My issue (or one of them) is "guarding." I guard my issues, my past, my testimony, my daily messes. It's a tradition that we passed down in my family, generation through generation; similar to "saving face," or preserving your reputation. I believe that when we (my sisters and I) witnessed family members staying mum about issues, we indirectly learned that being open meant inviting judgment. We wouldn't be safe. No one meant to teach those things...and I know a lot of it came from a generation that just behaved and believed differently. I'm not placing blame.
Recently a friend posted this great article on secrets. Read it, if you like, it might stir you the same way it did me.
And so, I started thinking about our family's "secrets," my own issues from the past, and even the current things (minor and major) that I keep behind locked doors. It's so ingrained in me that I don't always realize I'm doing it. Until I see other, more transparent people. Part of it is personality, part is upbringing, and a lot of it is simply that these people want to help others and they put themselves out there to do it. They share because sharing helps. They make the choice to reveal themselves, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I respect and admire that.
Because I plan to slowly but surely learn some transparency (God's doing some work, I tell ya!) I'll start with some clarification up front.I don't believe every private detail of life should be shouted from the rooftops. Nor do I believe that it's okay to share someone's story for them. My sister wrote an amazing post about pornography, but it's not something I would have presumed to share about her life, if she wasn't open about it. My family reads this blog, from time to time, and I don't anyone to be nervous that I'll leak personal information about them. If I want to write about something that involves you, I'll ask first, promise!
Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, I'll get started.
Bullying. (some offensive material below...)
Yeah, it's not something I talk about often, but it's a daily issue for thousands of kids. I've been hearing about all of these teen & college suicides because of bullying. Then, on Wednesday, our local newspaper in Small Townville had an article on the front page about a sixth grader who was making life-threatening comments to a female fellow student, via facebook. At one point, he said that if she wouldn't perform oral sex for him, he would kill her. People, I'm talking about 6th graders in my town. That's 11- and 12-year olds. My daughter is 11-years old.
The boy was expelled for 5 days. Which-- I'll be honest-- I consider a slap on the wrist. I'm sure the school is taking this seriously, and doing all that they can. But, let's face it, teachers are already responsible for the education of 20+ students. They can't monitor students 24/7. They can't be everywhere. They can't protect your child everywhere s/he goes.
But let me get to my own story.
When I was little, I was very shy. I had some good friends, and just stuck to my little group. I made good grades and behaved well, and became good friends with several of my elementary school teachers. I really enjoyed school! Then, around 3rd or 4th grade, a few students started to pick on me. One boy in particular would taunt me every day on the playground, calling me "big lips" or "fuzz hair." Then a girl chimed in, saying I had bad nails, and echoing the "big lips" nickname. I was so ashamed. My body image crashed. At first, I just tried to avoid him, or hide. Then I started dreading school, and actually feeling ill in the mornings. It was "minor" bullying, but it was mean and effective. Kids can be cruel.
The next year got better. That kid wasn't in my 5th grade class, and I could relax and enjoy school again. I'm sure he simply found someone new to pick on. My 6th grade year was fine. Not very memorable. But 7th grade was a whole new ballgame. We were in the junior high, suddenly walking between buildings... lots of kids everywhere without much supervision. There were bullies everywhere. If they weren't bullying me, then I was witnessing it happening to others. I hated that year. The girls were the worst. It's as if they all grew claws.
My family was close, and my parents always spent a lot of time with us. I had no reason to hide my feelings, except that I felt ashamed. I never told my parents about the early bullying incidents... still haven't told them.
Thankfully, my parents asked us if we wanted to be homeschooled that next year, which was my 8th grade year. I jumped at the opportunity, and had one of the BEST years of my childhood. It was fantastic-- so much time with my family and good friends. I woke up early and started my work on my own, often working outside. Dad had all of our lesson plans written out in the book, and I'd just check things off as I completed them. Mom would help, if I needed her to, and Dad would grade our papers in the evening. I clearly remember laying outside in my backyard one day, reading my history. Suddenly I stopped and just looked around. Birds were chirping, the breeze was blowing, I could smell bread baking. And, at that moment, I almost cried because I was so happy, felt so safe and secure and loved. Every morning my mom made blender drinks for breakfast and we had chef salads for lunch. My parents took us to art galleries, on hikes... so many family activities all the time. Family Game Night was a weekly event in our house. We took walks almost every evening, and had family devotions often. Wish life had just stayed like that.
Then my family moved to South Carolina the following summer. I decided to try public school, so I could make new friends in our new city. That was one of the worst mistakes of my life. And, really, at this point, I don't plan to give my own kids that option. My parents couldn't have known how bad that year would be for me. My life went into a spiral for the next 3 years.
I was thrust into a new world of fighting, drugs, sex. The high school was a 3-story building, with 30 trailers behind it to deal with overcrowding. When the bell rang to change classes, students filed out and packed into the halls like sardines. There were fights every day over the rebel flag. Students were searched all the time for drugs. There were two student suicides and one homicide during the year I was there. Kids were caught having sex in the science lab.
I had a few good friends, but wasn't able to see them often. I was sad and alone, and figured out pretty quickly that I had better find a group, to stay safe.
Oh my. This is getting long, and I haven't even gotten to the real stuff. More soon about my own experience. I will share.
For now, I'll jump to the point: don't let it continue. If you suspect that your child is being bullied, find out! (Actually, I advise just point-blank asking often! And don't just use the word "bullying." Get information!) If the school can't put an end to it, then YOU deal with it. Pull your child out. Find another school. Try virtual school, charter school, or homeschool. Please Don't assume it's just something kids need to get through; some kind of insane rite of passage or something. It's not okay. It doesn't go away if you ignore it. It escalates and often leads to rape or other physical abuse, or suicide. Read the research. There are literally thousands of articles on this, and stories from victims of bullying.
Even if it seems mild, the effects are long-lasting. Don't sit by. Don't let it continue. Do whatever-- whatever-- you can, even if it means moving away. Does that sound extreme? I'm sure the parents of the children who committed suicide wouldn't think so.
Here's one family's story.
And here is a link to volume 1 of the Bully Chronicles written by a dear friend of mine. To read more about her experiences, look down on the right hand sidebar of her blog. It's important stuff. Not pleasant to hear, but important to know about, if we're going to change things.
I hope this helps someone to feel like they're not alone. I hope it prompts parents to get more information and stand up for their kids. I hope it helps a teacher realize the seriousness of the situation. I hope it encourages the friend of a victim to report the situation. I just hope it helps.