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07 October 2010 @ 03:14 pm
The Ripple Effect of Bullying  
I was moved to write the following in response to this excellent post which was, of course, a response to the recent gay teen suicides.

My abuse started in second grade when I gained a little weight and was slightly chubby. It was relentless, starting with the verbal (fatty, fatty two by four...) and moving on to constant threats of violence. No, not boys--girls! Yes girls do fight other girls. I used to hide from one bully every lunch recess because she was always going to beat me up. I suspect I was a target not just for being fat but being one of the smarter kids, a threat to their own self esteem.

Some of my grade school tormentors went on to bully me in Jr High and High school as well. Meanwhile at home my mother went into a severe depression and tried to kill herself. My absent father, who lived in the same town but rarely saw me, was no help either. Between the problems at home and the problems at school, I had no shelter anywhere. I became "school phobic" and was absent as much as possible, cooped up in my room.

I never had a date in school and assumed no one would ever want me. My weight? At most in school it was 183 lbs at 5'5" tall. I have better self esteem nowadays at 300 lbs. One year I ate one meal a day all school year and got down to 150 lbs. It made no difference in the level of bullying so my achievement felt like nothing to me. In retrospect, I realize that any boy who might have wanted to date me didn't dare because they would have become targets of bullying too. I also think my geekiness had as much to do with the bullying as my weight but I took the content of their verbal abuse at face value. I believed my fat body made me essentially unlovable.

Finally I dropped out in tenth grade and left home as soon as I could get away. I became involved in the Hare Krishna movement and lived in their temple. I ended up in an abusive marriage and because my self esteem was so low from years of fat bashing, I stayed in it for several years. By the time I left I had two children and because I'd dropped out of school I had to do remedial math before I could take the college level courses and graduate. We lived in poverty while I completed my education, the education I should have gotten years earlier. I got no child support, of course. My oldest child still resents the fact that we grew up in poverty.

Once in awhile I have dreams that I am back in Jr. High with the same people and I am trying to tell everyone I don't belong there; I graduated from college! What a nightmare!

I don't recall teachers doing anything substantial about bullying. That sent a message to the bullies that no one cared and no one would stop them. That just empowered them to continue. That has got to stop. The school tried to do something about my "attendance problem" but never really asked me WHY I didn't want to go to school! Duh!

I've heard of schools that teach all kids effective communication techniques to respond to bullying incidents that they witness and intervene. Often these things take place where adults can't see. Bullying has been dramatically reduced in such schools. Every school should try this! Such non-violent communication techniques will carry through as well in future relationships, whether with future mates or in workplaces.

Bullying has a ripple effect that is often unseen and unmeasured. We really need to get a handle on this problem. How many kids have dropped out because of bullying? My daughter had learning disabilities and kids made her life a living hell. She also dropped out, despite my efforts to keep her in school. I had to teach her how to read myself. She said a lot of the other learning disabled kids dropped out of school and many ended up on drugs. How much of our drug problems are a direct result of kids trying to medicate the pain of being bullied?

ETA: http://www.cnvc.org/about-us/projects/nvc-schools/nonviolent-communication-schools
(Deleted comment)
Tapatitapati on October 10th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
I'm glad some schools are really getting it. They should be used as models and what works should be replicated. It would also be cool if some web site were to monitor reports of bad schools and good schools in this regard. Being rewarded or being called out could be a big incentive to all schools to think hard about this and do better. They all want to get great test scores, but they don't seem to consider this issue seriously enough at all schools. (I bet there's a correlation between less bullying and higher scores because who can focus on schoolwork when they're traumatized repeatedly at school?)

Teachers mocking students should immediately be fired. WTF?
milimodmilimod on October 8th, 2010 09:44 am (UTC)

Glad you were able to smile in that picture (which shows you as a perfectly pretty and normal-looking teenager). You've probably figured this out by now, but you were better, stronger and smarter than your peers -- and many teachers. You made it through to where you can now report truthfully about the experience. And remember, for every cyber-bully, there are people like you and me and so many others who can use the internet to get the word out and help the younger version of ourselves to understand that they're not "freaks" or "losers" or "better off dead."

Thanks for what you do.

Tapatitapati on October 10th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC)
Thanks, I was at my "low" weight of 150 and in a size 16 pair of jeans, the lowest size I fit into back then. So I was feeling pretty good and it was the beginning of the year so I hadn't been beaten back down yet. That ended up being a hard year where I asked to be removed from my home.

I hope that by speaking up we can get all schools to take this seriously.
W. Lotus: Peacefulwlotus on October 8th, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
I like your suggestions and questions. More of us need to be asking those same questions.
Tapatitapati on October 10th, 2010 01:56 am (UTC)
I'm trying to figure out how to translate talk into action. How do all of us get our schools to take this seriously from grade school on? That's the problem. Some schools do; others just don't see it as a real problem.
carmy_wcarmy_w on October 8th, 2010 06:22 pm (UTC)
I posted a link on my facebook last week about the guy who charged on to the school bus to protect his daughter. I said then, and I still say, that if he didn't lay a finger on anyone, he didn't do a darn thing wrong. Concerning high-level bullying, I've never heard of anything stopping a bully except for either the person being bullied striking back, either verbally or physically, or else someone with more strength and power scaring the crap out of the bully. And that's sad, to me; I can't understand why kids don't have more empathy for one another.
I'm glad that schools are starting to really get down on this stuff; it's about time. It seems to me that all it takes is for a teacher to tell a first grader that he/she is being mean to classmates, and stop it. When the prevention starts that young, you never run into the problem (I wish). So why is it so hard for teachers to reprimand kids, and why is it so easy to ignore the tears?
I feel that I was extremely lucky growing up. I was one of those odd kids, and I was teased a lot, but that was the extent of it; just verbal, no physical. I hid in my books, and didn't really associate much with anyone. I also went to a very small public school in the midwest; we were one of the last public schools to stop prayers in the classrooms. Most of our parents' were of the opinion that if we got in trouble at school, we were going to be in worse trouble when we got home. I can remember one fight at school, in my sophomore year.
I have a lot of problems with the way schools handle things now, though. For one, I firmly believe that if a kid, who doesn't start a fight, defends herself in a fight, she shouldn't be suspended. I've thought this was wrong since the day I first saw it. It promotes the idea of not fighting back, and I feel it is every child's right to defend herself. If defending oneself is ok physically, it might be easier for the bullied kids to defend themselves verbally....

Tapatitapati on October 10th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
Yes, kids ought to be allowed to defend themselves.

And verbal abuse is just as damaging as any other form. Some feel that it is worse. Bruises heal quickly but words haunt us for years.

I think in addition to hard core consequences for bullying there needs to be mandatory counseling as a condition of remaining in school. It is not uncommon for bullies to be expressing pain of parental neglect or abuse, not being able to strike back at the parent. Bullies need counseling and better coping mechanisms for their own anger and low self esteem issues. We need to work on this from both ends.