November 20th to the 26th is Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week here in Ontario. I’m well aware of the numerous blog posts and articles on the subject of bullying, all of which are very helpful. Every parent should be armed with knowledge on how to deal with different situations surrounding bullying: whether your child is the victim, the bystander, or the bully. However, this article may be a bit different from the other posts you’ve read; I’ve decided to share how bullying changed my life, from the perspective of a former bully.
“Bully” is a strong word. I’m unsure if the word is the best way to describe my behaviour in 5th and 6th grade… “Mean Girl” would probably be a better fit. I never physically hurt anyone, or taunted a classmate to the point of tears, but I did behave in unkind ways and definitely went out of my way to exclude others. At this point you’re likely wondering why (I wondered as well, as I looked back at my childhood memories) but as I prepared to write this post I discovered possible reasons why I behaved the way I did, and I’m willing to share these memories with you in the hopes of helping fellow parents understand why some children feel the need to be noticed in such a negative light.
My story differs from most bullying tales for a number of reasons, and one reason being that I am a twin. I have a fabulous twin sister who was a natural extrovert and academic superstar (she still is!). Growing up, I always felt in constant competition with her; I often felt I didn’t measure up to her academic stardom. I envied how she made friends with ease. I feel my Mean Girl tactics were a way to gain my own attention, to develop an identity of my own, regardless if it was a respectable identity or not.
Most women can attest that being a 10 year old girl is no easy feat. I was confused, I was lonely, and I felt struggles in my personal relationships. I wanted to be popular and funny and cool. And to achieve all that, I began to project a tough exterior to gain attention. Despite my small stature, my classmates quickly learned not to “mess with me” as I had a “hot temper”. I translated this attention into a “gang” mentality- I began to exclude certain people from my recess play groups, and made it clear when someone wasn’t “fit” to join.
I even played practical jokes on the classmates that I deemed “uncool”. From what I can remember, I had a new set of friends for a few months, but that quickly diminished into one or two friends, especially after my teachers began keeping me in the classroom during recess so I wouldn’t cause trouble. After a few phone calls to my home, and incessant scolding from my mother and father, I quickly realized that my behaviour was causing my peers, my parents and my teachers quite a bit of stress.
From 6th grade onwards, I decided to change my ways and realized that being a Mean Girl was pointless. It took a lot of help from my patient teachers and parents; my change really was a group effort from adults in my life who cared for me. They reminded me on a daily basis that being nice was the best way to grow as a person, which will in turn grow my circle of friends, which will in turn bring me the happiness I sought (in 6th grade, friendships = happiness, am I right?)
I learned valuable lessons in the brief time that I was a bully that I still apply to my life now, as a 32 year old mother of one. If I can share any piece of wisdom to other parents who are in the midst of dealing with a child in a bullying situation, it would be that there is always a reason why children lash out and misbehave this way. More often than not, I believe it’s a cry for help, attention, or a loud sign of loneliness. As a child, I wanted to be my own person and be recognized, but I didn’t know how to get the attention I wanted, how to feed and build my immature soul… today I know that being open minded, warm, caring and inclusive of everyone is the best way to feed your soul and lift your spirit.
Parents, teach your children that being as open minded as possible unlocks many keys to life, including new (and often surprising!) friendships, new opportunities and interests, love and, most importantly, it unlocks a healthy, happy spirit that will work to uplift other spirits as well. Putting others down does not bring you higher, it only shows that you are inconsiderate and self centred, and those things result in a stunt in our personal growth. The world runs on love, and this becomes more apparent as we age. Lift others up, and you will rise spiritually and grow to be the best person you can be, hopefully bringing others along for the ride as well.
Love is understood in every language. Being kind shouldn’t be an option, it should be mandatory. I hope my little bit of insight helps parents understand that bullying is a real issue, and should be handled with care and understanding. Let’s all work to make this world a happier place where every child feels recognized and loved at school and at home, and that starts with you: the parents. Cheers to new beginnings!
Stephanie Casino is a mom of one, a digital content specialist and founder of the Canadian contest website for parents and tots, www.LuckyLittleOnes.ca. She claims her daily fuel is often in the form of strong coffee and even stronger wifi.