October is National Bullying Prevention Month. During the course of this month I hope that readers will take this opportunity to participate in the discussion about this nationwide concern. All across the nation schools, organizations and the media are tackling this topic in hopes of making people aware of its prevalence and to provide strategies to reduce the occurrence of bullying behaviors. Although the issue of bullying has become a national issue in recent years, bullying is not a new issue. It has been going on since the beginning of time. However, in this day and age, bullying has evolved into a form of violence that not only plagues youth and young adults, but it occurs among adults in the workplace and other arenas. Additionally, with the evolution of technological advances, cyber bullying has emerged, causing a whirlwind of problems such as suicide, low self-esteem among youth and other forms of violence.
The issue of bullying is one that I know all too well. Not only have I known individuals and groups who have been affected by this issue, but I was a victim of bullying many years ago. My twin sister and I dealt with bullying during the 70’s and 80’s. Although times have changed and we did not have to experience cyber bullying, the effects were still the same. Hurt, fear, lack of confidence and low self-esteem are just some of the feelings that come to mind when I think about being bullied.
My sister and I did not deserve the pushing, shoving, name-calling, lies and rumors that took place in an effort to hurt us or provoke fights. I’ll never understand what went on in the minds of the elementary and middle school aged students who bullied us. I remember asking the loving adults in my life why this was happening and what had we done to deserve the hateful behaviors and comments. We simply wanted to make friends and go to and from school safely.
I’m sure that there are children (and adults) out there today who shared some of the same feelings I did thirty years ago. Last year one of my sons experienced bullying for the first time as he entered middle school. He recalled being fearful of going to the bus stop and to ride the bus. There were all sorts of “initiations” for the new comers and it scared him. Initially I had no idea that there was a problem. The school year got off to a good start. However as we entered the third or fourth week of school, he began to have asthma attacks and spent several days home from school. For the next month or so he would ask to stay home, citing that his stomach hurt or that he was not feeling well. One day it occurred to me that something was wrong. I had gone through a similar situation with my oldest son and it wasn’t until I opened up the lines of communication and asked questions that I was able to find out what was really going on.
My son revealed that kids were hitting others at the bus stop and on the bus. He, and the kids his age, were being told to switch seats and were often being “removed” if they did not get up. My son shared that one of his biggest fears was coming home after school, especially on Fridays, deemed “Freshman Fridays”. He shared that the older kids would chase them off of the bus and hit or beat them up as part of the “initiations”. I was horrified and it broke my heart to know that my son was experiencing this.
My son’s account of what was going on, mainly in my neighborhood at the bus stop, brought back the memories of my own experiences with bullying. I remembered that my mother advocated for my sister and me when we were bullied. She went so far as to go to the police regarding one incident. I truly believe that because of her actions, support, encouragement and positive affirmations, my sister and I are women who are now thriving in life. We have been able to move on, learn from the experiences and help others. That being said, I went straight to the school. We were blessed to receive the prompt support and response of my son’s school administration. When my son experienced another potential incident, this time during school, his sixth grade assistant principle stepped in again to squash the situation.
I hope that the bullying awareness and prevention goes beyond the month of October. In the meantime, I urge you to support the various activities, events and discussions that may take place in your community or online. Most of all, I encourage you to stand up for those who are experiencing bullying or may be potentially targeted.