Today’s guest blogger is Bethany Clay
A video has gone viral recently. In it, a LaCrosse anchorwoman shares an email she received from a viewer in which he berates her for her personal appearance and uses condescending language to demean her. The anchorwoman boldly points out that this e-mailer is a bully and uses this as a springboard to shed light on an important issue.
October is National Anti-bullying Month. According to StopBullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior among school children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Bullying is a problem that is growing, the anchorwoman says. “The internet has become a weapon. And our schools—a battleground.” She stresses that “we need to teach our children to be kind, not critical.”
I got into a Facebook debate with a friend of a friend about this video—she on the side that this is freedom of expression, me on the side of anti-bullying. That’s not a surprising stance for me to take, given that I have chosen to build my career with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, an organization that champions children. However, what my friend of a friend didn’t know is that while I am a grown woman I am still haunted by bullies, long since grown up themselves. They don’t even remember my name. But I vividly remember every word, every punch and trip and scar.
Overly sensitive. That’s what I was told when I voiced my fear to those meant to protect me. They told me I was overly sensitive—their Band-Aid remedy to a major problem. They stopped calling me this after a visit from my very upset mom one morning. She had spent the previous evening meticulously digging out small rocks from my knee—the result of an older classmate shoving my little first grade body to the concrete during morning recess. A secretary in the office had put a small bandage over the wound, ignoring the real damage underneath, and sent me back outside. That was a long day. But I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for my mom to see her baby slowly climb off the bus with dried blood all over her tights and tear stains down her cheeks. I can recall my sobbing (and hers) as her tweezers slowly pulled each tiny pebble from my wound. I remember screaming into a towel as Mom found the last rock deep inside.
The truth is that bullying has lasting effects, both for the bully and the victim. And it is going to take a tremendous effort to change our school climates. I am grateful for school systems that include a no-tolerance policy for bullying, like Kalamazoo Public Schools. Unfortunately, my school district didn’t have any anti-bullying policy while I attended there. However, policies like “Matt’s Safe School Law” are paving the way for schools to make sure students are safe from bullying and harassment. But we have a long way to go. We still have children who are carrying scars, who fear going to school, who would rather hurt themselves than be hurt by their classmates again.
Children who are bullied need adults to intervene on their behalf. Hearing the excuse that “boys will be boys” or “get over it” or “shrug it off” are Band-Aid solutions that weren’t helpful to me then and it isn’t helpful to kids now.
Even though I’m an adult, the voices of my childhood bullies still haunt me. I learned to internalize their voices, like tensing my muscles to brace for impact. My automatic response to any critique or conflict is one of defense. I expect cruelty. I expect people to be hurtful, selfish, aggressive, and cruel. I taught myself to expect cruelty as the norm.
I shouldn’t have had to come home every day from school sobbing, bruised, and broken hearted. I want my sweet six-year old niece to love school and feel safe there. I don’t want her to grow up and expect cruelty like I do. Your beautiful kids shouldn’t go to school and expect to be humiliated or hurt.
There is too much cruelty in this world.
The first grader in me wants to be proven wrong.
I highly encourage everyone—parents, students, teachers, and child advocates—to read Jodee Blanco’s book, “Please Stop Laughing at Me.” Jodee mixes brutal personal testimony with advice, solutions, and support.