I was bullied. It’s not something I like to remember, but it comes back to me this time of year.
The kids have only been back in school a couple of days, but trust me, the first taunts have already been dished out. The next few weeks will determine what kind of year many of our children have to endure.
In his homily last Saturday, my parish priest said he expected we’d read about bullying in the coming week’s newspaper. I didn’t think I’d be the person writing about it.
For most of us, the Labour Day weekend was a chance to breathe in the last summer air, to cling to the slower pace for a little while longer. Not so for everyone. In neighbourhoods like yours, a teen or pre-teen was thinking about the hell he or she would have to endure once the school buzzer sounded.
Victims get picked on for all kinds of reasons and for no reason at all. They are told they are too fat or too skinny. Mean kids call them dorks, ugly or pick on them because they are too smart, too rich, too poor or, yes, gay.
I applaud the provincial government’s Safe and Caring Schools initiative. There are online resources for students, teachers and parents, a special violence awareness week, and even Safe and Caring Awards for students. These are good measures, and if you have kids in school, take the time to visit the government website and get up to speed on what you can do.
I’ve been out of school for decades, but I recall doing a lot of kicking and screaming every September. There were bullies in and outside the classroom. I lost more than one recess lunch on my walk to school; I endured my share of shoving from the “cooler” kids in the school hallway. And I can still picture, as if in slow motion, one neighbourhood bully as he pulled back his fist and directed it straight to the centre of my black horn-rimmed glasses.
I’m not sure what hurt more — the pain from the punch or telling my dad I’d accidentally broken my specs playing street hockey. Now he knows the truth.
I’m proud of the way I handled one bully. He came at me after school one day, and I convinced him the best way to handle things was in a boxing ring set up in my backyard. He and his gang of friends thought this was great, and followed me to my house. I ran inside and left them waiting and waiting and waiting.
I’m not recommending this, but I finally overcame some regular bullies by fighting back. A solid right from a frightened 14-year-old and I was “in” with that group. Next thing I knew, the bullies were my friends and I was never picked on again.
There is also something to be said about safety in numbers. Bert, Leo, Bob, Paul, Mike, Tony and the Sullivan boys certainly helped me make it safely through high school. I have to admit that being bullied may, at times, have made me one. I’m not proud of some of the things I did. Years lived teaches us many lessons.
There are bullies everywhere, in marriages and families, at the office and on the worksite. Today, though, let’s be concerned about our children. Watch for the signs, keep the communication lines open, and let your son or daughter know they can speak to you unconditionally, about anything.
Teachers, mind our kids as if they are your own. You are not babysitters, but for seven hours a day we place our trust in you that our children are in a safe, caring, learning environment. I don’t envy you your job.
And students, know you are not alone. No one deserves to be bullied, and that includes you. Fighting back can make things worse. Ask for help; you don’t need to deal with this on your own.
School days are often remembered as the best days of our lives. We all deserve those memories.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org