This article is dedicated to the 150 eighth and tenth grade Boston Public Schools students I have the pleasure of teaching this year.
I figure the odds are pretty good that some of my sweet students sometimes experience the stress that comes with the middle and high school social scene… and so it’s time at last to start unearthing the photos and stories of my OWN skinny self in 8th grade, to kick-start a deep discussion.
Bottom line: I’ve been thinking a ton about the concept of “bullying” recently, and I need your help, readers of all ages from around the world, to analyze it through your own input and stories. Without further ado, here are your discussion questions:
1. What does “bullying” even consist of? Can a tiny cruelty make a giant impact?
Some bullying is obvious: slamming a kid against the wall and stealing his lunch money, or scrawling cruel graffiti with someone’s name on desks and bathroom walls, or taunting utterances like, “You’re ugly!” day in and day out… But so much of bullying is a gray area. From my experience, so much of what hurts is almost invisible.
Recently, I mentioned to my current 8th graders that I encountered some vicious girl bullies when I was back in 8th grade, who made me feel awful, constantly.
“What did those girl bullies do to you?” asked my 8th graders.
“Um, well…” I stuttered, struggling to explain the horror I remembered, “It wasn’t exactly that they said things straight out to me, it was the way they looked at me? And the things I heard them whisper but didn’t really hear?” I fumbled. “It was tiny things to an outsider, but to me, really, it was torture!”
And as lame as it sounds, those tiny things can really make an impact on a person! So, readers, what are YOUR experiences of how you’ve defined bullying in your life?
2. How does bullying vary between countries, socioeconomic classes, and time periods?
There’s a temptation to say, “Bullying is so much worse now than it used to be, now that Facebook and texting create more opportunity for cruel words.” But really, adult readers, can’t you tell some stories about terrible middle and high school tormentors in the pre-Facebook era?
I’ve also heard implied: “Well, bullying isn’t something that happens in poor countries– they have bigger things to worry about.” Come on international readers: there’s no way that’s true. Weigh in.
And check out a statement thrown around frequently: “Rich suburbs in Massachusetts have much meaner girls than Boston Public Schools kids. They are psychological savages in the suburbs.” Hmm… I’m starting to think that bullying may look totally different in different places and times, so we may not recognize it at first, but odds are, it’s there… unless an effort has been made by those in charge to address it!
3. What about bullying among adults?
So where does it end? We could kid ourselves and say that at a certain point, things the “cool kids” say won’t bother us (even if these “kids” are 35 years old!), but that ain’t always true. If a coworker makes a non-appreciative comment about your clothes, it’s still awkward and uncomfortable. Readers, do you see adult bullying around you? How do people you know address it?
4. And now for the most important question: Students, how can we best help you keeping safe, loved, and un-bullied?
If bullying is hidden and subtle, how do we spot it? What kind of actions can a teacher, parent, or fellow student take to make the situation better?
We care about you and want you to be honored, no matter how quirky or unique you are!
Speaking of quirky and unique… let’s chat for a moment about these photos of my young and awkward self displayed here. I really had a revelation while looking through these: all my life I’ve thought that when I was in middle school, I was weird and goofy and didn’t fit in. In short, I didn’t have so much love for the memory of my young self.
But let me tell you: looking at these photos now, I truly see a kid I respect.
Why? Because, behind all those braces, that gal in those photos has a huge, happy grin. She’s out there, she’s dressed a little differently and her hair isn’t in the coolest style for the times, but… I like her! And whoever you are, however many people are sending bullying vibes your way, I want us all to support YOU in loving YOUR marvelous self, too!
Time to start commenting, readers. Remember you can comment anonymously, but if you do, please leave your age, gender, and geographical location in the name box, and please know that I moderate all comments before publishing them. (Oh, that would be ironic to have rude bullying comments on an article against bullying! Keep it positive and helpful, folks!)