Bullying has caused far too much pain, taken too many lives through violence and suicide. As we try to understand the depth of hurt this can cause, I would first like you to try and put yourself in a child’s shoes for a minute. Let me disclose with you an account from an 11-year-old’s life, shared with permission.
A Child’s Perspective
I was going back in the locker room after gym class. School was already torture for me and gym was the perfect icing on the cake. I was an easy target, with my glasses that were too big for my face, my curly hair that no one had yet told me you are not supposed to brush, and legs so skinny that I looked like I was about to fall over. Gym class was worse because when you add my lack of coordination to that mix, it was a recipe for disaster.
After following yet another humiliating gym class, I went in the locker room and stepped over to the sink. I heard the voice of one of my tormentors behind me, mocking my chicken legs and everything else about me that I was already self-conscious about. I didn’t turn, hoping that if I didn’t turn around that she would stop or at the very least I would get swallowed up by the floor. My lack of response only seemed to fuel her fire.
As she came over, I felt her hand push me hard against the wall. With another shove, she had pushed me into the oversize trash can that was beside the sink, telling me that was where I belonged. I couldn’t tell you if anyone laughed or not, I only remember there being eerie silence. I wanted to die in the trash can that day and for a long time I believed her, that was where I belonged.
That is an account from my own life and that incident happened 24 years ago (Yes, I realize that I am also admitting my age with that line as well!). As I am writing this, my heart is breaking for my 11-year-old self.
I can remember every detail like it was yesterday; those incidents really stick with you. Sadly, I have heard some version of this story countless times in my office and my heart goes out to every young person that has had to endure their own form of being thrown in a trash can.
This Has to be Addressed
I do not believe that young people who feel good about themselves feel the need to hurt others. Moreover, children and adolescents who feel good about themselves are better equipped to stand up and speak out about bullies. It starts at home, with building up confidence and self-esteem in our children. School is emphasized so much in our society. I think it often leaves children who may not be academically inclined feeling like they are worthless and stupid.
All children are gifted, some just open their packages sooner than others – Author: Michael Carr
Gifted does not have to mean book smarts. I encourage you to keep introducing them to activities until they can find something they can be proud of. Sports, art, acting, music, writing, sewing, scouts, the possibilities are endless.
In addition, karate and tai-chi can often be helpful for young people. Although I have heard parents worry that these classes will promote violence, I have found they help teach self-discipline and self-control.
Help Your Child Find Who They Already Are
- Help them develop their own personal power and make sure they know they are worthy of being treated with respect.
- Teach them that they have a right to state what they like and do not like and how they want to be treated.
- Reinforce this at home, as long as it is done in a respectful way.
So often we expect our children to blindly follow rules at home, quickly jumping to the assumption that they are “talking back” when they ask questions. How are they then expected to learn to have a voice?
Teach about assertiveness.
I am amazed about how many children have not heard of the word before. Have direct conversations with your child regarding how they should handle a bully. Being armed with the knowledge that they can stand up for themselves can help give them a sense of confidence and improve their self-esteem.
I think this can be very empowering for young people, particular young girls who may not often hear the message that it is okay to stand up for yourself. Although this is starting to change in more recent movies, think of the old favorites that we read to children.
Many of those stories enforce the notion that girls must be soft and demure. So what is a young woman to do when she is getting pushed around and the prince isn’t there to rescue her? And boys often get the message that their strength is too much and must be squished down after getting in trouble countless times for being too rambunctious and loud. Promote positive messages about their strengths as individuals, regardless of gender, and respect of others.
Our children desperately need our guidance and direction. No child deserves to feel like they belong with the trash.
Shannon Kersey is a psychologist in private practice in Huntersville, NC. For the past 10 years, Shannon has been privileged to work with a number of individuals and families. Her hope is to empower each person that walks in her office.
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