Today is Pink Shirt Day here.
For those who don't know, Pink Shirt Day started very small. In 2007, a grade 9 student (male) in a rural Nova Scotia community wore a pink polo shirt to school the first day. No big deal right? Well, a boy wearing pink was apparently a big deal to a couple of bullies. They threatened to beat him up. They called him gay. They did everything they could to humiliate him.
Two popular grade 12 students heard about this and were outraged. Rather than bully the bullies, they went out and bought 50 pink shirts. Then they recruited their friends and classmates to wear pink the next day. The school was a sea of pink that day. Rather than right the bullies, these boys made it clear that there was nothing wrong with wearing pink, being different. What started as simple support for a boy they didn't even know has turned into an international movement.
Today is Pink Shirt Day to raise awareness about bullying. To give a voice to people who sometimes don't get heard until we read about it in their obituary.
Bullying comes in many forms. It can be subtle or obvious. It can be physical, emotional or both. Oftentimes a 'difference' is used to single someone out for harassment. Sometimes it's just luck of the draw. In all cases, it causes distress, can cause depression and possibly even lead to suicide if it's not addressed.
We moved a lot when I was growing up. Eventually we settled into one neighborhood (2 different homes, same school area) when I was in grade 5. I went to the same school from grade 5-8 then onto one of the local high schools. In grade 5, there was a girl in my class who decided I was to be her victim. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I was smaller. Maybe because I was the new kid. Maybe because I got good grades. Or maybe there was no reason. What ever the reason, she picked me. So what type of bully was she? She was the all encompassing type, both physical and emotional/psychological. She hit me whenever she could with whatever was handy. She humiliated me, or tried on any and every occasion. She threatened and intimidated me. I was scared of her. Terrified. I changed my route to school so I would not go anywhere near her. I dropped out of, or didn't sign up for certain school groups because she was in them. I had nightmares. The grown ups knew, and as they did back then it was dismissed as something to be outgrown, for me to get a back bone, or fight back. I tried the fighting back, got a nose bleed for the effort (she was bigger and stronger) I increased my avoidance after that. I did have some great friends back then. The didn't believe some of the stuff she said to try to make people tease me too. That made some of it easier.
Eventually, I finished grade 8 and moved onto high school While we were still in the same neighborhood, she was on the other side of the dividing line for high school, so we went our separate ways. I rejoiced (a lot) but I still had to avoid her in the neighborhood and even skipped parties if I knew she was going. At one point they talked about merging our two high schools and I didn't sleep for a couple of weeks. She still had that hold on me.
Even now, as an adult, I'm still afraid of her. Logically I know, she wont beat me up (the law would step in since while for some reason kids can hurt kids, adults can't hurt adults). She can say what she wants about my personality etc but I'm a pretty open book and have such a great group of friends there is nothing she could say that was true that would cause them to turn away from me and I know (hope) they know me enough that if she tried a lie, they wouldn't believe it. So why, as a successful adult can she still scare me? I saw her name on FB as a friend of a friend. Part of me wanted to say something but still, I was too scared. Not just of her, but what if she didn't remember? What if, her treatment of me, meant so little to her that she didn't remember it or me? I know I need to let go. I'm working on it. Maybe one day I will message her. Maybe.
I am so happy that when I grew up we didn't have the internet (heck we barely had PCs when I finished high school). Now you don't even have to see or even know someone to bully them, it can be done over the internet as easy, if not easier than in person.
I worry, a lot, about my kids growing up in this world. I am doing what I can for their self esteem so that at the least, if someone tries to emotionally bully them, they have the personal strength of character to get through it, or ask me for help. There are two of them, and they are very close, so honestly, I doubt either will be bullied physically as a twin will always be there to back him up.
The other part, doing something 'juvenile' and having it put on FB (or whatever is out there then) and having to live with it. I don't know how to prepare them. I guess make sure they have enough confidence to avoid the situation or if they find themselves in it enough trust in me or another adult to ask for help. I need to teach them to be 'social media' aware at each age and stage without making them fear the world.
I also need to make sure I model/teach enough that they never become a bully, or even just go along with a crowd who is bullying. In many ways, I think this will be harder. Peer pressure can be so overwhelming.
So, today is Pink Shirt Day. Everyday is anti-bullying day.