I was bullied throughout high school. Boys would tease me about my voice, and call me a man because of my hairy arms; the latter getting to the point where I would wear the school jumper, no matter what the season, even if just with my arms through the sleeves, so that they were unseen. I was often called ‘teacher’s pet’, or the equivalent, because I respected the teachers and got along with them well. There was the subtle bullying with scoffing and whispers during class, of which the details I thankfully no longer recall. In year 11, I found myself in a Phys Ed class with a group of people who gave me a code name and would talk about me throughout each class. It was at this point that my Mum encouraged me to speak to the school psychologist, and despite my embarrassment and shame, I did. I spoke up, and the teacher was involved and the bullies were spoken to, and this particular bullying stopped.
These are just some of my experiences that I can still easily recall over 13 years on. These are the experiences that resulted in me carrying negative feelings throughout high school and for a long time after I graduated. It didn’t seem to matter about the friends I had throughout the years, or the positive experiences I had, or how well I did, I wanted to forget about my high school years, and there was no way you’d get me to a school reunion.
Whilst my experiences are minor compared to what other students have experienced, or those who now also have online bullying to combat alongside the schoolyard bullying, it is not insignificant as it has still impacted me, just as I know bullying has impacted a lot of others. Until now, I haven’t really spoken out about my experiences. Not just because it’s in the past, but also due to the embarrassment and because I didn’t want to draw attention to the things I was bullied for. But more than this, I was also worried about people’s perception of me. What if people felt I was overreacting to the things that were said, or that it was just ‘what happened in high school’, or perhaps someone out there felt like I hadn’t been the nicest to them? All of these things, and more, that stop us from speaking up whilst we’re going through it, but also long after.
Now as a ‘mature’ adult and a parent, I look at things in a different light. I know that it is okay to have opinions, it’s just about how you express or don’t express them. I know that taunting, repeatedly teasing, and deliberately hurting someone is never okay. I know that bullying is cowardly, and is about the bully (or bullies) and what is going on inside for them. I know that I want my children to grow up knowing that bullying is not okay. To know that teasing a girl or boy is not how you show them that you like them. To know that it is okay to speak up and to tell an adult if you are being bullied, or if you see someone else being bullied, and to feel comfortable enough to speak to us as parents about it, just as I felt comfortable to speak with my family about it. And to know that it is an adult’s role to help them take the right course of action against bullying, not to sweep it under the carpet, or to tell them to ‘toughen up’.
Let’s teach our children that it is best to have your name remembered for the good things, and how good you made a person feel, and not for being a bully, and for the hurt you caused. Let’s use our experiences, just as my Mum used hers, to teach our children about bullying and how it can make a person feel, but also to show that it does not define you or limit the person you can become. Let us as adults and parents, not to forget the lessons of our high school years. Let us ‘speak (up), even if our voices shake’, for the sake of our children, and their future. Let’s make sure that our children know that they do not have to stand for any behaviour that makes them feel uncomfortable or hurts them in any way. Let’s be the role models we need to be for our children and treat each other with respect and kindness for the sake of a brighter future. The conversations start with us.