I’m not sure about you, but my main experience of bullying at school was on the receiving end. I was bullied mainly about my weight. I’ve always been big. It’s never been that fun. It restricts some of the things I can do, it results in being pointed at and laughed at by strangers, it results in unwanted comments from some other strangers too and ‘friends’.
The worst part of this was at school. Kids are cruel. Some kids are downright evil. Kids want to look good in front of their mates, kids want to crack jokes at other people’s expense. After all – aren’t we all told that ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names can never hurt me’?
I call bullshit.
Words are powerful. Sometimes more powerful than physical acts. They can stay with you for life. They can have an effect on you and how you lead your life. They can make you feel less ‘worthy’ than you should.
I’ve spoken before about the problems with social media, I think back when I was in the early stages of my career, just after I’d left school and in the 5 years after, social media was in the myspace era. Friends Reunited was still around with its annual fee if you wanted to send messages to your friends and not many people wanted to reconnect anyways. Not at that stage.
Fast forward 20 years and we’ve got Facebook, everyone has got facebook, well most people. People tend to be suspicious of people without facebook – its not normal (even though its probably healthier and a much better position to be in). Everyone has twitter, and snapchat and instagram or whatever else the flavour of the month social media portal is out there and ‘hot’ right now.
Facebook allows us to see interactions on friends walls with ‘friends of friends’ – people your friends are friends with but you are not.
Sometimes, I get these ‘friends of friends’ taking part in a discussion that I’m involved in and I can’t help but get a wave of resentment and almost I guess hatred sweeping over me.
Presumably they’ve long forgotten that comment they passed that afternoon in school whilst you were all lining up to get into Science, or when they made fun of you for wearing the same t-shirt on yet another non-uniform day (My Jurassic Park t-shirt was awesome, okay?). About the style of your shoes being like loafers, whatever the hell they were.
False compliments too – Saying that your hair was nice or looked good or you looked good. Being asked questions on a dare from their mates.
I remember every. Single. Word.
Every single instance of bullying, I remember it.
Every single time you put me down, I remember it.
And you were a dick.
You might have changed. You might be a wonderful person that helps fire scarred orphans to drink from bottles of milk. I don’t really care.
You were a dick, and you made my life at school horrible. And the words that you cut me with, the words that you used to get a laugh out of your minions who followed you around everywhere (what even is that about?), have left scars to this day.
As I hurtle toward 40, I care less and less about what other people think and say. If I decide not to give those words any power, then they can’t affect me. If I don’t let the opinions of others have any weight whatsoever, and recognise that they are the ones with the problem, not me, then it makes it easier to cope with.
The problem is, as a kid, or as a teenager, you don’t have this life experience and you don’t have the skills or the tools to deal with it. You get told by your parents that school is great and its the best days of your life – even though you know its not.
Not having bills was great, and not having as many responsibilities was also fun. 6 week holidays in summer seemed to last forever and you had seemingly hours of time to play computer games that goes away as you get older. But that environment of fear and constant abuse/put downs from certain people and ‘peers’ that you had to spend those 7 or so years of your life with were downright horrible.
Those 150 people in my year – I’m in contact with less than 10 of them. At the time, they are your world. You don’t realise that every time you change jobs, you get another set of 150 people that you spend that 8 hours of your day with. But what you do end up with, is respect and politeness. And generally speaking, people are much nicer to you at work than they were at school.
Maybe its time we stopped telling kids that words can’t hurt them, and time that we tried to give them the tools to cope with those words and the pain caused by them. Most importantly, maybe we should try to teach kids that their words and actions have real impact and consequence. I know that if I ever found out that either of my boys were bullying anyone I would do everything in my power to make them stop – not by necessarily making an example/making them feel the same way but try to explain from the other person’s point of view how they might feels, and teach empathy to help them understand just how they would feel if someone made fun of them.
I’ve also seen people say that bullying is a part of growing up and it builds character. No it doesn’t. It shouldn’t be a part of growing up – mutual respect should be. You don’t build character by destroying souls, stamping on peoples feelings and rubbishing their interests.
We’re all responsible for giving our kids everything that they need in this world, we give them hopes and dreams and we inspire them to be whatever they want to be. From my mum and dad, I got manners, respect, a clear definition of what is right and wrong and was taught how to treat other people.
The best thing you can teach your children is kindness.
Teach your children to be kind.
If everyone in this world was kinder, the world would be a very different place.
Some people aren’t as strong as I am, some people have been affected by words in a much deeper way, and some people have taken their own lives as a result of bullying.
Be kind, and always treat people how you would like to be treated yourself. You never know what battles the people you deal with every day face. You don’t know what hardships they face. So be kind, and help to make their day a little brighter and more bearable.