I was never bullied. And, while there were certainly unkind kids in the elementary and secondary schools I attended while growing up in a very small town, for the most part, my childhood and the childhoods of most of my friends were spent worrying more about things like makeup, boys, and whether the makeup we wore was the right kind to attract the boys we liked. We had our disagreements, and sometimes those disagreements morphed into stony silences. However, I don’t ever recall a time growing when I felt unsafe in school or in the neighborhood where I grew up.
Bullying, like stealing candy from the grocery store or getting drunk enough to pass out, was not considered to be socially acceptable behavior among my peer group back then. Bullying was what cowards, not cool kids, did. And though we were often self-absorbed and thoughtless and had our cliques, to be sure… we all knew what the rules were and usually followed them. Our parents, teachers, neighbors and church families monitored us, and when it was needed, stepped in to stop us from behaving badly toward each other. I didn’t like everyone at school, and I know for sure that not everyone liked me. But I tried, hard, to be kind.
I felt better about myself when I was kind. I still do.
This seems so simple. Or at least it used to seem simple to me.
I am struggling this week with the knowledge that there seems to be a sense of resignation when the topic of bullying comes up…in them, and sometimes in their parents, too. Like it’s a given that it will happen. That kids will be kids.
Many of my college freshmen write essays about the living hell that high school was for them and how cyber-bullying over Facebook and Twitter have replaced being knocked into lockers for many young people. Their stories make me sad for the teens they were before I knew them as college students. It’s a world I admit I know very little about and one I should have known much more about when my own kids were in high school. I think about how easy it would have been for one of them to be cyber-bullied without my being aware that it was even happening. They had computers and cell phones and a were certainly more technologically savvy than their mom was even when they were in junior high school.
I think about the community that protected all of us from each other (and often, ourselves) so long ago. How the Village stopped us from being idiots most of the time.
And then, I think about the virtual village my students and my own children resided in as adolescents. It was, and is, an enormous, anonymous land of words and pictures. Parents visit this place to see how their kids are doing. But here’s the kicker. When we visit, we see only the things our children dare to show us. We don’t speak the language and don’t understand the culture and this is a problem. A big one.
I remember reading the book Lord of the Flies when I was in high school. Maybe you did, too.
From what I’m hearing, and reading, too many of our young people are living on a technological island that makes the terrible, fictional one in the book look good by comparison.