I myself was bullied at school. Thankfully nothing too terrible, partly due to my mum contacting the school (without my knowledge at the time), before things got out of hand. I was a quiet girl, and tall for my age, which I was very self-conscious about. I'm comfortable with my height now (5'9), but remember at times hating towering over my peers. At first it was pretty harmless, laughable really. I was nicknamed the BFG (big friendly giant), or occasionally referred to as Big Bird from Sesame Street. I grew up watching Sesame Street and The BFG was a favourite book, so I could cope fine with those silly names.
|"The Big Friendly Giant"|
However, as I progressed through school, things got much worse. One girl in particular enjoyed tormenting me to show off to her friends, I answered her back, and from then on things got worse. Every child wants to "fit in" as much as possible, and for children to pick on someone due to being different, can make life very difficult for them. We've all heard of people being racist, sexist, people being bullied for being seen as too fat or too thin...maybe there should be a new term, such as "heightist", for people who seem to have a problem with people being tall, or small.
History seems to be repeating itself...my 8 year old son is exceptionally tall for his age, and I feel his pain. I can see people making judgements about him, wrongly assuming he is older than his age. My son is a young boy, and likes to behave silly at times, as all children do. I hate to see people looking at him so disapprovingly, or thinking there must be something wrong with him. I bought him a winter hat recently, a novelty panda one which he was delighted with. Sadly, he no longer wears it as people were making fun of him. I'm sure if he were the height of an average 8 year old, no one would have said a word about it. I think it has also affected his confidence. My son was always happy to be involved in school concerts, nativities etc, he even went to drama classes which he really enjoyed. I was sad to see the change in him at a recent school event. A. looked miserable, and if he caught me looking at him, would immediately stop singing and mouth the words "stop looking at me!" I was hurt, and worried what had caused such a change in attitude.
I asked A. why he'd behaved that way and he said "I thought you'd laugh at me". I assured him there was no way I would laugh at him, and tried to build up his confidence. A. was to perform the same concert that night, and I told him he shouldn't go if he felt so uneasy. However, that talk we had seemed to make a difference, and he joined in as the happy little boy I know and love later on.
That particular event was one that I was very keen to support. The Royal Rockstars worked with the children at school to prepare for a concert. The older children even helped write a song for the school. The Royal Rockstars teach children moral values through music, and I think it is a great way to get important messages across, one of their songs was anti-bullying, and another taught them that everyone is different, and should be accepted as equals. You can read more about the work The Royal Rockstars do on their website here:
I think there are many people working very hard to stop bullying, a problem which will never have an easy solution. I've recently become aware of Julianne Moore's book "Freckleface Strawberry". The actress has written a children's book to teach children that it's OK to be different, in this case, to have red hair and freckles. I have freckles also, currently hibernating during the Scottish winter. I was never bullied for having freckles, but I know there are lots of children who hate their freckles and are teased for having them. I've never really understood why people make fun of red hair. I think red hair is lovely, and shouldn't be something to be made to feel ashamed of. I haven't read the book as yet, but I like the sound of it, you may find my review on Goodreads in the near future.
I also like a project that was started by Merilee Allred. The "Awkward Years" project, features a series of photos (including Merilee), showing past and present images, in order to compare awkward photos from youth, with present day. Describing her project, Allred says "I hope that I can touch the lives of youth who are currently getting teased or bullied. Life is so much more than school or looks or popularity contests."(Huffington Post). More information on Allred's brave project can be found here:
Finally, how do you teach your children to deal with bullying? Personally, I have told my children if they are being bullied by name calling, it's best to ignore it and tell a parent or teacher. However, if it becomes violent, I've told them it's OK to hit back. I'm not saying get into a huge fight, but I think it's important for a child to know they have to defend themselves.
I was very proud of my niece recently, who stepped in at school when her friend was being bullied by older children. I think it was very brave of her, and I'm not sure I could have done that at her age (9). That's an issue I find hard to advise on. On the one hand it's the right thing to do, but then the bullies may turn their attention on the person trying to help. My niece was called names, and hurt by the older kids involved when she intervened. Would you advise your children to step in, or should they always get adult help? I watched an interesting video on whether people should intervene when they witness bullying. "The Bullying Experiment" video which I came across on huffpost.com makes for interesting viewing, and I hope I would have the courage to do something were I to witness such a scene. Watch the clip here and tell me your views: