Is there a monster in your mirror? (Wednesday’s Wisdom)

I am a cluster of emotions right now. I’m confused. I’m shocked. I’m disgusted. I’m scared. I’m appalled. I’m angry. No, “angry” seems far too civilized for what I am feeling in this moment, but the language I really want to use is not appropriate for this forum. Most of all, I am profoundly sad.

At the end of a long day, and knowing that I am likely to be asleep before 10, I read the headline news stories online. Though I try to stay current, I am also selective in the stories I “click on”–especially right before I head up to bed.  I don’t need to read all the “ugly details” of a story to know what is going on. The Penn State scandal is a perfect example; I have read enough to know the circumstances, but feel no need (nor desire) to read every salacious detail that comes out.

Nonetheless, as I scanned the headlines last night, I came across 2 stories that pulled at my “mama heartstrings.” Both were bullying stories. The first was about a girl in Illinois–a 10 year old little girl–so distraught and broken by the emotional bullying suffered at the hands of classmates, she hanged herself in her closet. The second detailed the absolutely inexcusable treatment of a 14 year-old special-needs student bullied by her teacher and the teacher’s assistant. Exacerbating the situation, the (contacted) school superintendent refused to believe the claims of the student or her parents. Eventually, a concealed recorder captured the proof. Ridiculous that’s what the family had to do to get the school to take action, but for that young teen, her family and the other students under that teacher’s charge, I’m sure glad they did it.

After I finished reading the 2 stories, I was flooded with many emotions, but only one question: How did we get to this point as a society?

Yes, I know bullying dates back to the dawn of kids, but not like this. It’s different today. It’s more incessant than when I was a kid. When I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, I remember being teased by a group of classmates because I messed up the words to “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. They taunted me on the playground one day, not even the whole lunch period, but I can still feel the humiliation. In the 5th grade, the girls that I had been friends with since the 1st grade randomly decided that another girl and I could no longer be a part of “the group.” It was the start of my “mean girl” years,  those years that girls seem to be particularly nasty to each other. The girls teased, spread rumors, and flashed many a dirty look. They made a couple of rough years even rougher.  In the 6th grade, I was “beat up” by another classmate when the teacher caught her trying to cheat off my paper. After school that day, I remember the fear I felt when she cornered me. She only pushed me down, but I truthfully thought she was going to pummel me. In middle school and high school, I heard the teasing comments about my acne or the size of my chest. Thankfully, by that time, I had found “my group”–which made the emotionally rough waters of high school a lot easier to survive. However and obviously, if I can recall details 30-40 years later, it’s clear that bullying leaves scars.

In response to the story of the 10 year-old, one reader commented, “Not that I condone bullying, but kids have always been bullied – why are so many now committing suicide?”

First and foremost, I think we, as a society, need to examine this problem and start calling it by its real name. People DON’T commit suicide because they’ve had a bad day, or two, or 20. Adults don’t. Teens don’t. Children don’t. I know; I lost a brother to suicide. As parents, we teach our kids to be resilient beginning in the sandbox.  We dry their tears. We boost them up.  We teach them to “shake it off.” Resiliency is one of life’s most essential survival skills. People break when they can no longer bounce back, when they believe there’s no other way out. I believe there is something “bigger” than bullying going on in these cases and in even more that go unreported. In my day, it was usually called teasing if it was verbal, bullying if it was physical. Kids were teased, rumors and names slung, lunch money stolen and occasional fights were broken up, or not. What is going on in schools, on playgrounds, and on buses is beyond what I saw or experienced growing up. And, in today’s world, it seems inescapable for the victims, which is why what these kids experience is not “just” bullying; it is harassment.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines harassment as:

1
a : exhaustfatigue(1) : to annoy persistently (2) : to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct
2
: to worry and impede by repeated raids <harassed the enemy>

In the “adult world” of business, there are laws to protect and avenues of recourse for the harassed. Schools set forth policies with the same intention. However, the continual accessibility to our kids via texting, Facebook, cell phones, Twitter, Formspring, etc. leaves them vulnerable both outside and inside the school gates. It goes beyond leaving the front door unlocked; it leaves it wide open for any and all to enter. No longer can a child (or adult) escape to the privacy of their own home, or even their bedroom for a respite. Modern technology spreads rumors wider and faster than ever before. Long ago, bullies had to wait until they could reach a phone to spread a rumor outside of school. Today, they need only reach for their back pocket, anytime, anywhere. Click and send– a picture secretly taken in the locker room, a text laced with cruel names, a Facebook post filled with lies. Yes, kids have always bullied and been bullied, but never before with 24/7 access. There is no “off button” in today’s world. No escape. No relief for some. Could, and should, a parent “unplug” their child? Sure, but unplugging the victim doesn’t stop the perpetrators. Often acting as a pack, the bullies have already cornered their prey and have left them weakened.

Additionally, and perhaps most insidious, are the parents and other adults that participate in bullying. The teacher and her assistant’s verbally abusive comments nauseate me, but I’m sure they would anyone who watches Teachers caught on tape bullying special-needs girl – parenting – TODAY.com.  Any adult– parent, teacher, coach, passing bystander, etc., that looks the other way, make excuses, condones or demonstrates bullying behavior is the very root of the problem. Sadly, it often starts at home with the parents as communicated in yesterday’s excellent post by DEBCB, I bet you use that same mouth to kiss your kid too…. Adults lead by example, and children are always watching, absorbing and emulating. Gossip, and children learn to gossip. Lie to a boss, a neighbor, a child and children learn to deceive. Tease maliciously and children learn to bully. We are training our next generation with every curse, flip of the finger, and nasty comment we utter. Children who have learned to bully as children grow up to be the jerk in the car or cubicle next to you. And, when we stand silent because it is “not our problem,” children learn to ignore the pleas of victims.

Author Rick Riordan wrote, “Sometimes mortals can be more horrible than monsters.” Last night, I read about the mortal monsters that prey on the weak. Do children tease? Yes, children tease. Will they likely always tease? Certainly. Kids, as they say, will be kids. And yes, we must raise children capable of walking away, shaking it off, and moving forward. But, more importantly, we must first raise decent human beings that respect each other. I am a naturally optimistic person, always have been, and it has served me well when the road was bumpy. But, I know what it is to feel knocked down by life and the cruelty of others. I know the sadness of feeling isolated and discarded. I know what “cornered” feels like. And, I also know what it feels like to have someone in that corner with me, helping me get back up.

I still believe there are far more “good mortals” than monsters in this world, starting with the person I see in the mirror. I’ve tried to raise children that are willing to defend the underdog, but like me, they can become weary and apathetic, almost immune to the stories of cruelty seen in the world. Last night, I was moved by the stories I read, and I remembered the advice I often give my children in times of conflict, “You have a voice. Use it.” No longer can I look away and think, “not mine.”  I have a voice, and I will use it.

Won’t you join me? Please, add your voice to the discussion.

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34 thoughts on “Is there a monster in your mirror? (Wednesday’s Wisdom)”

  1. I detest bullying in all forms (most animal abuse cases come from people who were bullied…) and wrote a piece last year for PACER Center which is run by Sheryl Sandberg’s (CEO, Facebook) mother-in-law. It’s an anti-bullying center, particularly for developmentally disabled children.

    I can’t believe you wrote this so long ago and how far have we come? What has changed? What laws are protecting the victims?

    I shudder each time I hear about it, and pray parents will wake up to set better examples and children will listen. Teachers will teach anti-bullying and society will rally. That would be my Utopia.

    Excellent piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Cathy. I, too, hate abuse and bullying in all forms regardless of the victim, be they animal or human. The hate from which it stems is the most frightening of all because those who are willing to prey upon the weak/weaker are without conscious.

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      1. Yes, and it completely breaks my heart and makes me mad. Can you imagine? I just found out Michael Vick moved to my neighborhood. Talk about animal abuse. I am glad my cats are indoor ones. I detest bullying in all forms like you. Keeps me awake sometimes….xo

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sadly civility is dying, no doubt something that is tied to on-line anonymity you refer to. My new saying is this: If you are contagious, do you have an attitude worth catching? Using our voices as you wrote is key. The ripples do spread. Thank you for sharing pieces of your life struggles Mary, no doubt what you have said here has the ability to inspire others to be as brave with their voice. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have nothing to add, I think you covered all the bases here, Mary Bird. I will say this, though, we do have a voice — all of us — and we should use it far more than we do, particularly when doing so will help another person — in any situation. I think that we are all guilty of the crime of apathy. We should tune in more. I’m going to make a valid attempt to do just that. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of the best pieces I’ve ever read about bullying. The whole subject breaks my heart, and I’m horrified that you wrote this almost three years ago and virtually nothing has changed. Your line, “We are training our next generation with every curse, flip of the finger, and nasty comment we utter,” is so on point. It’s up to the adults to act as role models for kindness and empathy and to protect the victims rather than defend the bullies. No child should have to live in fear.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind support, Lois. The whole subject breaks my heart as well. And, like you, I am deeply disturbed by the lack of change we have seen in 3 years. In fact, even sadder, is the fact that despite the increase in awareness of the painful consequences of bullying, the statistics of loss grow.

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  5. I found your post through Deborah and I’m glad I’ve come here. I’ve just seen the video and it’s heartbreaking. That poor father, those vicious teachers. Who wants to live in such a world? I’m glad you speak up and I hope that your post raises awareness. It’s beautifully written!

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    1. Thank you so much for coming over and your kind words! I am so very grateful to Deborah for adding visibility to my post. It is an area I feel very strongly about and am grateful to readers like you who add your voice.

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  6. I found your post through Deb’s. I’ve been speechless through most of this –these sad, awful stories of children taking their own lives– showing up in the news. As a teenager, I was extremely depressed. It was having three younger siblings that kept me from leaving the world. I was not bullied. Yet I think that if Facebook had existed in the 90s, the in-your-face social pressure might have been too much for me.

    These children face issues very different from those of any generation before. You’ve raised some excellent points, and I’ll continue to reflect upon them in my speechless moments. It will help me be more proactive in my not-so-speechless ones.

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    1. Jess, I am sorry to read about the rough road you walked as a teen, but am glad you had your siblings. Depression can be a long, lonely tunnel for so many; teens and adults, alike.
      Thank you, Jess, for reading Deb’s, for clicking on the link to get you here, and for commenting.But most of all, thank you for::

      “I’ll continue to reflect upon them in my speechless moments. It will help me be more proactive in my not-so-speechless ones.”

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  7. The bullying out there is, absolutely, worse than it has ever been. I’m a red-head, and I was really horrified to hear about the stigma that has now come to be associated with “gingers”. It seems like something that started as a joke that has snowballed into a nation-wide bullying trend. A 17-year-old cello student I have even made a comment about “gingers” (to me), with the same tone that one might’ve used the “N” word during the worst times of racism. I am literally astounded that people are being bullied for even their hair color. It has gone beyond anything it ever was when we were kids Riley McManus called me “mayonnaise legs” because I was so pale. Bullying has become a national trend.

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  8. This is a very pertinent article also in the wave of public awareness that is sweeping the world, no longer are we allowing the bullies of the world, governments, military, banks, police, people in authority to bully us into giving up our freedoms of speech, movement and rights of being a human. There are many monsters out there who want to rob us of our rights to living peacefully, we don’t want to pay for illegal wars, we don’t want to let our taxes bail out banks that have squandered our well earned cash, which results in cutting health and school services. We don’t want big corporations to poison our water, make our seeds infertile and pump noxious and carcinogenic toxins into the atmosphere. As you mentioned above, we all have a voice and we need to speak out from grassroots level to the higher echelons. We all deserve to live in a bully free environment – we are all humans who deserve dignity and respect.

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  9. Well said. I agree the constant access we all have to world is enough to overwhelm the strongest of us. Children are not equipped to handle it all.Children need time to develop and help to maintain their sense of self and they need time alone–without the noise of the TV, texting, FB, media, etc.clouding their self-discovery. And really don’t we all need that. This ability to over-connect with the everyone has been good but there is little in this world that is good when taken to excess. Unfortunately, as you said, there seems to be no off button, no way to take a break and avoid the excess so no one gets time to process and clear their heads.

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    1. “Children need time to develop and help to maintain their sense of self and they need time alone–without the noise of the TV, texting, FB, media, etc.clouding their self-discovery. And really don’t we all need that. ”

      Entirely agree! Clearly, the instant and constant access are here to stay so it looks like we are going to have to teach our kids a new skill set: turning the cell phones, laptops, tablets, etc. off.

      Thanks for commenting, Kelly.

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  10. I just found out the other day from my son (7th grader) that every wed. his 5-6 period teacher talks about bullying and she is trying to get permission to do cyber bulling and sexual harassment discussions. I was just so surprised, but I love where this teachers heart and mind is at. I think parents also need some education on how to handle a situation weather their child is the bully or is being bullied, because the mom of the 10 year old girl knew about this happening to her daughter but she said she didn’t know what to do about it. We need to listen to our kids when they talk. My heart goes out to all the parents of the kids who took their own life because they just couldn’t deal with the hurt anymore.

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    1. “I think parents also need some education on how to handle a situation weather their child is the bully or is being bullied, ”

      I agree! Though bullying is not new, bullying has changed and I believe our entire society needs educating.

      Thanks very much for commenting!

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  11. I saw your post through The Monster In Your Closet’s FB page…

    I read that headline today, and I was so angry and saddened. I wondered why, after all the suicides and murders caused by bullying, we are allowing this to continue?! Where are the people to see these children’s pain and take action?! In my own community there is an abnormal amount of suicides. We have a facebook page that gives access to the local PD/FD/Medical scanner feeds. DAILY there is at least one suicide or suicide attempt. Many people, including myself, who have joined the page and are getting the updates have been shocked at this. It has raised awareness here, and the community has started a grassroots suicide prevention program.

    Your post brings home that WE need to no longer look the other way, wait for someone else to take action, or provide help. I hope you don’t mind, but I your post on my facebook page.

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    1. Christine,
      First, I have to say a huge THANK YOU for sharing my post on your Facebook. I am sincerely grateful.

      I truly believe that anyone who looks the other way and does nothing is as guilty as the bully. Change always starts with one voice, and I truly appreciate you adding yours to mine!

      On another note, I have to tell you, that I had left your blog opened in a tab last night because I really liked what I had read, and wanted to comment, but I was too tired. My plan was to come back to it today–which I will do right after this. I was so touched by your

      Simply beautiful.

      Like

  12. Thanks for sharing. It is heartbreaking what happens every day to kids, makes me want to keep mine home and shelter them but I know that is not realistic. I will teach my kids they have a voice.

    Like

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