My daughter always has such a good heart. She is always collecting money for one charity or another. She is always trying to do something helpful. She is always such a good friend to others. Until the one day she wasn’t such a good friend to someone else. Call it an anomaly. I certainly think it was. Call it wanting to “belong” with the 2nd grade cool girls. I certainly think it was. Call it something totally unacceptable. I certainly think it was. The short story is that our daughter didn’t stand up for a friend of hers and made matters worse by joining in the teasing of that friend. So mom had a long and stern talk with our 8 year old about what happened and why it was unacceptable. Then dad took her in the car and marched her right over to her friend’s house to apologize for the way she behaved. But that’s where her part of the story ends and mine begins. I am writing this for my daughter so SHE can see what can happen. What seems like harmless teasing can, over time, turn into more serious taunting. More serious taunting can turn into deadly serious bullying. Bullying can turn someone’s life into a very lonely experience. I should know. It happened to me.
A Dadmission to my little girl:
4th grade was the start of a very tough time for your dad. I wasn’t too much older than you. I admit it. I was the fat kid. The teasing started with name calling, and fat jokes. The jokes turned into hurt feelings. When you’re that young, no one wants to be left out. Kids had a choice to make- stand with the teasing kids or stand with the kid being teased. They stood with the teasing kids, or worse yet, they stood silent. Friends stopped hanging out with me. No one wants to hang out with the kid who gets made fun of. The teasing snowballs. There was one kid who would chase me home from school, threaten to beat me up, punch me. We both lived in the same neighborhood. At one point things were so bad, the school principal would give me a head start to walk home to try and get there before this kid could get to me. There was only so much they could do in Elementary School. I remember the day when he caught up with me half way home and threw my book bag way up in a tree. An adult stopped his car and scared the kid off. I don’t think I was ever able to get the book bag down. My mom and dad knew I was being teased. They tried to intervene. They called the kid’s parents and that only seemed to make things worse. I felt bad, embarrassed, upset, alone. They actually set me up with self defense lessons at one point. Imagine me standing in the living room with my own mom and dad looking on as a man tried to teach me how to defend myself. What did I know about defending myself. One time in class, we read a story about a girl named Petronella. All of a sudden, your dad had a great and teasable name and I became known as Petronella to the teasers. Peter peter pumpkin eater wasn’t bad enough. They’d walk around saying, “Petronella!” It was just a stupid name but it tortured me. I began to resent school. I hated those kids. I hated the constant bad feelings. One day, one of those kids teased me so bad I went and dumped out his desk in front of the entire class. We both got into trouble. The teasing and taunting and bullying just kept going and really cast a shadow over that part of my childhood. I wish someone would have stood up for me.
My turning point came in middle school when I first attended overnight camp hundreds of miles away. Camp was a clean start. None of the kids knew me before. None of the kids knew my history. None of the kids really cared. All of the kids became my friends. I came home that fall and had a whole new crop of friends, friends I immediately invited to my bar mitzvah, friends I still speak with until this very day. And it gave me the confidence to move on and make new friends and move past the kids who had teased me so badly. Yet, despite all this, even your dad has done things that he is not proud of. I went on to tease a girl badly in middle school. My friends and I teased her and teased her. I don’t even know why. I guess she was an easy target, quiet and shy and not one who was going to stand up and defend herself. I guess it felt good to be on the other side of the teasing for once. I can’t imagine how it made her feel even though I KNEW all too well how it made her feel. For years I thought about it. Why after I had been teased so bad would I still go and tease someone else. Years later, after college, I got in touch with her and apologized for the way I treated her. I hope she still accepts my apology. It’s an apology I never really got from the folks who bullied me.
And here’s where it gets really scary:
Bullying victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University…. And 10 to 14 year old girls may be at an even higher risk (source: bullyingstatistics.org). When you have nowhere to turn and no friends to turn to, it can be a very lonely road.
You can stand with the teasing kids, or stand with the kid being teased, or stand silent and do nothing. Throughout your life, I hope you will make the right choice. That’s how mom and I are trying to raise you. I know you and your friend will patch things up. I know you are the sweet and caring girl we are raising. I know you are still only in Elementary school. But so was I. Always remember that teasing can turn to taunting and taunting can turn to bullying. Remember to be smart and to pick your friends wisely and to always stand up for those close to you. Friends will come and go. Popularity will come and go. But your character, the person you choose to be, will be with you for a lifetime. Dad
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