I'm reading this book. It's called Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Piccoult. It's about a school shooting. Wait, scratch that; it's about the aftermath of a school shooting. It goes from flashbacks to current events, to tell the story of a boy and the school he shot up one day.
It's a powerful story. I'm about 3/4 of the way through; today as I was reading, the trial started. The boy's defense is going to be PTSD. We all know what that is, right? It's what soldiers coming home from war experience. It's what happens to women who are raped, people who are in horrific accidents, children who are picked up and thrown around by tornadoes (if they're lucky enough to be alive after).
So how can someone walk into a school, murder 9 students and 1 teacher, and wound 19 others, and claim PTSD? It's simple. Bullying. There's a huge campaign against it lately. Bullied kids are committing suicide; school shootings are a fact of life now; we can all probably remember at least one incident from high school where we were bullied.
But for some kids, it's not just something that happens once in awhile. For some kids, there's no need to wait for high school because for them being bullied started early, sometimes as early as kindergarten. Oh, it's normal, kids can be mean, you say. It prevents kids from turning into wimps, you say. I was bullied and it didn't affect my life that badly, you say.
Well, here's what I say: bullying hurts. Bullying is harmful. Bullying can cause nightmares. Bullying can cause kids to make poor life choices. The girl who has been treated badly by boys for years suddenly gets a little attention from a boy and thinks he's kinda cute...she'll do anything to keep him from leaving her, even if that means putting up with abuse, having sex too early, ending up pregnant. The boy who is teased for years because he's overweight turns 16 and decides he's done with school altogether. He becomes a high school drop-out, and no matter what he does afterwards, that title will always follow him.
And for some kids, the torture and abuse is so bad, so horrific, they'd do anything to make it stop. They lose their ability to think clearly, because all they can think of is the taunts they'll hear, the pain they'll feel as they're tripped down the stairs or shoved into a locker, the garbage they'll smell as they're tossed into a dumpster, the shame they'll see when they look in the mirror. Some commit acts of desperation trying to stop it all. Some kill themselves. Some decide to kill others; get rid of those who abused them, and possibly anyone else that gets in the way or might have been part of the bullying.
The truth is, most of us have been part of the bullying. If you've ever watched a kid with glasses get knocked around, his glasses pulled off his face and crushed on the ground, while the other kids call him Four-Eyes, and you didn't say anything, then you were part of the bullying. If you've ever seen a female student crying on the stairs, and another female student comforting her (because Grandma just died and it's finals week so there's no time to grieve at home in private), and you heard the other kids whistle catcalls or tell them to get a room, and you didn't do anything about it, then you were part of the bullying.
For every vulnerable kid who was bullied in school, on the playground, on the school bus, there were at least a dozen other kids who watched it happen. And...that's it. They just watched it happen. There's someone needing air, with several people around holding oxygen tanks, but how often does anyone step in and help the drowning? Not very often. Not often enough. Out of fear of retribution, most likely. Maybe out of apathy. Because after all, kids can be mean. It's a fact of life.
Do you know why bullies bully? To get attention. To feel better about themselves, because if someone else has it rougher, life isn't so bad. To impress others. There are probably other reasons, but those are the main ones. So what would happen if bullies didn't get attention, if their friends were not impressed at their displays of "power", if we all gave our strength to those who are bullied so the bully sees that they in fact didn't make anyone's life worse? I truly believe that we could go a long way towards eliminating most bullying if we could find a way to get our kids to stand together and stand up for others.
That kid who seems weak and sensitive might grow up to make a fabulous doctor and help cancer patients get through the worst time of their lives. The math geek might grow up to be a robotics engineer and help design something to help paraplegics walk. The fat girl everyone calls a lesbian might grow up to be a loving mom who spends her spare time creating art that she hopes can bring beauty into other people's lives.
What if I told you that fat girl, who is not actually a lesbian, almost didn't make it? She was a pair of dull scissors away from being nothing but a memory. And 16 years after dropping out of high school, she still feels the effects of being bullied. She still has nightmares. She still hates herself.
Don't let anyone tell you the bullying doesn't stick with a child, an adult. It wraps around a person, like a boa constrictor looking for a hug. I'd rather hug my children and teach them love, and tolerance for people who are different than they, and remain hopeful for their future. Hopeful that their future will be nothing like my past. Hopeful that one day, if they see bullying, I will have done my job and taught them to stand up for someone else, stand up for themselves.
What if schools had more anti-bullies than bullies? More empathy than apathy? Ahhh, what a wonderful thought.