheese crackers and sent her on her way. In gym, her teacher noticed that she was a ball of nerves. So, the teacher sat her down, heard her out and talked to her about the language of bullying. About how no matter how strong she was, she was nonetheless being bullied by this individual. The simple act of making a person feel demeaned about something over which she has no control is bullying. The teacher had the knowledge that I lacked, in terms of teaching this young teenager how to stick up for herself, and protect herself. By the end of the day, this young girl was still furious at having been called ugly names again, but she knew two very important things: how to speak and write about what had happened in such a way that she could explain to another adult, in a reasonable and rational way, what had happened to her; and that two adults in the school cared enough about her to spend time with her to make her feel cared for, and to straighten out what, to her, was months of feeling demeaned for something she had no control over. This is a small step.
You will see pictures of the posters that we have put up in conjunction with our If You Only Knew Me project at school. These posters are compilations of post-it notes written anonymously by our students who have been bullied, or who have know people who have been bullied. They are jaw-dropping. This is another small step. With this project, we have heightened awareness of the student body to what their words do to their peers. We have increased their awareness of what might be happening in their friends lives. What else can we do as a community to address the grave concern of bullying?