Homecoming’s over…now what?

The latest rounds of bullying stories are all over my Facebook wall, these ones involving kids who think they’re being funny by nominating less popular students for “homecoming court.”

There is legitimate outrage, as well as heartwarming shows of support, as communities rally around the bullied kids, providing manicures, makeovers, and standing ovations in the bleachers.

On the one hand, it’s good that it’s making national news.  On the other (because I’m jaded and naturally predisposed to skepticism), I wonder what – if anything – the bullies learn from this.  The idea of the ugly duckling in the pretty formal gown crossing the field while everyone slow claps is a nice one.  We’d like to think that the kids behind the prank watch this happen and feel suitably ashamed and chastened.

I’m sorry.  I just don’t think that they do.

I write this with a heavy heart today.  My 8-year-old nephew is being bullied.  He is a sweet, sensitive kid who loves to lob “Star Wars” trivia at me.  With all the media attention, with all the Facebook groups dedicated to “bullying awareness,” this shit is still going on.  And it still goes on because “kids will be kids.”  It still goes on because school administrators don’t want to admit there’s a problem.  Officials don’t want to make waves, they don’t want it “getting out” that their schools are unsafe, they don’t want to run the risk of litigious parents who don’t want to be told that their children are bullies. And that in turn propagates the climate of apathy and fear in which bullies thrive.

Every time I read one of these stories, every time I hear that a kid that I love is struggling, I go to a bad place, and my initial reaction is one of anger.  I can’t stress enough that there are long, LONG-term ramifications from bullying. People who haven’t experienced it tend to wonder why we don’t just “get over it,” when the fact of the matter is that daily mental and verbal abuse (and let’s not mince words here – even if it is coming from kids who “don’t know any better” – it’s ABUSE) in adolescence absolutely affects you both emotionally and physiologically. In my case, it’s manifested as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which I’ve been addressing through a combination of therapy and medication for the last several years, because I spent too many years prior “dealing” with my GAD by drinking, and getting myself in a whole lot of trouble because of it.

And I write this knowing full well that there are people I know who will think I’m whining, or malingering, or waxing hyperbolic.  I no longer care what they think.  Because a kid that I love woke up this morning too scared to go to school.  I know that feeling.  Nearly 30 years after the fact I still remember what that feels like.  It’s fucking awful, and NO kid should have to feel that way.

What’s the lesson here?  Buy a bullied girl a dress.  That’s a lovely gesture, but what happens next?

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