As a parent, I worry about bullying. It's a bit soon, I know, but its a big issue for me. I am already concerned because Joseph is small, and unless something amazing happens, he will be on the small side when he starts school. It's important to me because both my husband and I were bullied at school. He overcame his with his quick wit, and winning smile, me, I suffered.
I was reading this today, sparked by a twitter post from BullyingUK. Over the years I have thought a lot about what happened to me at school, why it happened, and what could have been done to help me.
I was always going to be a target. I was quiet and bookish. I couldn't do sport, in Australia, not being able to catch a ball, or run with the other kids, is a massive deal. One thing in the article that really spoke to me was I did not recognise I was being bullied. Until it was too late.
My bullying began in grade 2. I was 7. I struggled at our dreaded PE class. This was 1970's Tasmania, we had to do gym class in our knickers and singlet!! Can you imagine that happening today? We were in our underwear! In the school hall! Under the watchful eye of Mrs Butler, who was like one of those gym mistresses in an Enid Blyton novel. It was hideous.
I soon got singled out. She used to throw stuff at me, balls, little bean bags, to see if I could catch them. Every time, I managed to miss. I couldn't do stuff other kids could do. It was demoralising. After some discussion it was decided to send me to a special school one day a week.
It began. The nickname. "Spazz". I wore that nickname all through primary school. It was what I was known as. And it hurt. Because I wasn't. At 7 I had a reading age of 11. I just couldn't catch a ball. I also had asthma. In the 1970's asthma was not as common as it is today, and I was singled out. And called more names. Like Darth Vader,
I was so relieved when I left primary school, it was very small only 130 odd kids, and I thought once I got to high school, it would be better. Our high school was massive, almost 1 000 kids.
It got worse. The bullying became sexual in nature, as well as the usual taunts about my sporting failures. Girls started bullying me as well. My life was becoming intolerable. Then it went up a notch, people used to steal my lunch, or my homework. Or dump tins of red powder paint over my bag.
I did nothing. My parents knew and tried to intervene, they wrote letters, they were ignored. No one really knew what to do.
And you know the biggest problem? I thought the bullies were right. I believed them. I thought I was useless at everything. I thought I was stupid. I was scared of them.
I retreated into myself, I spent my lunchtimes helping out in the library learning the Dewey decimal system, helping to cover books, assisting kids with their homework. I retreated further into my music, joining an orchestra, meeting other kids who loved to play music too. I joined a theatre company, and found other kids, like me, who were good at other things. I learnt to do stage make up, stage lighting and sound, and I learnt to act.
I found that by immersing myself into hobbies I met other kids, outside my school. Kids who didn't realise I was spastic. I felt, at times a bit of a fraud.
And you know what, I am ultimately very grateful I was bullied. Yes, it was horrible and isolating, but would I have learnt the violin, acted in several plays and become as well read without being bullied? I don't think so.
But what I am exceedingly grateful for is that mobile phones and the internet had not been invented in 1970's Tasmania. Bullying now has taken on a whole new dimension, and its frightening. And its particularly scary to see the amount of young people who feel that suicide is the only way out.
Bullies are winning on an unprecedented scale.
We, as a society, as parents, and as adult children, need to fight back, educate and empower our kids so not only are they not targets, they do not turn into bullies.
What sort of citizen do you want your child to be? It's never too early to teach good citizenship.
Beat the Bullies