My last day of primary school was certainly one of the happiest of my childhood. My mother’s response was, “Don’t say that. You’ll look back on these days fondly. You don’t want to leave. You’ll think of these as the best days.”
“No I won’t.”
“Yes you will.”
I didn’t. And I still haven’t.
They are still my least favourite days.
I was bullied all through school. I didn’t have friends. And the few that I did have were dicks. It was only much later (say, in the last 5 years) that I have become completely confident in myself and my abilities. I have learned to stand up for myself, to be proud of the person I am and whether that is just about becoming an adult, or that I am no longer in school, dependent on the acceptance of peer-groups, but today there are very few people who’s opinions really matter to me, whose words, deeds and thoughts will bring me down. It took a very long time to get to this place.
And while there have been opportunities for me to face bullying today, I consider myself lucky that I don’t face any such issues. I have learned to live by the motto “Those that matter don’t mind, and those that mind don’t matter.” It’s amazing how much you can lose respect for someone who refuses to accept you, or who refers to you as “an embarrassment”, but it is these minorities who teach us who is important to us. And what is important. I’m lucky to have great people around me who I can call on for support and friendship. I didn’t have that growing up.
I was heavily bullied throughout primary school, on a couple of occasions I reported it and one or two people were brought to the headmaster. But that didn’t stop much: in fact, I got mocked for the very fact that I reported them. I wasn’t confident it was ever going to make a difference, which is why it took so long to do. After all, they weren’t going to suddenly be my friend. The summer between primary and secondary schools, more so than any other, I was determined I would start afresh. New school. New people. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Certainly not when you’re a shy, introverted, 12-year-old. Secondary school was much the same.
I didn’t have many friends throughout school, and those who I did call my friends were assholes. I just hung out with them rather than be on my own. That or sit in the library. Sometimes I actually read books — if I couldn’t use the computers. In primary school (before computers) I would wander the perimeter of the playground and chat with my granny, who was a dinner-lady and playground supervisor.
Today marks the end of Anti-Bullying Week, an initiative established by the Anti-Bullying Alliance in 2006. The theme this year is We’re better without bullying, which “focuses on bullying as a barrier to achievement. We were already aware that bullying leads to children dropping out of school and therefore limits life choices, but we have been shocked by the reach of the problem in our classrooms.”
According to Anti-Bullying Alliance
Almost half of children and hong people (49.5%) have played down a talent for fear of being bullied, rising to 53% among girls. One in 10 (12%) said they had played down their ability in science and almost one in five girls (18.8%) and more than one in 10 boys (11.4%) are deliberately underachieving in maths – to evade bullying.
I would say that if I wasn’t bullied in school I would be in a much better place, I would have been better equipped to use my potential and better excel academically, instead, I fell behind quite significantly in school. I enjoyed learning, but very little of my learning was done in school.
I didn’t look cool, I didn’t act cool. I was very uncool. I was bullied for my perceived sexuality, for being bad at sport, for being quiet, for not being one of the lads, for knowing nothing about football, for not getting with girls. School was a horrible place. I did not want to be there. While I tried every day to start anew, kids don’t become liked overnight. No new shoes, branded Adidas button-up pants or spiked haircut will do that: Anything but be myself. There was the constant name-calling, generally never being included in things, and forever the butt of the jokes. While I say I got used to it, I’m not sure I ever really did. I have no doubt I’d be much better had I not been bullied. After school I would change out of my uniform and not think about the day for at least a few hours. But no matter how long you sit in a room listening to Marilyn Manson lyrics, it’s very difficult to project that confidence in a place you feel so small.
I was never (rarely) physically harmed; but it certainly left its mark. There were many times I thought of killing myself. It could all be over. I wouldn’t have to continue living this hell. But then I had the foresight to understand that it wouldn’t last forever. That it would change. And it would get better. When I had nothing else, I had music. And the internet.
Anti-Bullying Week is just one of many anti-bullying initiatives, and while it is still a problem for young people, it’s great to see that it is becoming so much less of a problem.
It took quite a few years after leaving school to rid myself of the feeling that I’d be attacked again. It was a long time before I used my own name online — for fear of being bullied about my own thoughts. I put up many walls. It has taken a lot for those to be knocked down. Today, I am not afraid to stand up for what I believe, to say what’s on my mind. I have thoughts which go against the grain. Not to be swayed by peer-pressure. To enjoy things that others don’t, to not enjoy things others do. I am proud of my nerdiness, I enjoy no music I am ashamed of. No guilty pleasures, just pleasures.
In some ways, I’m glad I’m not a teenager today surrounded by social networking: the need to friend everyone at school, everyone you meet. Furthering the desire — “need” — to keep up with the next narcissistic peer. However, it does provide greater support networks, and those are important to anyone being bullied. “Cyber bullying” is a big issue today, despite many people and organisations working to irradiate this. From my own experience of bullying, creating a welcoming environment for children is important, to emphasise differences, to promote minority talents and skills and enable children to be confident in themselves. Adults and parents need also be aware of the impact the home environment, bullying can also take place at home.
Homophobic bullying also needs to be tackled in Northern Ireland; whether it’s the attack of perceived sexual orientation or actual sexual orientation. A report conducted by the Rainbow Project in 2011 titled ‘Left out of the Equation’ (updated May 2012) found that “Homophobic bullying is rife in schools across Northern Ireland and it continues, unchallenged, because school staff lack the capacity, confidence or will to tackle it.” While there is greater acceptance today of gay people, it is still an issue which needs to be dealt with. The Rainbow Project provide assistance and guidance on homophobic bullying, including a guide for teachers [pdf].
“There is currently no requirement that schools should include homophobic bullying in their behaviour or anti-bullying policies. As schools are not required to take any proactive steps to prevent homophobic bullying, teachers and other school staff are not trained to recognise homophobic bullying and language and deal with it accordingly”
In conclusion, I bullying is a terrible thing for any child to go through, and far too often it results in suicide — a particular issue in Northern Ireland. Greater emphasis must be put on stamping out bullying of all forms. Every child should be made to feel accepted, whether it is being made to feel welcome at school, or called “an embarrassment” by their parents.