When I was in 5th grade, there was a girl named Lacretia. She was rough around the edges. Well, as rough as a 5th grader can be. She made fun of people. She talked back to the teacher. She was academically lacking. She came from a dysfunctional family. She physically intimidated people she thought were weak. She was your classic bully.
One day, before Language Arts class, we were in the restroom. This was the day Lacretia decided to set her sights on me. I was in the stall handling my business and when I was done, I went to try to leave the stall and couldn’t open the door. Lacretia had put all her weight on the door and laughed as I kept trying to get out. What she didn’t know was that by 5th grade, I had been swimming competitively for two years and being a naturally broad-shouldered girl, and at that point, angry at her bullshit, I was able to move her and the door. That’s what I did. With all my might, I pushed the stall door and Lacretia went flying up against the tiled wall. The onlookers were in awe. I washed my hands and went on to class without uttering a word.
Lacretia never bothered me again. In fact, the next year, she matured and we even ended up friends.
Today, while scrolling FB, I came across this article. This little boy committed suicide because he was being bullied due to his weight. This is about the third report this week that I’ve seen about children resorting to suicide to escape constant bullying by their classmates and other peers. Then, there’s this report about how the number of children being admitted to the hospital due to suicide attempts has increased.
It is exhausting for me to think about the fact that there are people who are walking this earth and have developed feelings of such hopelessness before they even hit puberty. As adults, we know that life, while beautiful, comes with mountains of shit upon shit that we have to deal with on a regular basis. We know that everybody isn’t nice and won’t like us. And while I’m not opposed to children learning some of the harsher realities of life, I am crushed at the fact that any child has had such exposure to these mountains of shit and “not nice” souls that they feel that the only way out is to take their own life.
I read these articles and the comments and they are filled with adults posting “RIP,” and “that’s so sad”, and “something needs to be done.” I wonder if they realize that it’s us, adults, who are the ones who must do “something.” Childhood is supposed to be mostly carefree besides fractions and dodge ball day. The reason that it’s becoming less and less so is because of us.
It’s not just the parents of the bullies who are messing up. It’s all adults who are failing to pick a side.
What do I mean?
Not only are we fostering environments where children grow to be callous to one another before they even know how to spell the word, but we’re also fostering environments where children feel they only have two options: bully or martyr.
This, in my humble opinion, is a problem. We know that children who are bullies weren’t just born that way and that behind their behavior is an adult who is probably bullying them. We know that children are not born hopeless and defeated, but that behind the scenes, there are adults who aren’t engaging with them in a way that exhorts them and affirms who they are. Interestingly, this is the case for both the bullies and the martyrs.
The side that adults are failing to pick is the side of the children.
We are failing to view children as whole individuals. We forget that children have egos, and souls, and spirits; and that they are filled with emotions, and thoughts, and worries just like we are. We forget that they have needs that go beyond clothing and shelter, and that, just like we want those in our life who claim to love us to nurture and protect those parts of us, children want the same thing.
Telling children to ignore hateful comments or that “sticks and stones may break [their] bones, but words will never hurt [them]” is irresponsible. Further, it’s a lie. There are words that will hurt 1,000 times worse than any stick ever could. The fracture of one’s spirit is the harshest break of all.
*shrug* I don’t have all the answers. But, I do know I’m tired.
The thing is, 10 year-olds shouldn’t be.