Treat the Youths Right

by J.D. Rhoades

Like a lot of you probably did, I found the above video very moving. despite the fact that there’s a nagging cynical voice in the back of my head that says it’s just Google trying to cash in on the “It Gets Better” meme. Still, it’s an important message, given the number of high-profile suicides of young gay, lesbian, bisexual,  transgendered, etc. people. 

It got me thinking, though. While LGBT folks are particularly at risk, they’re not the only ones. There are a lot of people bullied every day for no other reason than they’re different. You know, your geeks, freaks, and weirdos. Your  nerds, spazzes, dorks, and dweebs. Kids get bullied because of their ethnicity, their religion, their weight. Some get bullied because they’d rather read than play or watch sports. I’m not sure at what age kids start being cruel to anyone who doesn’t fit seamlessly into the pack, but I know it gets particularly mean starting in junior high and can escalate to downright brutality in high school. 

I was moderately  lucky.  I was reading from the age of four, and I had my nose in a book at every opportunity. I read stuff that was above my age group, and I talked about it. And don’t believe people didn’t notice. I got called names. I got pushed around. But I got bigger. I learned to throw a punch. More importantly,  I eventually discovered that being funny could get me out of having to throw punches, especially if I was funny at the expense of teachers and other authority figures. So by high school, most of it had tapered off But there were still people I felt nervous around because I saw too many examples of what coud happen to someone who was merely perceived as different. For exampe, a friend of  mine made the wrong joke to a carload of cruising rednecks and got his face slashed open with a box-cutter for it. 

But you know what? It did get better. I got out of town, went to college, found some like-minded friends in an enviroment where being a “reader” wasn’t suspect (video NSFW):

 

…and the bullies (mostly)  grew up.

But some kids don’t make it. Kids like Phoebe Prince, who killed herself at 15 after being mercilessly harassed by schoolmates. Or Ryan Halligan. who was hounded to death by people who pretended to befriend him, then mocked him publicly for things he’d told them in confidence. The list goes on and on. These were kids who weren’t gay, they were just different, and the pack turned on them for it. They saw no way out. They didn’t know that it gets better.

So, if you were a little different, a little weird, a little out of the mainstream, tell us: did it get better? And if it did, do you know some young person in a similar situation that might need to hear it?

35 thoughts on “Treat the Youths Right

  1. Barbie

    I was always very different. But I guessed I was lucky enough to have been a kid in Brazil in the 90s/00s when bulling was never really popular. When I was really young, I was picked on for about a month, but I soon learned that a good punch on the face or a hair pulled right was great for shutting up a mouth. I guess I was still picked on and didn't have many friends, but I never really cared: I had my imagination and my imaginary friends. I was a really happy kid.

    When I changed schools in 6th grade, I was terrified. I went to this upper class catholic school (I'm about as non religious as it gets) and I was sure they wouldn't have me. Instead, I became quite liked really fast. I'm terribly shy, but for some reason, in that particular year, I talked a lot and to everyone and was able to make a lot of friends (so much, they're still some of my closest friends). Also, I was a bit of a "mean girl". I wasn't the nicest with some of the kids (though I did apologize later, I wasn't a bad person), but I guess I made my stand that I wasn't to be messed with. I was so weird, though. Like I said, I'm lucky I'm in Brazil, not sure I'd've made it in the US. I've been overweight since middle school, I wore glasses for a while, I spent recess writing and read books for fun during class. I was nerdy in a way — I always got great grades, even though I didn't study and spent the classes reading. I was mouthy, sassy, and always threw the punch lines that made everyone laugh. I was weird, but I was always well known and well liked, popular in a way. In 10th grade, I befriended a group of real geeks, even though I was one of what was known as "the girls in pink". I still refer to my friends as "my preppy friends and my nerdy friends".

    I never realized how… Respected I was until graduation. I never went to graduation (catholic school, it was a mass), but I was chosen to write the graduation speech (out of the near 1000 — yes, a thousand — graduates). People had closed this whole restaurant for a party afterwards, and, when I arrived, one of the really popular guys screamed from across the room. "Barbie!!! I loved your speech." Then he stood up and started clapping. And I watched everyone I've ever gone to school with stand up and clap. At me. At the geeky chubby girl in pink who was every teacher's pet and wrote poems and stories and read books for fun. I don't think I'd ever been so comfortable with myself, or my "public persona". So much, that at 22, I'm still the same. And I just keep makinng friends.

    My point is: I was different, I was so weird, I was geeky, I wasn't hot or even beautiful (but I'm cute), and I never really fit in anywhere. But I always kind of stood out. And that's okay with me. Fitting in isn't the most important thing in the world, and being like everyone else is definitely not a requirement to make friends. I wish I could tell kids today that.

    And, you know, I have other kinds of issues. I'm still waiting for things to get better. But they're more bearable when you're having fun and being yourself and have friends ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Mo

    Elementary school was hell. I swear I only survived intact due to my big brother 1 grade ahead of me. I had some physical issues that weren't really that big a deal but made me enough different that I was bullied. As I got older it did get better. I became stronger as a person thanks to wonderful parents. In junior high I developed a small but tight group of friends. We supported each other, we weren't cool but we we no longer bullied and we stayed friends through high school graduation. I got to go through it again when my son was in school. Helping him build a strong sense of self worth helped him get though it. Kids have no filter and can be the meanest people on the planet.

  3. Eika

    The teasing started for me in first grade. Middle school was the worst; I've said on occasion that if I go to hell when I die, I'll be back in middle school. But high school… wasn't as bad. I think it's because I was in the advanced classes. My tormenters were largely in lower-level classes, and the ones that weren't were too busy to spare the time.

    College, though… I have dozens of friends. I'm waved at and asked how I am by people I don't recognize pretty much every day. It's more than a little amazing.

    It DOES get better.

  4. Alafair Burke

    Don't get me started on the tales of being one of the freaks and geeks in Wichita, Kansas. Although there are stories of violence and threatened violence against my gay and goth friends, I'll stick to just one story that in retrospect always makes me laugh: two cheerleaders pushed me against a locker to ask whether I'd accepted Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior. If I put it in a book, no one would believe me!

  5. JD Rhoades

    Alafair: great story. Sort of like that scene in the movie "Saved": "I am FULL OF CHRIST'S LOVE!" WHACK!

    "I've said on occasion that if I go to hell when I die, I'll be back in middle school." I know, right? Pure hell watching my kids go through it again.

    Mo: supportive parents and a small posse of good friends makes all the difference, doesn't it?

    Barbie: interesting…why do you think bullying never was popular in Brazil? What's the difference?

  6. Barbie

    JD, I don't know for sure, but I'm thinking it's because the social segregation is so big, the 'types' who go to the same schools are the same. Like, I went to an upper/upper middle class catholic school. It was expensive, there are no scholarships, so, everyone I went to school with had some sort of money. It's hard to explain without a History lesson, but there were no black kids in my school. The gay there were, were well into their closets. Of course, there was still the overweight kids or the bad skin kids and the slower kids, and I'm sure they could have gotten picked on, but ot was not something that caught on. There's not the whole popular or unpopular things, everyone is kinda the same, though some kids are better known the others, that doesn't matter much ๐Ÿ™‚

    I loved school so much it's not even funny!

  7. Rae

    Great postโ€ฆ

    The whole โ€œidiot spawn running around like a ravening pack of hyenasโ€ construct was after my time, thank goodness. Or maybe itโ€™s just that I was lucky. There certainly were people who were shunned, or not included, or ignored, because they were different, which I suppose is a more passive form of bullying. But I never saw or heard of people getting physically pushed around, and there was no opportunity to harass or torment people via Facebook or whatever (this was late 60โ€™s, early 70โ€™s).

    I definitely had moments of feeling a bit left of center โ€“ the good news was, there was always a character in a book who felt just like I did, so I didnโ€™t feel as lonely as Iโ€™m sure some kids did.

    Of course feeling different, or weird, or non-mainstream,.doesnโ€™t necessarily come with being bullied. I knew two very popular kids in high school who committed suicide because they just felt hopeless and out of step.

    I think the message in the video is crucial, and Iโ€™m glad itโ€™s getting lots of play.

  8. Louise Ure

    The Bill Hicks video is wonderful, JD.

    I was never bullied or picked on, but I have seen it up close and personal. My foster son is both black and gay … a difficult combination even in liberal San Francisco. He became a black belt in martial arts which helped combat the bullies. He was decades ahead of the "it gets better" meme. And he's happier now at 30 than I've ever known him to be.

  9. Allison Davis

    Youth, schmooth…I was six feet tall in the fourth grade and loud with a name that made me sit in the front of the class. Danny Dittman used to make fun of me when the nun's back was turned but maybe it was because I had on black Beatles boots and a John Lennon hat. Mary Luce's mother said within earshot: "If that girl is coming over, you're playing outside. She's too loud!" I was not in the cool crowd so got used to being shunned…then in high school I found the theatre group and all of a sudden I wasn't "loud" — I could "project." I'm still tall, loud with thicker skin. Oh yeah, it got better. MUCH better. Alafair, what a story…

    I am proud as a Giants fan to say that they will be the first pro baseball team to make an It's get better video: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/16/BA5C1JGU8E.DTL

    Good reminder to all…this isn't a gay issue. Good post.

  10. Sarah W

    High school was . . . a difficult time for a number of reasons.

    It did get better, eventually, but my defense mechanisms gummed up the works for a long time.

  11. JT Ellison

    Heh Elementary school was the worst for me. I was half a foot taller than everyone, and a smart ass to boot. The nicknames were atrocious. Jaws was the one that stuck. As in Jaws from the Bond films, not the shark. Then I had to go fulfill it by getting braces. Of course the ringleader of teasing ended up being my first kiss. So goes childhood.

  12. Eve

    Funny how many of us were tall girls. In my case tall, skinny necked, big footed and it all started when I started grade one not able to speak English worth a darn. Yes, it gets better! I speak English now, when I want to, and being skinny is an okay thing when you're sixty and a sturdy girl needs a strong platform, so my big feet are just fine. To all the girls and guys who think they're ugly and stupid and useless, some day you'll look back and wonder what you were thinking. Please start wondering now, because you are not what people tell you you are. Decide for yourself!

  13. Rob Browne

    In junior high in Honolulu, I was victim to what was lovingly called "Kill Haole Day," which took place on the last day of school every year. I remember a friend and I hiding in a narrow crevice between buildings as a gang of kids searched for us, hoping to send us to the hospital.

    That all disappeared when high school came around. So, yeah, it does get better.

  14. David Corbett

    Dusty:

    What an incredibly wise post to have the day after Tess'. This is why writing an Asian protagonist should be no big deal — everybody knows what it feels like to be the outsider. The problem: Some folks want to bury that experience. Too many, as it turns out. They think "It gets better" means: "I'm not the freak. You are."

    My parents kept telling me: "Just wait. It gets better in high school." They weren't talking about my classmates. They were talking about the nuns. (Them and Father Foley. But being Catholic, they had the usual fascist fascination with tough Irish priests, so he got a pass.)

    Sister Alphonsa called me 'an evil boy" for signing my own report card (I had straight A's — why bore the parents?), and Father Foley — who I watched beat the crap out of one of my friends with his cane — bellowed at me like he was gonna carve me up like a trout. Strangely, he then left, shaking his head as he went: "Corbett, this is so bad I have to go home and think about what I'm going to do to you." I lived in abject terror for an entire year. (Long story. Some other time.) Sister Alphonsa also slapped me silly for misspelling a word on a test. This was second grade; seven years old.

    In sixth grade, Sister Christopher, who was about the size of an Amana freezer, cracked me in the face with a paddle. (I had an old classmate remind me of this not so long ago — even he remembered it.)

    Etc.

    I guess that's my version of getting mugged by eager-beaver Christians (a la Alafair). Compared to them, my classmates, one of whose dads was connected, were merry little munchkins.

    But the nuns in high school were pretty much the same. It didn't get better until college — no, I didn't go to Notre Dame. By then I'd lost the baby fat, gotten contact lenses (I was legally blind by the time I was an evil boy), was playing guitar in bands, and had made my somewhat half-assed mark as a jock. I passed, as they say.

    But my brother was gay, and I watched what he went through, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. My girlfriend's working on a film about a transgender couple that's getting married, and the groom-to-be grew up not far from where I did. He would eat his lunch in the school restroom to escape the mockery and bullying. (He was a she at that time.) The bride-to-be was one of a pair of twin boys who came out in middle-school, and they were so sick of what was happening to them they attempted suicide at age 17. They are utterly beautiful now, the cutest couple you ever saw, and they're reaching out to other transgender kids with exactly this message. It gets better. But only if you accept and love yourself.

    This stuff is real and it's happening today. Thanks, D-man.

    You're still a freak, by the way. Somebody had to say it.

    And Allison, you're still big, loud, and troublesome. It's what makes you grand. (Now sit down, shut up and eat your cookie.)

  15. Mark Haile

    I was fortunate to see Dan Savage speak @ the LA Times Festival of Books few weeks back; the best of the video responses to the "It Gets Better" site have been collected in a book of the same name. As has been mentioned, bullying (even that based on perceived sexual orientation), is not limited to LGBT youth, but the message overall is the same. For all the myth about ours being a multicultural society comprised of many "others", sadly a degree of intolerance is also built into our country.

    As the new kid in school a dozen times, sometimes of different ethnic origin and/or class than my classmates, I was always the "other." Add to that I was one of those kids that got it for always reading, too (except at home; there it was encouraged).

    Last week I went to a reading by Demetri Martin ("Important Things" and "The Daily Show"). What struck me about the audience was that we were ALL those kids who were at one time different, separated from, apart from, the rest. What was neat was there was a moment of recognition that for that brief time we were together for that event, we weren't the majority, but the whole.

    Yes, it does got better. And yet, there will come a time and place when you will be able to look around you and see folks that get you, accept you, appreciate you for who you are –even if they don't appear to look like you.

    Francesca Lia Block is but one author that reaches at-risk youth and lets them know through her many books, that yes, there ARE others that know how you feel and feel the same way, and if you can just hold on, you'll get to find them.

  16. Lynn in Texas

    It's interesting to note how many of us were warped–even in grade school days–by both regular and parochial schools. I, too, was slapped in the face in second grade, not by a nun (the two I had in grade school were actually pretty nice and fair teachers) but by a demented, menopausal "lay teacher" named Miss Vincent. The reason for the slap? My desk wasn't completely lined up with the tiles on the floor! I was a straight-A student at the time and throughout grade school, mainly out of fear! (The nice outcome after many parents complained about her was she was fired at the end of the semester.)

    The middle of 5th grade was when my dad was transferred and I attended public schools ever since then. The only real problem was being "the new kid" so often, making friends and having to leave for another town, but it was much easier being a female newbie.

    I think the majority of people feel like "outsiders" to some degree in early life! And I wish I could tell every youngster, "Yes, it does get better."

  17. Steven Torres

    Too oblivious to be bullied. In high school there was a jock who thought it would be a good idea to throw some insults my way. I suppose the look on my face must have told him he was wasting his time. Four minutes of his jokes falling flat and none of his friends laughing and my time being bullied was over.

    There was also a guy in shop class who threatened to beat me up because I was whistling. Had to turn off the table saw to make sure I heard him right. He waved a pipe at me. I told him to start throwing punches whenever he was ready and went back to whistling and table sawing.

    Elementary school was violent (plenty of fistfights) but not in a "let's pick on one kid until they cry" sort of way. It was the 70s in the South Bronx. I wasn't at all a brawler, but I certainly expected to have to defend myself on the playground. We used to make fun of one kid "John John" because he smelled and had dirty or torn clothes and his mother was a heroin addict and his father was in prison. But then he'd turn that around on most of us and he had jokes so it never turned into the craziness you hear about on TV. I guess we were really street urchins for the most part and the only thing that hurt us was getting hit by cars…

  18. pari noskin taichert

    Bullying sucks. There's no excuse for it. I think in teens it's a kind of pack mentality, primal, that makes anything OTHER a threat to be attacked/neutralized. My experience as a kid was that I wasn't so much bullied as ostracized. It took until I was in college to really find my feet on more solid ground.

    As a mom of a teen and almost teen, I'm really watching this. We have the kids at a private school that emphasizes behaving with integrity and compassion — but I'll still be vigilant.

  19. JD Rhoades

    Pari: exclusion is one form of subtle bullying, or so I've heard some educators say.

    Steven: Obliviousness is actually a pretty good and often recommended strategy for dealing with bullies: "just ignore them." I could never manage it.

    "You're still a freak, by the way. Somebody had to say it" Hey baby, just lettin' my freak flag fly….

  20. Reine

    Mmmm . . . yes. I am bi, but it's more than that. Complicated by other shit, as life does for all of us. Bent gender. That sort of says it in my self-deprecating way.

    Started having seizures when I was seven. And I had polio when I was 8. I haven't grown since I was 8. Malnutrition. At 5'1" I was tall for an eight-year-old . . . small favors, all that. My father decided he would fix my gender stuff. Yes. When I was older he did it to my girlfriend too. Funny . . . didn't take.

    Started having other types of seizures. And wicked bad myoclonus. Fucking leg braces. Canes. Wheelchairs. Cancer when I was 24. Aside from all that, my life is good. It sucked when I was young but got way better. I learned to change direction easily. I acted in theater and a couple of films. Devoloped huge memory problems. Went back to school. Became a cop. Oops seizure. Can't be a cop anymore. Back to school. Became a shrink. New seizures. Couldn't focus. Walked in a fog. Plowed on.

    Went back to school to study neuroscience and theology. I think that is a symptom, too. No regular job would have me. So I developed a leadership program for medical students while studying neuroscience, I was appointed to the faculty. I graduated and stayed on. Medication stopped my seizures for a long time, then stopped. Drugs that helped caused new symptoms. Post polio quadriplegia with progressive muscular atrophy. No more job. So I write fiction now. I like it so much better than academic writing.

    Now I have to do a new drug titration, but I will be better again. I do know this, because I feel better today. I read. I write. I have an iPad that is the world's greatest piece of durable medical equipment. If my insurance company were to tell me I could have an iPad or a wheelchair, I would choose the iPad. Writing one letter at a time . . . tap . . . tap . . . tap . . . tap . . . just got way easier. So did reading. No book to hold. I can read without holding my head up. Turning pages is not a fucking project. It got better. It continues to get better. Do not ever give up.

  21. Reine

    David, heh. Don't worry, you'll get over that. For now though, I'll enjoy the way that sounds – way fucking better than, "How does someone like you get into a school like this?" Or even better, "You must be cheating. You can't possibly have marks that high." Thanks, David. xo

  22. Catherine

    I had a rolling series of encounters with a pack of girls in my senior year at high school for about half a year. Pari is right. When you're being bullied by a pack, individuals do not stand out. It's just a clash of angry ugly voices that follow you.

    I'd not broken up with my then boyfriend that one of the pack had a crush on. So this apparently was reason enough for them to follow me, at school, after school at night for months threatening violence if when they would find me alone. I remember in particular one night walking across a field and they found me and almost flanked me. I used to try to think nah their all talk, except that I knew they trained in marital arts so they actually could of done some damage.

    I had friends in disparate cliques in school who were prepared to treat them similarly. Maybe because of all the musicals and theatre stuff I was in I used to visualise a sort of small town westside story enacted on the beach with a big bonfire lighting the clash…and it would make me laugh so hard inwardly that it took a bit of the sting away. Anyway although I appreciated the support I didn't think descending to their level was a solution.

    Decades later I had one of the girls that had taunted me approach me to apologise and I'd forgotten she had been part of it because really…pack. Also my life has been so full of good things, people and places that that time sort of blurred back with other teenage stupidity.

    However in more of the it gets better, yeah it was awful and I've had a few times of deep unhappiness but in some weird way it strengthened my sense of self. It also gave me the ability to flip a bad situation and find the positive…oh and my appreciation of the absurd was really enhanced. So yeah it's not like a person that has been bullied gets their quota of life strife filled at an early age and it's all smooth sailing forevermore…but it's way better. Maybe it instills a bit of a heightened crap-o-meter. I know I recognise something toxic faster and am able to deal more successfully from that time .

    Awed by your strength Reine.

  23. KDJames

    Oh, for godsakes. Knock it off, Reine. I've admired you for a long time, for many reasons, and the more I learn about you the more respect I have for who you are and what you've accomplished. You do not get a free pass to dismiss that respect, from me or anyone else, as if it were nothing. Accept what you've earned, woman.

    As much as I love the truth and hope in the message of "It Gets Better" and as much as I realize how helpful it has been to those who feel helpless and hopeless, it makes me angry on a very fundamental level that this is the best we have to offer to those who are bullied. I mean, really. "Hang in there, tough it out, endure the physical and emotional abuse, eventually your tormentors will grow up or move on."

    Are we adults really so powerless or distracted or preoccupied, or in some cases so damned indifferent to suffering, that THAT is the best we can do? It seems so very wrong to imply there's nothing anyone can do other than tell these kids to suck it up and wait for their tormentors to grow up.

  24. Reine

    Hi Catherine,

    Spread over time, all these things have been doable. I really just keep going. That is all I do. Sometimes I have to change direction, be flexible. That's all. Really. That's all it is, for me anyway.

    Hi KD,

    It touches me that you feel like that, that anyone might. But I have, like everyone else in the world, personal stuff that sometimes gets in my way. I was very fortunate to have people in my life who helped me, who saw the truth and helped. I developed hope in a lot of ways. Television was an enormous help . . . talk shows . . . even Ozzie and Harriet . . . those impossibly perfect families gave me hope that the whole world was not like mine. Don't underestimate little things. Hope can keep a child, an adult, going for a very long time.

    Ahhh, JD . . . my dear. You are splendid for doing this.

  25. Laura

    It's funny. I can remember being picked on in school for being smart. So I hid it. By the time I got to high school I was pretty much a ditz. Even if you meet me now, a lot of people write me off straight away as being a "dumb blonde" It's only when people bother getting to know me they realize that I'm a lot deeper than they first perceive. And yes, I admit that I play up certain parts of my personality such as my love of pink, my collection of Barbie dolls, Sweet Valley High and Hilary Duff movies.

    But I love to read, particularly crime and suspense. My favourite TV show is "Law and Order: SVU" I listen to The Violent Femmes, aspire to go to university and study law and I received a nomination for best actress in a drama for a production of "The Laramie Project" (which is an absolutely life changing play, on the true story of Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death because he was gay – everyone should see this if they get the opportunity)

    But it does get better. People grow up, the teasing stops and as we learn to love ourselves for who we are, we're able to find other people who love us for us.

    Brilliant post. Thank you for sharing.

  26. Catherine

    KD I agree it would be a better option if we as adults interjected, protected and empowered where needed. In my youth I considered myself overprotected by my parents. So in my teenage mind this meant if I told them about any difficulty I had they would swoop in fix the big problem and tighten down protection mode even further. I was raised to believe that I could come to my parents with anything…however the times I did it seemed to set off a chain reaction where I ended up feeling a decided lack of choice and less freedom. The choice between being taunted or free seemed logical at that point that freedom ruled.

    When my own daughters experienced different bouts of bullying one in primary school the other at high school when her best friend turned vicious there is no way I said suck it up. I tried a multi faceted approach where I brought the problem to the attention of the school, and parents. I treated their bullies with kindness. (Which really stuck in the craw but I did it as I discussed the situation with my daughters and worked on how the bullying may change for a while. We talked a lot about boundaries and how we wanted to be treated. I listened a lot. At one point I also brought them to counsellors to work on how they could process the feelings the situation was bringing up, work on strategies of how they could be treated, and treat people.

    There is no magic to it will get better. I tried to build from birth the type of relationship with my daughters with word and deed that encouraged them to believe that together we could make things better…and that through some shitty shitty things that happens they would be able to deal. And that really there are periods of your life where you sometimes feel like you're not going to deal. But nothing is forever and we can make it better.

  27. KDJames

    Catherine, I know there is no one solution, no magic remedy. I don't remember ever being bullied, but it's just as likely I was oblivious to it, so I can't speak from first hand experience. (I was extremely introverted and shy and spent a lot of time daydreaming, so suspect I might have missed a few things. Okay, a lot of things.)

    My daughter was bullied by a boy who kept hitting her when she was four (in preschool). She was tall, at least a head and maybe also half a shoulder taller than this boy. I talked to the teacher and to the boy's mom and both agreed it was sad and awful and they both had talked to him and didn't know what else to do and what a shame, blah blah. Ineffective hand-wringing. So I told them that I was going to give my daughter permission to punch this boy back if he ever did it again. And I did. I went home and showed her how to make a fist and told her she should punch him, hard, right smack in the nose next time he hit her and that, no, she wouldn't get in trouble. She never did have to hit him — he stopped hitting her. I think it was because her attitude changed, knowing she COULD defend herself, and he somehow sensed she was done being a victim.

    But that kind of empowerment doesn't always work or isn't always appropriate.

    I read an article a while back (long enough ago that I don't even remember the source) that talked about shame and what a powerful emotion it is and how we should be very careful not to subject our kids to it. In the case of bullies, I disagree. When my son was maybe 10 or so one of his friends referred to another friend by calling him a [racial epithet]. Yeah, I'll swear like a sailor, but I won't repeat that. I overheard and was appalled, not just because he said it, but because none of the other boys in the group (about eight of them) objected. So I went outside and confronted him and made him repeat it and then purposely shamed him in front of the group and very calmly told him how disappointed I was and that if I ever heard him use that word again he was no longer welcome in my house or yard (my house was THE place to hang out so being ostracized was a big deal) and then I made him apologize for what he said. The kid was almost in tears by the time I was done. I was thorough. I didn't raise my voice or call him names or threaten to tell his parents. I shamed him in front of his friends. I let his friends know that he wasn't invincible and all powerful. And I hope I showed them that it was possible (and responsible) to confront a bully and deflate his power.

    But that kind of response requires adults to be present, to pay attention, to care enough to take a stand over something relatively "minor" before it escalates into a power grab or violence. In my experience, not enough parents (or adults in general) are willing to make the effort. I think there's a big difference between that kind of response and parents being "overprotective" as you describe it. In my opinion, it shouldn't have to get to the stage of kids learning how to handle hurt feelings, how to endure it until it gets better. Adults everywhere should be responsible for parenting children who are not their own but who fall within their sphere of influence, for enforcing the expectations of society. Shame is a powerful tool. More of us should use it, early and often.

  28. Reine

    Hi Laura,

    The Laramie Project is a brilliant play. Great work to be doing! Were you in the Union Square production? I think Susan Channing was in that production. I'm sure she wouldn't remember me, but I worked on a play she was in at the Theatre Company of Boston . . . ach . . . years ago. I think Blythe Danner was there then. That's how long ago that was.

  29. KDJames

    I guess I should also say that after the 10 yo bully apologized, I told him I was proud of him for owning up to his bad behavior and made it clear that I didn't disapprove of him, but rather of what he said. Because even shame shouldn't turn into belittling. And then I'm pretty sure I fed them all cookies and sent them back out into the cul-de-sac to play baseball. Situation diffused. Never heard another bad word out of any of them.

  30. Fran

    Among the GLBTQ factions, Dan Savage gets more grief over the "It Gets Better" project than you might imagine, which incidentally, pisses me plumb smooth off. As KD said (paraphrasing here), there's got to be more we can do, certainly there is, but this was Dan's visceral response to the rash of teen gay suicides. It wasn't ever intended to be a solution, just a ray of hope. The fact that it's gone so viral just proves that there really is a need, as I believe has been most eloquently pointed out here — ohmygoodness, Reine! — and not just for the gay folks.

    I look forward to the day when standing up to any sort of bully is the norm, not the exception.

  31. Thomas Pluck

    Bullying is evil, and condoning it, or brushing it off as "kids will be kids" because we suffered it ourselves only makes us, as adults, parents and teachers, complicit in keeping the cycle going.

    The most overlooked book of the year was HEART TRANSPLANT by Andrew Vachss. I donated a copy to my local library. A graphic novel for kids and adults about bullying. I wish I'd read it when I was a kid.

    I was bullied, my friends were bullied, for being different. For being gay. For not being gay but being effeminate. For being smart or not. For being poor or rich. We accept it every day. Planet Fitness says its okay to bully bodybuilding types, because we're all stupid meat heads who can't tie our own shoes. The tables have been turned on the jocks.

    I'm currently revising my first novel which begins with school bullying in the 80's, the consequences of revenge, and life's adult bullies in the present. Like child abuse, bullying begins at home. We know that now in regards to incest abuse, but are still in the dark when it comes to bullying. But we have begun to learn, and It Gets Better is a great first step.

    It would Get Better a lot faster if adults didn't accept it, and if kids weren't punished for fighting back to stop the daily emotional torture and humiliation that some call "part of growing up."

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