If you’re a regular Kiwi Commons reader, you’ll know that I usually write about app round-ups and technology reviews. For Bullying Awareness Week, I’ve got nothing of the sort. As much as apps can block unsavory content, social media is still a relative minefield where anyone can say anything. I wish there was an app that could automatically hide all negative comments, but alas, it doesn’t yet exist.
A few months ago, I met a little girl who was being bullied at school. Being short on time and the whole conversation being really awkward to start with, I couldn’t really offer her anything except to say that it does get better and you’ll think of this as a mere blip years from now.
With time to think about it, and being better at expressing myself in writing, I hope this will help put things into perspective for kids (especially girls) being bullied now. Social media wasn’t around when I was growing up, but I still think harsh words in person sting the most. Here’s what I’ve learnt:
Bullying hurts more when you are (or were once) close to the bully. I’ve had three bullies – one when I was a kid, and two as a grown-up. When their teasing became more mean than playful, there was a gray area between recognizing their comments as something I should actually change versus something that’s just plain mean. For a simplified example, there’s a big difference between saying to someone, “You smell,” which isn’t constructive for anyone, and taking someone aside to say privately, “It might be time to start using deodorant before hockey practice.” It still risks offending someone but lets him or her know something s/he may not. However, somebody who often says mean things to you (and despite you saying something about it) is not somebody who you should keep spending time with.
Get to know who you are. When dealing with bullies, it helps to feel good about yourself, your accomplishments, and what you’re good at doing. Confidence is like a shield against bullies. It’s rough when you’re bullied as a kid because you’re still growing as a person and figuring out what’s socially acceptable. But no matter what your age, making someone feel bad about themselves is never acceptable. There is research about how kid bullies actually have great self-esteems, but I know from experience that grown-up bullies often feel insecure and have to mask it by taking power trips or doing things to make others feel small. When you’re able to recognize another’s insecurity, confidence will help immensely with being able to brush off mean comments for what they are.
Be prepared to stand up for yourself. For various reasons, I’ve actually been learning a lot about that this week. You don’t have to walk around being defensive, but if something hurts, say so. People are often oblivious to the consequences of their actions and have to be told. That’s also why racism exists – because people are allowed to carry on talking about groups of people in a way that demeans them, without ever being told that it’s inappropriate.
It’s okay if you’re not part of the group. In elementary school, I remember trying to find new groups to hang out with. And in the end, there’s one particular friend who I spent a lot more time with because she didn’t care about needing to belong to a group. She’s the only close friend I kept from elementary school, and a few months ago, I was the Master of Ceremonies (MC) at her wedding. The group doesn’t matter because they’ll scatter, go to different schools, and move to different cities. You’ll also do the same and make new friends.
It’s okay if you’re a loner. In elementary school, I spent a lot of time by myself reading in the library. I think it paid off because now I’m a professional writer. If you spend enough time at anything, you get really good at it. And as my friend Gil points out, life will give you friends anyway, and choosing to do some things alone doesn’t mean you’ll always be alone.
It does get better. I hope this helps even just a little bit.