First, I'd like you to watch this. It's a little over 12 minutes long, and I will understand if you don't want to watch it -- but I think you should. Especially if you have kids, because I want you to see that while it does "get better" (as all the celebrities are rightly saying in the anti-bullying videos making the rounds these days) it never ever really goes away.
I'm willing to bet every single one of you reading this has been teased or picked on in your life, for silly things or serious things or things you don't understand. For many people, it's nothing. It's one jerk saying something mean to you, or a friend who takes a joke too far, and sometimes it hurts like hell. Then you forget about it and move on and it never comes up again. But think of one of those times right now, and try to remember how bad you felt in the moment it happened. Now, try to think of how much of that you would be able to take before you jumped off a bridge or hanged yourself in your bedroom or shot yourself in the head. Because that's what has been happening. Kids are being terrorized and kids are killing themselves.
I was bullied when I was a kid. From kindergarten until the day I graduated high school, I was teased and tortured almost every single school day. It felt awful and it felt like it would never end, but it did. I finished high school a year earlier than I had to and I left and I will be perfectly happy if I never see any of the pathetic pieces of shit that bullied me ever again. But as bad as it was for me, I never wanted to die because of it. That's why it's like a punch in the heart every time I see a story in the news about a bullied kid committing suicide -- because I know how much it hurt when I was bullied, yet I can't even begin to comprehend how much it has to hurt before a person takes their own life.
It's pretty common, I think, for adults to tell kids to be tough or suck it up when someone teases them. Sometimes it's what you have to do, to help a kid grow up strong and able to stand up for him or herself. But for fucksake, do NOT ignore your son or daughter if they say they're being bullied or you think they're being bullied -- because while it does get better ( I know this because it got better for me) the effects of being bullied never completely go away (I also know this because it also happened to me.) You'll see that if you watch the video I linked to at the beginning of this post. You'll see a man who has grown up to be very successful in his life and his work after a childhood of being terrorized.....but you'll also see a man who is obviously still hurting from everything that happened to him and everything that was said to him all those years ago.
There are people who argue being bullied makes a child a stronger adult. I agree with that, but it pisses me right the fuck off anyway. Yes, maybe I'm tougher now because I had to be when I was a kid -- but I was forced into it. I'd rather be able to say that I'm tough because I chose to be, not because I had to be because the alternative was to fall apart. I hope if you're a parent, that's what you want for your kids, too.
So we can confirm (based on my scientific analysis of me) that being bullied can lead to tougher adults. I guess in the grander scheme of things, that's not a bad thing. But do you know what is a bad thing? Wondering if people actually like you, or if they're just putting up with you until you go away. Not being able to fully believe that a friend's light-hearted, good-natured teasing isn't really cruelty in disguise. Thinking that you're alone at night not because you just happen to be alone, but because there's no one who can stand being around you. Being afraid sometimes that everything bad everyone ever said to you might be true.
I'm never telling anyone the things people said or did to me when I was a kid. I've tried to before, and it hurts like hell just to almost say those things aloud. But I will tell you that I sometimes feel all of those things I mentioned above. I graduated high school when I was 18. I'm 31 as I write this. It's been 13 years since I was bullied (don't bother pointing it out if that number is wrong -- I am well aware I blow at math) and it still affects me. I think it always will.
I'm not writing this for sympathy. I'm not writing this because I actually want to talk to people in great detail about it, despite my protests that I don't. Ask almost any adult you know who was bullied as a kid to describe the things they were bullied about, and I wish you luck getting them to answer you. We losers and nerds and punching bags don't particularly want to re-live the specifics of our loser-ness and nerd-ness and punching bag-ness.
So, no -- I'm not writing this for attention. I'm writing this and I'm telling you that it still affects me because I want you to be able to help your kids so that it won't be affecting them when they are 31. It's hard to stop it if you don't know it's happening ( I didn't exactly come home from school and tell my parents that everyone thought I was a loser) but the way things are now, I think parents need to pay better attention. Kids are killing themselves. I can't believe that there aren't signs well in advance that something is going wrong.
I don't have kids. I don't know the answer. I don't know how to let your children know it's OK and it's not weak to come to you for help, but you have to find a way to do just that. Please please PLEASE don't let your children grow up to be like me. Don't get me wrong -- I think I'm pretty awesome. I have a kick-ass job and very awesome friends. I'm smart and I'm funny and I'm cute and I'm nice. I don't punch babies or kick dogs. I've never killed a hobo and left his carcass on train tracks. I will probably never be described by my neighbours as someone who "seemed so normal until they found all those bodies in her basement." But I'm also very insecure a lot of the time. I can be paranoid, and I often wonder if people actually like me. And a lot of the time, I wonder why they do. I cry sometimes when I (mistakenly) think people are being mean to me, and I cry sometimes when people are being nice, because deep down, I don't think I'm always sure I deserve it. And the entire time I'm feeling any of those things, I know I'm being a dumbass -- but I truly can't help it. You don't want that for your kids. You don't want your kids to grow up and wonder even one-percent of the time whether they actually deserve to be happy.
As much as it sucked when I was a kid, and as much as it affects me now, at least I'm still here. I wish I could say that for Tyler Clementi. And Ryan Halligan. And Megan Meier. Phoebe Prince. Jared High. April Himes. And who knows how many more.
To my friends who have kids and my friends who will: Please don't let them to grow up to be insecure. Please don't let them grow up questioning whether they are worthy of their friends. Please don't let them grow up to be someone who cries when someone says something nice to them because sometimes they just can't fathom another person seeing anything good in them. And please make sure I never have to read their name in a news story about a kid who just couldn't take it anymore.