I’ve written a few times about the privileges I enjoy. I live in a relatively affluent area with my generous and awesome middle class parents. I went to one of the best high schools in the country and have a college education. For all I may occasionally complain about how I’m not where I thought I would be by now, I’m so fortunate to be where I am. I’m also fortunate to have grown up without being the subject of relentless bullying.
Time and again, I see stories of children who have been targeted for one reason or another. Maybe it’s because of how they dress or with whom they associate. Maybe it’s because they don’t conform to society’s so-called “norms.” Whatever the reason, every story is so tragic in its own way.
While I was never regularly teased, tormented, or bullied, there were times I did get picked on. I want to say that such a thing is normal. Being picked on is how the pecking order and social structure of childhood is established, right? We all know that there are better ways to exist. We’ve just gotten so used to “kids being kids” that the idea that we could actually coexist without this sort of behavior seems completely out of left field.
When I got picked on, it was often for silly reasons. Kids would make fun of my name and some people thought I smiled too much or laughed too loud. There were the middle school years when I lost my entire circle of friends. Of all the years of childhood, those were the ones I hated the most. I have never been particularly good at making new friends. I lucked out in managing to accumulate a bunch of guy friends in elementary school, but as I got older, it seemed more logical to cultivate female friendship.
We were young and dumb. We said things in haste and made false assumptions and accusations. While being ostracized from girls I once held close and shared secrets with was rough (beyond rough, if we’re being honest), I was ultimately able to move past it with snark and cynicism. This was the age before the Internet could fuel our petty grievances. I can only imagine what life may have been like had the Internet played a part in our drama.
I was lucky. When we moved on to high school, I got involved with theater and acquired a whole new circle of friends. Life continued. Since I was involved in theater, I got to spend a lot of time with people who were just as weird as me, if not weirder. When I came out as bi to a friend at the end of my Freshman year, he didn’t care and rumors didn’t circulate around school. When everyone involved in the musical in my Senior year wanted to know whether or not I was a lesbian, it was mostly because they were just curious. No one ever treated me differently when I clarified things for them.
Perhaps my general obliviousness helped out. There were a number of social digs I didn’t get at the time. In hindsight, I can see what was being said between the lines. Again, I was never bullied. I just existed and went on my merry way. No harm, no foul. Okay, maybe I did leave school with a couple of issues, but I’m certainly in far better shape emotionally than others. I’m grateful for that.
I got to be me and that’s something that shouldn’t be a privilege. It’s everyone’s right to celebrate what they love and what makes them unique. The fact that there is even a question about that is ridiculous.
I started writing this blog because I was inspired by a campaign started by a friend on Facebook. His daughter is being bulled for being interested in geeky, “boy” things. He and his wife started the campaign, Heroes4Rachel, on Facebook in an effort to encourage her to keep true to her geek roots.
Life has enough challenges without adding extra hurdles for children. Growing up is how they discover their true selves and denying them any opportunity to do so is just plain wrong. They should be given the freedom to explore all kinds of things without the censure of adults and criticisms of their fellow children.
Furthermore, this whole idea of gendered toys and interests is just such bullshit. I could get into a rant about how this all ties into the patriarchal society in which we live and how pervasive sexism is in all facets of our cultural life, but I think we’ve been through all of that before and will continue to go through until things get better.
Someday, things will get better. I have to have faith in that much. Until then, when you bring children up in such a rigidly structured environment, it only stands to reason that they will start policing the behavior of others based upon what they’ve been shown. Kids have to be taught there there is no one way to live your life and that things don’t have to be just so because that’s the way they’ve always been.
There is so much out there in life to enjoy and to do. We shouldn’t impose limitations on kids for superficial reasons. Once we start limiting them, they’ll think limiting others is the way to go. That’s just not okay.
Look, bullying is not okay. If you think your kid is being a bully, talk to them. Our kids, like ourselves, aren’t perfect, but they can learn. If you think your kid is being bullied, don’t tell them that this is just a part of growing up. It shouldn’t be. We all deserve so much better than that.