According to NCAB, bullying is “an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening.”
I experienced repeated verbal behavior that caused emotional pain. It involved an individual “misusing their perceived power over me, who felt unable to stop it from happening”. I referred to it as picking on me, and teasing me, especially when no one else was around. The folks involved knew their parents and teachers would provide consequences if they found out, so they did the teasing on the sly. This is not a sob story. It’s a story about a difficult time in my life and what I learned from the experience.
Every once in a while, something happens that brings back the memory. It happened just last week, and I told the story to Dave again as we tried to figure out the motive behind the teasing. I suppose I will never know. What started out as fun and games became a form of bullying. I didn’t recognize it at the time, and years – many years – have passed since that time.
There was a play in our English Reader about Columbus. Our teacher decided we would read the parts and perform it in our class. After we performed it for our classroom, she invited other classrooms to watch our performance, so this play was presented several times. Parts were chosen as we volunteered unless more than one child volunteered for the same part. I volunteered for many parts, but got the one I didn’t really want: the Queen of England. The problem: I was paired with a boy as the King. That is when the teasing began. Just like that. All because I was queen with a classmate as king. I certainly didn’t ask for the part, and I for certain didn’t ask for the teasing. That’s when the bullying began.
How elementary kids can decide that, because a girl is paired with a boy in a play, she likes him or has a crush on him, is beyond me. The more I denied, the more they implied. The teasing went on for days, for weeks, and for months – at least so it seemed. In my memory, it seemed to go on forever with no end in sight.
I dreaded finding one particular girl alone in the bathroom, because I knew teasing would incur. I dreaded practicing school songs with a group because they found a way to give more implications. No matter where I went alone, I was cornered and teased, repeatedly. That’s bullying.
I dreaded going to school. Every day, I dreaded that ride to school because I knew what was waiting. That’s how I remember it. I still remember – and while there is remorse over their part, I am not angry and harbor no grudge.
I finally did what I should have done at the beginning. I told my Mama. She listened to me, and she believed my pain. Mama did not encourage my pain, nor did she excuse it. Click To Tweet She didn’t tell me what she was going to do, but she told me I would not need to worry about this any more. I knew by the look on her face that things were going to get better. She told me if things did not get better, I was to let her know. Even though I couldn’t see how, I knew, somehow, things would get better. They did.
I can’t tell you what my mama did because we never discussed it again. But I think I know.
The very next day in school, our principal (and teacher of older grades) stood in front of our classroom and gave an impassioned speech. She talked about kindness, about picking on other students, about hoping our school had the kind of students whose behavior was pleasing to parents and to teachers. Without saying it in so many words, she said the teasing must stop. Yet, her words were so veiled that I wasn’t certain she was talking about my situation. I hoped she was, but I was afraid, too. What if they came after me for telling?!
I looked straight ahead. I felt the glances of some girls and I was sure they were looking at me. Our principal also promised she would pursue situations if this did not stop at once. She let us know that this was not something any of us would discuss with anyone but her, or there would be consequences. Every single one of us knew she would follow through. We knew better than to talk about it. Nobody, but nobody wanted a confrontation from Teacher Esther. And nobody, but nobody, wanted their parents to get a phone call from our respected Teacher Esther.
The teasing stopped. Completely. Nothing more was ever said. I am still amazed that nothing more had to be done or said.
Teasing hurts, especially when it seems it never stops. I have never forgotten that pain and the (in my mind) incessant teasing. I am more readily able to notice unnecessary and willful teasing, and quicker to speak up when it happens. When your child hurts, do what my mama did. She did not encourage my pain, nor did she excuse it. Then she took steps to do something about it because it was not something a child needs to fix. If your child is guilty of teasing unmercifully, be the parent and make sure it stops.
Hurting people hurt people. Whatever it was about her situation, a particular girl kept the “pedal to the metal” when it came to teasing me. I suppose she experienced pain in her life, and teasing me was a way to gain an upper hand when she possibly did not have that chance at home. When folks come at me, whether it is subtly or blatantly, I remember that hurting people hurt people. I am quicker to pray for the folks who hurt me when I recognize they themselves are hurting. The “hurting people hurt people” phrase is my signal to pray. I’m not excusing the actions; I’m understanding the actions and making sure my response is correct.
It is wrong to turn a blind eye to bullying. Parents, teachers, and adults must do their job when they are aware that bullying is happening. Granted, sometimes a child throws the first punch (verbal or physical) and is part of the problem. Yet, many times when a kid is bullied he does nothing wrong. How well I know. Do not turn away and act like you don’t notice. Choose truth over loyalty. If you know there is bullying and do nothing about it, you are participating in the crime. You don’t have to rob a bank to be guilty of theft; driving the get-away car makes you guilty, too. Don’t drive the get-away car for your child.
Scripture says we are to return good for evil. Fleshing that out will make a difference in the heart of the one bullied, even if it does not change the bully. Helping kids figure out the underlying cause does not dismantle the pain, but it will give insight and a better way to respond. Click To Tweet What did I do in this situation as a fourth grader? It never occurred to me to do something nice for this person, to return good for evil. I didn’t try to “return good”, nor did I return evil with evil (I knew better, for there would have been consequences!) Our kids need our help in understanding and fleshing this out in their world. Returning good does not negate or excuse the wrong. Returning good changes the heart of the child who is bullied. It’s not easy for adults, and it certainly isn’t easy for kids; yet scripture does not say we should return good for evil if it is easy.
Adults must be trustworthy. A child needs to trust the adults in his life so he can confide in them. Our kids need to know they can tell us what’s happening in their world. We can’t fix it if we don’t know it’s broken. As adults, we need to be approachable with our kids and other kids so they are free to tell us what’s happening in their lives. We must not minimize the pain of a child, even if we think it is not significant.
I am grateful. As a child, I learned the importance of forgiveness, of not holding a grudge. Life moved on and the event was behind us. I could have harbored a grudge – and lived under its curse all these years. Kids do dumb, hurtful things at times. Kids must be taught to acknowledge their wrong and ask forgiveness. But if they don’t, it’s up to us to forgive – again and again. It frees us from the weight and puts us on a new path.
Almost sixty years later, I’m still not sure how I happened to tell Mama about my situation. Was I off by myself crying and she found me? Did she ask me about school and I opened up? Did I tell her I dreaded going to school? I don’t remember. I do know the conversation happened in her bedroom, and that when I told her, she listened, and promised me it would be okay. And it was. Mama did what a parent should do. The bullying stopped.
Photo credits: pixabay.com