The Schoolyard Blues

It's a well known fact that children and youth today are exposed to more bullying than in the past. And it's not solely verbal or physical anymore, these were the old school techniques! Girls' relational aggression (i.e. social bullying, think 'Mean Girls') is starting as young as Kindergarten, and cyber-bullying through the use of technology is making anonymity and hateful targeting much easier to achieve. The good news is that the recognition of the effects of bullying is much more in the forefront now than in the past, and children and youth are being taught proactive and preventative ways to handle bullying.

Personally, I endured years of bullying from elementary into middle school. Adults are surprisingly tolerant and admirable of unique differences and characteristics among their peers!! I really couldn't say the same about my childhood peers.

Growing up in a small town in the UK just outside of Manchester, there was no diversity in ethnicity where we lived. Nor in religion. I suntanned like you wouldn't believe when I was a young and chubby girl, so I was even BROWNER than I am now! My peers were all blond and brunettes, so I stood out like a sore thumb. And you know, back then, it was boys who did the bullying, I actually had a good network of girlfriends. I think the bullying tapered off when one day, I saw these same boys attempting to tackle my younger brother. I sprinted to the field where this was happening and miraculously pummelled them to the ground. They didn't mess with me after that :)

Immigrating to Canada proved to be no easier. We lived in Estevan, Saskatchewan for 7 months, a small rural town just a 30-minute drive from the US Border leading into North Dakota. Now, imagine a middle-eastern 10-year old girl with a THICK Manchester accent, wearing not-so-cool clothing yet raising her hand up ALL the time to answer questions because the UK curriculum was ahead of the equivalent in Canada. Not so good. I didn't have any friends, and I was lost in this middle school thing, and my academics started to suffer too. So that fall, we moved once again to Prince Albert, in northern SK, a 1.5 hour drive from Saskatoon. From grade 7 to grade 9, I endured constant verbal and physical bullying. Every opportunity was used to get at me, from notes being passed about me in class, to being chosen last in gym class for teams, to two grade 9 girls deciding it would be funny to trip me into a puddle of mud at morning recess so I could walk around all day like a fool. And the funny thing is that I remember the exact names of everyone who ever took part in that, and I remember the names of the bystanders too. Because back then, teachers and administration did NOT want to hear about being teased, all any of them said to me was 'ignore it'. How the heck can you ignore a giant ice-chip being thrown at your face, only missing your eye by an inch? Or being pushed onto the icy-ground by a bunch of boys? Or being mocked because my clothing did not contain a two-letter logo (with similar phonetic sounds LOL) stamped on the front, or because the hem of my jeans were not frayed, or because I decided not to steak my hair with blond highlights as everyone else did? Back then, being bullied was not a big deal, there were supposedly 'no effects', and ignoring was the best policy. When I did tell a teacher about this pattern I had been enduring, I was told that I was tattling.

But there are DRASTIC effects, I can vouch for that. I didn't gain a sense of confidence until I started my graduate program. Socially, I was avoidant and awkward until my early 20s. Communication-wise, I wasn't assertive when I had to be. And I think back to those years and despised them more than anything. We all know that our memories work by making stronger connections to events with great emotional undertones. And you bet that I remember many bullying instances because of that.

Let's fast forward to now. It is said that you are drawn to others because of your past experiences. So when I'm working in schools now, I automatically start looking for the quiet, shy, withdrawn and socially isolated girls, and I keep my eye on them. It's often a red flag if girls in grade 4 and 5 are this way, and it seems to solely be attributed to being 'shy', but this is not always the case. If I see instances of social bullying, I'm there. If I see any hint of anything deemed as a 'red flag', I'm there. Because I think back and see myself in those girls' shoes and I cringe thinking that they could go through what I did.

I actually wish I could line up everyone who ever targeted me in school, and give them all a talking of their lifetime! I'd bring them to tears, I know that for sure, because I don't think any of them realize how what they did and said impacted me. I actually had a few 'bystanders' find me on Facebook a few years ago, and they all seemed stunned that I had actually made something out of myself. I ran into one of the bullies at a store in a mall about 6 years ago where she was working (another "sign"!!!), and she couldn't believe it was me. Apparently, she was very interested in learning about me now as an adult, but was one of those who shunned me as a teenager. And I don't believe for a second that she didn't know what she was doing back then was wrong. If she didn't take my telling her to stop and leave me alone (yelled strongly at her), or my tears, or the fact that I ate lunch alone and spent recesses walking aimlessly as a hint, then I'm out of words.

I don't at all think I am scarred from bullying now, I'm not a victim, I came out stronger on the other side. I don't take mockery or being put down lightly, and I'm not afraid to be assertive in those situations. I believe strongly in myself and have developed a sense of independence after being alone for those years. I see the bigger picture but can be meticulous about details, and when I put my mind to something, no one can stop me. Not to scare you or anything! ;)

So what's the point of this blog entry? My point is that I am determined more than ever to prevent attempts at bullying, not by being reactive, but by being proactive. It's the reason I run girls' groups and target girls who are marginalized in class, because back when I was in school, this same need that I had was never addressed. I understand that a smile from an adult in your school could mean the difference between a child sulking for the rest of their day or being happy that someone actually noticed them in a positive way. Because I believe that each child is unique and has their own strengths, and this should NEVER be attempted to be targeted by anyone choosing to do so.

As a line in a current song goes (I want you to figure out which one!!): "I used to be the child that no one cared about, that's why you gotta keep screaming 'til they hear you out!!!"

(Note: My next entry will link bullying to our community. This was just the beginning, so stay tuned...!)

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