National Day of Action Against Bullying & Violence
Find more information here.
This week there has been a lot of media support leading up to the National Day of Action Against Bullying & Violence, and one of those initiatives included interviews with bullying victims, by Jodie and Soda on Mix 102 radio. I found these really traumatic, because it was obvious from the shake in people’s voices and the occasional tear, that decades later these emotional ordeals were still fresh in the victim’s minds.
And I understood this, because I was a victim of bullying too. I like to think I have a certain objectivity about it 3 decades later, but my voice shakes too when I talk about it.
Your average victim
I think it’s really important for people to realise that there isn’t an average victim. Bullying can be physical or emotional, the victims can be children, teenagers or adults, male or female. In my teenage years I was relatively self-confident and outgoing. I prided myself with standing out from the crowd. I didn’t expect to be victimised.
How it started
A community disco, a cute guy, and a shared kiss. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, a girl at school ¾ let’s call her Ms Busybody ¾ heard that my best friend liked this guy. I knew that, it was a few months ago, no big deal. I was not the kind of person who would betray a friend.
Little did I know that Ms Busybody would start a campaign against me while my best friend was off school due to illness for three days. By the time my BFF came back to school, Ms Busybody had developed quite a following, but it didn’t matter to me what she thought. I sat down with my BFF and she agreed we were all good.
Now, I honestly can’t tell exactly how the situation snowballed, but it did, and fast. Before I knew it most of the girls in my year level were saying nasty things about me, all kinds of disgusting rumours were circulating and I was feeling like shit.
Somewhere along the line my BFF started believing she’d been betrayed and sided with the bullies (obviously not someone worthy of missing from my life), but the situation took a frightening turn when the ‘tough girls’ heard a rumour they didn’t like. Apparently I was sleeping with one of their boyfriends. Mind you, I was also pregnant and stole my BFF’s boyfriend. Hang on, are these stories taking on a life of their own?
This was about the time my sister started walking me to the car after school (not that she could provide any real physical protection), and I hid between the buildings at lunch time, with my two true friends. And cried… a lot. My thoughts went to really bad places during those long months of bullying, but I refused to let my persecutors win.
In retrospect, I’m not sure how my parents didn’t realise that something was wrong. I guess they put it down to a sullen teenager not giving much away, but I felt like it was the world against me.
Ignoring bullies isn’t as effective as you might think. I suffered for many months, and my life was never the same. For the remainder of my high school years I spent time with a long-term boyfriend, or one of a handful of friends.
Once I left school, I thought I’d left those awful days behind, but when I look back on those teenage years, I think this traumatic experience as the catalyst for me turning my back on my career aspirations and becoming independent in the extreme.
Perhaps it was my refusal to regret that I’d kissed a boy, or the way I brushed off Ms Busybody in the beginning that exacerbated the situation. It doesn’t really matter how it started anymore, but it still affects me as a middle-aged mother and successful woman.
What can you do?As a parent, I talk to my children about how other people feel when people are mean to them, and about bystander behaviour. Watching for behaviour changes and trying to keep the communication channels open is an ongoing battle as my children turn into independent teenagers, but I will never stop being vigilant.
Parents and children can seek help here.
As an adult, I try to practice what I preach by being kind to others and speaking up when I see someone else behaving inappropriately.
What is your experience with bullying?