Were you bullied as a child? If so, I’m sure that as you read this you have called to mind not only the incident(s) and the bully’s name, but every detail from where it happened to what you were wearing and especially how the bully made you feel.
If you were fortunate enough not to have been harassed in your childhood, you are likely to be surprised by the clarity with which adults can tell their stories of bullying. Listening to the speed and exactness of the recall is akin to hearing the responses one gets to “Where were you when JFK was shot?” or “What were you doing when the towers came down?”
I didn’t realize the strength of these memories until proposed legislation on safer schools in Minnesota was debated and casual conversation led to stories of bullying. I mentioned to one friend that I had read the new legislation. Rather than his usual political response, he started with, “There was a boy who followed me home and called me names every day in 5th grade until the snow got too deep.” His instant recall prompted me to ask friends both in person and online if they too had been bullied. The folks I heard from are confident, capable adults who work as professionals and seem to be unlikely victims.
Years later, details were precise
Still, simple questions led to precise details of books knocked to the ground, teasing for being tall and having big feet, and ethnic slurs 10 to 40 years in the past. Most of this harassment happened at school, but it also happened in supposedly safe places like 4H and catechism classes. Adults were unaware of the incidents. Parents were not informed and teachers turned blind eyes even when taunting lasted for all of high school.
There is no reason to believe that school is any safer now than it was in “the good old days.” On surveys, about one-fourth of all students report that they were recent victims of bullying and over 60 percent of students with disabilities report harassment. Yes, children are regularly harassed for autism, eating a special diabetic diet, or using a wheelchair.
In one sense the bullying has become more pervasive with the advent of cyber-bullying. Rumors and threats spread electronically over social media; going home and closing the door no longer provide respite from bullies.
Effects of bullying are long-term
While many have the resources to recover from isolated incidences of bullying, not all are so fortunate. Harassment regularly leads to illness, dropping out of school, violence from the victim, and even suicide.
Even those who appear unscathed carry the bully’s voice with them. We may see our tormentors in the community, on TV, or on Facebook and we remember the pain, discomfort, and humiliation they caused us.
We cannot change the past and the source of painful memories, but as adults we can change the future for children. WE can minimize bullying. We can support legislation for safer schools; we can reach out to children and offer to hear stories of harassment; we can fund anti-bullying initiatives; and we can share our stories so that others will realize that bullying is a serious issue with life-long impacts that has to stop.
Beth-Ann Bloom is a mom, genetic counselor and community volunteer from Woodbury.
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