TRIGGER WARNING: this post and the associated forum discussion thread discusses bullying and may have other triggers including abuse, neglect and victim blaming.
I hate the word “bullying”. I was “bullied” for years, and the word simply trivializes the fact that I was being abused by other children. My pain was trivialized by all the adults in my life and I completely lost trust in the ability of adults to help me. The world has changed since I was a child, but I know that there are still many kids who are in situations similar to what I dealt with. I want, in a general way, to show some of what happened so that both children and adults can learn what can happen.
Like other forms of abuse, child on child abuse can be difficult to detect. Something as small as the tone of voice used when saying a person’s name can be part of a campaign to damage a person. These tiny barbs, even when detected, are often not addressed. Adults may not be able to differentiate between two friends joking around and a child being tormented by another child. In any case, it seems so small, and adults have other things on their minds, especially when they are trying to teach a class of 20-30 kids. And especially when they only see those kids for one class period every day.
It quite often falls upon the person being tormented to seek justice. And for me at least, this is where the most damage occurred. Adults often have no idea “what really happened” and may encourage kids “to work things out themselves.” I have worked with young kids, and yes, sometimes a kid who is crying “she hit me!” neglects to mention that the reason she hit him was that he was pulling her hair. And there are kids who are “tattlers,” who actively try to get other kids punished for things like not paying attention or taking an extra piece of paper. Adults have all sorts of reasons and justifications for missing what is happening. But, by ignoring the call for help, adults send a strong message that the person’s pain is not important.
Even when adults do take action, there is often unintentional minimizing and victim-blaming that occurs. Asking a child “Why did she do that to you?” may seem like a neutral question, but it is not. It tells the child that they must have done something to cause the abuse. A more neutral question would be “What was happening before she did that?” When adults fail to address a child’s problems in a meaningful way, they are worsening the child’s difficulties by neglect. And I mean neglect in a serious way. As in child neglect. In my case, there was so much inaction that I gave up reporting abuse and simply tried to endure it.
And sometimes adults go beyond neglecting a child’s need for protection and add to the abuse. An example from my childhood was when I told my guidance counselor that I didn’t want to come to school ever again and was told that I had to keep going to school because my parents couldn’t send me anywhere else. That was more than neglect. That was a lie designed to make me shut up. And I feel lucky that I wasn’t abused in a more horrific way. But it did shut me up. Verbally and emotionally. For years.
I was a child. I didn’t know what to do. I have learned a lot more as an adult about how adults think and why they act in certain ways. I have worked in schools and know how difficult it can be to manage a classroom and teach at the same time. I know that there are adults who will help kids, but who can’t see what is happening. I have learned that using certain words and phrases forces adults to look more deeply. I don’t like the word “bullying” but it has become one of those powerful words that adults can no longer ignore. Safety is another powerful word. I would have never said that I felt “unsafe” at school, but if asked, I would have said that I didn’t feel “safe”. And the opposite of “safe” is “unsafe,” but in my mind the word “unsafe” was an extreme. It is important to use words that are accurate and that will get the help that is needed and deserved.
I am extremely lucky. I was in private therapy while this occurred, and though I wasn’t able to improve my situation at the time, I have continued with therapy and have gradually been able to leave survival mode and unfold into the person that I am. To anyone in a bad situation, I wish you the luck to find a way out, and a person to help you.
Sylvie and Bruno is a member of Sheroes Central
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