Bully No More: National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month
October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.
Once upon a time, bullying seemed confined to places in and around schools: the playground, the locker room, the school cafeteria, the bus, the hallways and stairwells. Those places where kids jostled, sized each other up, and muscled their way around, vying for positions of power when adults were not looking.
But today bullying is everywhere. It is no longer limited to physical places and kid-only spaces; bullying takes place in the ether, in cyberspace, online and in apps that allow for disappearing content. Computers, mobile phones, and social media enable bullying to be omnipresent and to occur relentlessly, at a pace and level of malice previously unthinkable.
No place is safe.
Research suggests that certain characteristics, traits, frailties and differences are typically more likely to cause one to fall prey to bullies. They include kids/people who are overweight, those who are skinny, those with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, weak, poor; those in the minority, gay, lesbian, transgender, those who simply look different, those who are anxious, those who are not inclined to sports, those who wear glasses.
But the truth is, these days, anyone is fair game. Bullying is not reserved to white on black, majority on minority, kid on kid; adults are bullies--consider Donald Trump. Bullying is a scourge across the country and a cancer that runs through our Native territories; it is skin on skin hate, Native on Native, brother on brother.
My daughter is an attractive, ninth grade honors student in advanced placement classes. She attends Lakeshore Central High School near the Cattaraugus Territory where we live in Western New York. She was inducted into National Honor Society two years ago. She was elected president of her class two consecutive years in a row. She plays sports, was nominated to Homecoming court last week, and until recently she has had a wide circle of friends. She wears glasses.
October 19 was National Unity Day. The day in which some schools encourage students to wear orange to demonstrate a united front against bullying. It was also the day I broke down in heartbreak and defeat and agreed to allow my daughter to transfer to a school 350 miles and 6 hours away—a school where hopefully she will not be torn down, menaced, be the target of missives on Snapchat. It is a dramatic move I know.
It is a decision that tears me in two. But the corrosive effects that long-term social isolation can wreak on a fourteen-year old are more than I can bear. I am not prepared to watch my daughter do a slow crawl into a dark place. I will not stand by while her self-esteem sinks into oblivion and she becomes unrecognizable. I will not sit idly in a holding pattern only to witness her grades slip. I will not wait for a free fall descent that involves some unspeakable point of no return.
I want my daughter to be safe, healthy, unencumbered and far removed from what has become a toxic environment. She will not have to endure the overt, yet passive-aggressive hostile glances, the accidental bumps, the subtle intimidations, the social exclusion from her Native peers; the girls she played lacrosse with for the past five years, girls who were her friends.
One weekend completely out of the blue, and for no apparent reason, two friends wrote mean things about my daughter. One girl came right out and told her that they were no longer friends, and in her estimation, said that they never were friends. My daughter thought the world of that girl. She was devastated, confused and cried inconsolably, unable to understand the jarring and vicious turn.
I am confounded by the changes that have occurred, the tear that has ripped her social world apart. Is it just a classic case of girls gone mean? I cannot say for sure. But the mean girl behavior was like a contagion, it just kept on and pretty soon few friends could be found.
I am fully aware of the factors that have contributed to the cyber bullying, malicious rumors, and rejection that my daughter has been experiencing. I knew the changes were coming. After all, this was the summer in which the girls were moving from eighth grade to ninth grade—a summer when girls would begin to experiment, move in different directions, develop new interests.
There is no denying it: whether on territory or off-reservation, kids these days begin smoking and drinking, popping pills and trying drugs at age 12, 13, 14, even younger. The trend is alarming. It is almost as if the younger and younger ages at which kids embark on a path of alcohol and drug use is perceived as a matter of evolution. It is the accepted norm.
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