Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Series - Thoughts on Bullying

I am about to abandon my normal blogging know the one I can't seem to keep up with anyway. For some time now the subject of bullying has been on my mind. I don't have to tell you that it is a favorite topic in the spin cycle. A simple google search of news articles from yesterday brought up two different cases that are getting national attention - one that resulted in the suicide of a 10-year-old girl - on the first page of the search results. President Obama is talking about it, as are several state legislatures. California recently passed two new measures related to bullying. South Dakota can't get a bill out of committee. My interest in the topic, though piqued by all of the furor du jour, is much more personal than that.

My daughter - the one who inspired the creation of this blog - is a ripe target for bullying in two forms. Her developmental differences cause her to stand out in ways that bullies may use as an excuse to target her. In addition her challenged social skills coupled with her personal desire to please and get attention from peers also make her vulnerable to being used as a bully's sidekick or groupie. "I won't be your friend unless you [insert bullying behavior] to [insert target's name]." I think I'm probably already working on borrowed time here. I know bullying can start even earlier than 2nd grade. Since she doesn't have great expressive language skills we may have already missed some minor issues, simply because she doesn't have the ability to tell us what she has experienced each day. There are many mysteries that occur between drop off and pick up at school. All efforts to observe and keep tabs on what she is experiencing point to things being okay. How long can this last?

It goes back even farther than her almost eight years, however. No, this is deeply personal. Looking back on my childhood I don't think anyone would say I was "bullied" in the strictest definition of the word. There weren't any thugs waiting to jump me on my way home after school. No one took away my lunch money or threw my homework in the mud puddle. Still, starting at grade 5, my social experience was one of isolation and constant teasing. Through circumstances pretty much beyond my control I was ostracized, called names, and made the butt of many jokes. The adults around me were either unaware of my situation or took the view that this was all a normal part of childhood. I tried talking to my parents about it but was so embarrassed by the situation and the little involuntary part I played in it that I couldn't fully make my case as to why I needed their help. [I have to say I wish I could go back and change how those conversations went from my end, but when you're a child it's hard to overcome the emotional pieces...but you know that...] At any rate, I tolerated this miserable situation through 5th and 6th grades. Removal to middle school helped somewhat though it also physically separated me from the one friend who had stuck by me in 5th -6th grades. I made a couple of new friends, but mostly stuck to myself in middle school. High school and the relative anonymity of a school full of 1600 bodies was my best cure. I still viewed myself as an outsider and although my self-image improved a degree, I can truly say that it wasn't until a decade ago that I fully processed and excised the effects of those two miserable years from my psyche. Even today on a dark sleepless night fraught with other worries the enemy of my soul will remind me of the pain of those days. Hard to believe that 30 years later the words of a few probably insecure children can still bring me to tears. I am grateful for my faith which has lessened the pain and brought good fruit from it as well. I believe my own experiences have given me a passion to advocate for individuals with differences. I think I am also more sensitive to when people are hurting, and I have a deep desire to help in whatever way I can. So all's well that ends well, right?

If I can help one child avoid the misery that I felt for those two years the series I'm embarking on here will be worth every effort.

I also have to say that as I'm posting this it breaks a long silence. I have acquaintances on facebook who knew me at this time (heck there's a picture of me from 5th grade there - ugh!). My mom reads every blog post (Hi, Mom - I love you!) and it may be somewhat shocking to her to read these words. I want to be clear that I hold grudges against no one. Hindsight brings great clarity. Everyone was doing what they could to maintain their position in the social construct. What scares me is that today's bullying cases are leading to more than just tears. Children are dying. We've got to stop this for every child that we can. That's the goal.

Over the next period of time I'm moving away from my standard posting format. I'll be inviting some guests to comment on this and related topics. I'll be sharing resources I've found so far. I'll be sharing steps that I'm taking with my own daughter, and asking for ideas from you. I'm not sure how long this series will last. I hope to post at least once each week. If you have questions or ideas that you want me to research, please leave those in the comments or send me a note and I'll address those as well. This is so important. Thanks for your attention.


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