I have written before about the sleep-away camp where I was bullied for 2 weeks. I don’t know why it happened. I don’t know why I never spoke up. I don’t even know how or why I became friends with the girls a few years later.
5 years after being bullied, I went to a party and setup an elaborate trick to make fun of a girl. I did it for no reason other than I didn’t like her and had decided that she shouldn’t be at the party. I’m not sure why I didn’t like her or why, that particular day, I needed others to help me make her feel like she didn’t belong. (I’m not going into the details of the incident to protect her right to tell her story.)
While what I did does not fit the exact definition of bullying because it wasn’t repetitive, I find it shocking, not only because of how horrible those 2 weeks of being bullied were for me at 11 years old, but because I have no idea why I turned on this girl years later. I’m sure those who picked on me at camp weren’t sure why they did it either. I had grown up with some of them, but in a different environment under certain circumstances, I was singled out.
My confusion, having been on both sides, is also found in the literature on bullying. The only consensus that I have seen in the research is the power of the bystander. I remember one girl at camp standing up for me during sailing class, and I had reprieve if only for the day. And I know if one friend had said to me at the party, Alex, you’re being mean, I would’ve stopped, ashamed.
Of course, most bullying will not end with one voice. But one voice can inspire other voices in the crowd. One voice can tell a teacher who can add his authority. One voice can give a child who is bullied courage and hope.
Today, I am no longer bullied or bullying, but I take my bystander status seriously.
Stand Up For Ourselves and Others: I teach my children to not only stand up for themselves or tell a grownup if a friend will not listen, I teach them to stand up for others. I began with teaching my oldest child to stand up for his younger sister. I taught him that he had to be kind to her particularly in school. And I have heard my 5-year-old tell a child who is teasing my daughter to stop. I have also told a child who is teasing my children to stop. I don’t see it as good fun. I see it as a non-judgemental teaching moment.
Stand Up For Groups Commonly Picked On: We have a rainbow flag above our front door. We ordered it when multiple news stories came out on gay teens committing suicide. We hang it not because we are gay, but because we want gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning children, students and adults to know that there is a home where they are okay just they way are. We want to be a light in the darkness of prejudice.
Speak Out Against Bullying Language and Jokes: I grew up a lot when I went to college, and my first sign of change was when a friend made a joke with a racial slur. I called him out on it. He balked, but I told him: Don’t use those words around me. That same year, a friend told me that calling something “so gay” was hurtful to him because I was equating gay to stupid. I had never considered that point and removed the word for my vocabulary. I am grateful he spoke up and continued to live by his example. I’m not the language police and I don’t go looking for fights about words, but I will not stand by while others use language to hurt those around us.
I would love to hear more ideas on how to use our power as bystanders, as teacher, as parents, as people, to stop bullying.
Go here if you can’t see the trailer for BULLY.
Disclaimer: I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. Find showings in your area for The Bully Project and buy tickets here. If your city isn’t on the list, you can vote to bring the movie to your hometown.