My middle school through high school years were fairly typical, I guess. There was a clearly defined social structure that developed about the time we were hitting 6th grade.
School was a minefield. One miscue, a bad hair day, an embarrassing incident or any little perceived imperfection could, and often would, get you labeled and relegated to whatever social strata the accusers would assign you.
Some kids were jerks. This is nothing new. Some were jerks to cover for their own insecurities or to impress another jerk that was higher up the food chain or just giving into pure mob mentality. Some were jerks because they were just jerks.
What has surprised me most is how we carry these scars into our adult lives. Comments we could easily brush off today as adults can leave lasting impressions on our psyche when made by our peers during our formative years.
A classmate of mine recently posted how an offhand comment that was made for a cheap laugh when she was in 10th grade has haunted her everyday for over 30-years. She told how everyday since that day, it has affected how she sees herself.
And all because some guy thought he was being cool at someone else’s expense.
Another classmate confided a few years ago that she was so painfully shy, that she would eat lunch with one of her teachers everyday instead of facing the jungle of the hallways. I had always saw her as one of the more popular kids and was surprised at her admission.
I guess I was fortunate that I never was a target for a lot of attacks. But a lot of kids were. And are.
What’s scary is that today it may even be worse that it was when I was in school. The rise of social media has seen a type of bullying come out that is more vicious than ever. People feel pretty tough behind a keyboard.
Recently, 15-year-old Amanda Todd from Vancouver, B.C. was driven to suicide by a cyberbully. I can’t even imagine what it was like for this young lady. I can’t fathom what she thought was so bad that she had to end her young life.
And what hits me hardest is what she had on a hand made sign that she used in a YouTube video she made shortly before her death describing what she was going through. The sign reads, “I have nobody. I need somebody.”
Words mean things. And mean words mean a lot more to a kid.
Parents, explain that what they say or do can hurt others. Practice this in front of your children. When they are the jerk, don’t just let it slide. And when they are victims of the jerks, make sure they know they have someone.