I’ve been bullied – online and in person.
In high school, a boy, let’s call him R, decided to start off class by giving us a speech. His theme, how flat I was. His insults rolled off like a rap sheet, how I had a flat face, flat nose, flat chest, flat ass, flat everything until finally I yelled back, “Fuck you!”
And that’s when the teacher, let’s call him Mr. H, stepped in,“Lani! Do you want to go to the principal’s office?” I was as shocked at Mr. H’s reaction as I was at R’s terrible taunt. Looking back, Mr. H probably was too intimidated to confront R for his behavior. I guess it was easier to admonish me instead.
Bullying is gaining news, you know. Internet bullies, children being bullied online, and the extreme cases of teenagers committing suicide over bullying. Just Google it and you’ll find the news.
A sample of the statistics on cyber bullying tells us, “Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once” and “only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.”
There is advice out there, but I wonder if it fails to reach the right ears. Parental supervision of Internet use and guidelines appears to be rare, if it happens at all. This is interesting because most, if not all parents would teach and supervise their child on how to drive a car, but for some reason, because our children are really good at computers, we think they don’t need to know the rules.
Some folks believe that children learn to be bullies from their parents. This idea seems a bit rough-around-the-edges harsh, but our children do learn from watching/listening and copying. As a teacher, I’ve witnessed the retelling of a parent’s political views, for example, “Bush sucks,” by a 6 year old, as well as other copycat gems in and out of the classroom.
When I was a teenager, I was harassed for being different, and well, responding with my middle finger or yelling back actually didn’t help. One time I was walking alone, in the middle of the day, wearing the kind of clothes that simply were not popular in 1980s Hawaii. An acid wash denim jacket with my heavy metal patches, like Megadeth sewn on the back, and different colored socks stuffed in my high-top Nikes.
A car full of girls slowed down to yell things at me about my socks and clothes, and I immediately pulled out my middle finger. That should have been the end of it, but this was Hawaii, where fighting and confrontations were very common (at least when I was growing up). The girls whipped that car around and started following me, and taunting me.
When I started to cry, they laughed. I was in a residential area and there was really nowhere for me to go, but I went down a side street anyway to get off the main drag, and stopped. There they continued to tease me. I was terrified they would get out of the car. Sure, I’d been in fights, but there was no way I could take them all on. When I yelled, “Leave me alone!” They laughed and jeered.
Eventually, they left.
Much more recently, I received this anonymous comment on my teaching blog: After reading your articles, I can see why you were fired. Thank you for leaving the Waldorf teaching profession. Our kids are much safer now that you are not teaching. People like you should never teach children.
Ouch. So, the person didn’t agree with my politics. No need to be nasty, right? But I didn’t delete it. I guess I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t open to criticism or that I was afraid of opposing thoughts. Although, this remark was simply mean considering my blog is about my experience as a Waldorf teacher, getting fired and getting over it.
But worst, I was privately engaged in an email exchange (again, about my blog), last year, in which I was being bullied. Here’s what I learned.
1. Talk to someone. Even after I apologized several times, the person still harassed me, and continued to attack. After I felt like I had tried everything and this person wasn’t going to stop, I realized I could no longer shoulder this fear alone. I picked up the phone and when my friend didn’t answer, I called another.
Soon, I began talking freely to my friends. I needed the support, got support and gained support. No one could understand why this person was attacking me, except to guess, I was an easy target. I’m friendly, funny and kind, so maybe folks think this makes me weak. Nevertheless, it was liberating to talk. And my friends reminded me that next time, come to them sooner.
2. Disengage. Just stop. By picking up the phone, I gained this valuable piece of advice from someone older and wiser than me. So I stopped emailing, defending, and trying to make it better. And you know what? It worked. I couldn’t believe it. I’d wait in fear, not wanting to open my email, but as the days went by, I gained more and more hope that this was the end.
3. Stop feeling bullied. I realized and recognized that I felt bullied, but I was also allowing those feelings to freeze and confuse me. Searching online, I noticed a lot of advice on the Internet comes from a clinical standpoint, but I must say, trying to reason, “Oh, that person is horrible, hurt, or sad in their own way”, doesn’t really help. Sure, it’s good to take a step back and analyze the bullies, but does it help you?
If it does, that’s great. But if it doesn’t (as was my case), move on. Sometimes we have that round and round conversation with our friends or in our heads, and you have to know when to just stop trying to find answers.
Talking helps a lot, but don’t forget you are in control of your feelings. That ‘mind over matter’ talk does really work. At least it helped me. Even with the above troll comment, I let that person have their say, I didn’t reply, and I didn’t let their words have power over me.
That being said…
4. Focus on what you like about yourself. I know that sounds super cheesy. And you don’t have to write it down or anything (but why not), create a list of the qualities you like about yourself. Are you a pretty damn good artist? Can you sing? Do you like your legs? Can you make your friends smile? Focus on your strengths. You have them. We all have them.
5. Help and advice can come in unexpected ways. But you have to let people know what is going on. I remember during my senior year in college feeling utterly discouraged and UGLY over the fact that no boy that I asked out ever said yes.
Now, at the time, in Hawaii, you could, instead of taking a class, be a teacher’s assistant. I helped my guidance counselor for one class period. And I remember slumping into Mr. Kelly’s chair and announcing, “I hate boys.”
He probably leaned back in his squeaky green chair like he always did, and said, “Why?”
“Because they don’t like me. I’m ugly. I asked J to the junior prom and he said no. They always say no.”
Mr. Kelly popped his chair back up, “Oh, Lani. Boys are stupid.”
That got my attention.
“Teenage boys are afraid. They’re probably terrified of girl like you. Trust me. Hang on. One more year Lani. When you get to college they will be running after you.”
I dried my tears. Thanked Mr. Kelly, and felt better. And I waited until college. He was right.