I love love love the movie "Mean Girls." It came out not too long after I started college and at first I just wrote it off as another teen movie, which of course was below me at the ripe of age of 19. When I finally watched it, I fell in love with the story. It's a great comedy, but it also has a lot of truth to how things in high school can be and the whole social aspect of being a teen. If you haven't seen this movie, you need to. I even recommended it to my grandma when she was researching bullying and girl drama for a writing project.
But, to be honest, high school wasn't when I encountered the "mean girls" in school... It was wayyyyy before that.
I really don't look back at my childhood and feel like I was ever just tormented and bullied. I was always a kid that got along with everyone pretty well. I had my friends that I stuck with most of the time and life was good.
A have a few memories of girls saying rude things to me back in elementary school, but even though I was a pretty sensitive kid, I also let things roll without really getting under my skin. I guess since it was usually just a little comment here or there I thought it was normal. Well, actually, it was normal. I think every kid makes comments about others randomly. It wasn't an ongoing thing, so I never thought much of it.
Then there was middle school...
I transferred from public school to a private Christian school in 6th grade because of the middle school boundaries in my area would cause me to go to one school for 6th grade and then switch to a different school for 7th and 8th. I'm pretty sure my grandma was also convinced public schools were evil and she convinced my mom to pull me out for at least my 6th grade year. I ended up staying in private school for all 3 years of middle school.
Worst. Years. Ever.
I pretty much knew from the start that I wasn't going to like my new school. Most of the kids there had gone to school together since pre-K and they were not looking to add any new people to their circle. The school was small and there were only about 30 kids in my grade. I joined the volleyball team in effort to make friends, but that wasn't very successful. During my 6th grade year I had my locker broken into and had some things stolen and the word "dork" written on the inside of the door. The teachers and principal really didn't do anything about it. I tried to let it roll off like I'd let things go in elementary school, but after that I was never able to fully trust anyone but my few close friends. At lunch, the newer kids to the school sat at the end of the lunch table because the majority of us were not accepted by the "in crowd." I was excluded from birthday parties and sleepovers and sat by myself in silence on the bus rides to volleyball games. I was criticized for not being Christian enough. (I went to a very charismatic church school and had grown up in a much more conservative church.) I learned what life was like on my own and settled upon the fact that school now sucked.
In the meantime, my social life at my church began to thrive and while I had virtually no friends at school, I somehow ended up in the upper ranks of popularity in my youth group. My church friends all went to our "rival" Christian school (that was known to be more upper class than my own school), so whenever our schools played one another in sports I would parade over to the other side and sit with my awesome church friends. I found it to be my own way to stick it to the meanies at my own school. It was my silent way of saying, "Hey look! I don't need you guys because I have plenty of my own friends and they're way better than you!" I learned to parade my popularity outside of school in front of my classmates in every way possible to get back at them for excluding me and making fun of me.
By 8th grade, I came to a silent truce with the girls at my own school. The one that started out as my biggest "rival" ended up becoming a friend during volleyball season and the others became at least tolerable. I still was sure to parade my popularity in front of them whenever possible as I filled my locker with pictures of my youth group friends and was sure to share stories about how I went to their sleepovers and birthday parties. When middle school ended I parted ways with everyone and decided that those days would become a distant memory.
I wouldn't say I'm scarred for life or anything and I really don't like to label what I went through in middle school was bullying, but in reality, it was. I never really let the things that happened at school get to me outside of school. Sure, I loved when I was sick and could stay home and not deal with being there. At the same time, though, I know that if I'd really pursued it my family would have been willing to pull me out and send me to another school. In all honesty I still believe I would have been surrounded by better friends in public school, but I also know that everything happens for a reason and that those 3 years in private school led me to make a great decision on where I went to high school. (I ended up going to a public high school with all of my church friends.)
The morning show I listen to when I get ready for work has brought up the topic of bullying and how it's becoming such a buzzworthy topic these days. Celebrities are jumping on the anti-bullying bandwagon and that seems to be the the "it" cause right now. It's not that bullying is a new thing... It's been around pretty much since the beginning of time, but recently it seems to be the big thing.
Of course it's a problem that needs to be addressed, but are we overreacting and over labeling every incident as bullying?
I think the answer is yes and no.
One thing I really try to emphasize with my students is how we define bullying and provide them with examples and non-examples. I think to some degree our kids are getting caught up in this whole bullying hoopla and begin to think that every time someone is mean to them or things don't go their way they are being bullied. Teaching conflict resolution, social skills, and reporting skills are the areas I focus my attention during class meetings. I also feel strongly that building a strong classroom and school community are necessary in preventing bullying. We can't just focus on the bullying and only the negative stuff. Kids need to hear positive stories of hope!
Thanks for hearing me out... I think I've just been hearing so much about bullying lately that, in all honesty, I'm getting tired of it. I'm ready to hear stories of hope and I'm ready to share some positive things with my students!