Member Advice on Bullying
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Bypassing BullyingThis is an account of my experience with bullying, from my story which you can read below I have drawn some conclusions and come up with some ways I believe I could have bypassed bullying, these can be found in sections 1.o, 1.p and 2, as well as occasionally throughout my story (section 1).
1. My story
a. Introduction to myself
b. Where did it start?
c. How did it progress
d. Teacher Support
e. The wrong best friend - a bad decision
f. The worst tutor group
g. Singled out
h. The good student
i. The right sort of friends
j. A blast from the past
k. The singer
m. Moving on
n. The effects bullying has had on my life
o. How could I have stopped bullying?
p. What did I do wrong?
3. Are we doing enough to help the situation
1. My story
a. Introduction to myself.
My names Shaz, I'm 18 years old now and from as early as the age of 6 I remember being bullied. This has had a significant impact on my life. Why do I think I was bullied? To be honest I'm not sure, my main problem is I'm too quiet and too kind to stand up for myself, I would never go out of my way to hurt someone's feelings even if they had hurt mine.
The first incidents of bullying I remember happening started when I was little, I remember being stood on the playground age 6 or 7 and a boy saying to me "You look like Stretch Armstrong!" for those who don't know who Stretch Armstrong is, it was a doll when I was small made for boys, you could get it's arms and legs and pull it and it stretched until it was really long and skinny or really wide and flat. Well when I was little I was always really tall and skinny (a figure I'd kill to have now) and was always laughed at for it. Anyway, I remember being stood in the dinner queue with my best friend and a boy came over to me and told me "Ergh! You look like Stretch Armstrong!" so my best friend told me to ignore him and got hold of my hand. Immediately he started shouting, "Stretch Armstrong's gay!" and everybody laughed, but I didn't know what gay meant, that sort of language was never spoken in front of me by any of my family. As far as I knew gay meant happy and apart from him teasing I was reasonably happy so I told him yes I was gay but decided to check with my mum when I got home what gay meant. I told my mum what had happened and she assured me that gay meant happy so I went into school the next morning confident that I was gay.
Don't get me wrong I don't look back at that story and weep with embarrassment, I don't cringe at the thought or get angry, in fact I laugh - it's a funny story, I was only 6 it hasn't had a major impact on my life, or has it? Most importantly this is where the bullying started and the boys that began calling me "Stretch Armstrong" and "gay" grew older and a lot bigger.
c. How did it progress
Over time the bullying got worse, I was called stupid names throughout primary school. Normally I'd turn round and call the bullies something back. It was only silly names, "giraffe" and that sort of thing, nothing really offensive, but the point is it didn't stop. A lot of it had to do with how naïve I was as a child, my mum didn't think it was right for me to be introduced to some of the language the other kids were using, so when they'd learn a new word they'd call me it and I would never know what it meant.
This is a story about something that happened to me when I was 11 in my last year at primary school. I think this is the point where I lost trust in the people I thought I knew could help me if the bullying got too far which it had started to. I had been doing a comprehension exercise and had just handed my work in when my teacher stood up in front of the class and wrote on the board "Brain", "Brian". She asked "Can anyone tell me which the correct spelling of Brian is?" someone put their hand up and told her "the second one!" "Yes" she said "but someone in this class thought it was spelt B-R-A-I-N, can anyone tell me what that spells?", again someone put their hand up "Brain" and everyone started laughing, including myself, it was a silly mistake. "Brain" she repeated "you're all 11 years old and someone still doesn't know how to spell Brian!" and she started laughing so everyone else joined in again. She came over to me and looked down at me and said "I don't know why you're laughing, because it was you!" To this day I still don't understand what that teacher had against me, I was polite, maybe a bit quiet, but I did my work and I didn't cause any trouble. A few weeks later we were sat in class and the same happened again, only this time it was a different word and a different spelling error, this time I didn't laugh, I just pulled a face, I knew how awful she had been to me with my spelling and so when everyone else laughed at this spelling I didn't join in, but this didn't stop her, she pointed at me and said "I don't know why you're pulling that face Sian because it was you!" I remember sitting and crying on the pavement behind the playground that day. I felt like I was stupid and like everyone was laughing at me. I was too afraid to tell me mum because naturally I thought I was the one with the problem, it was my fault that I couldn't spell and that she would be angry. Now of course I know that she singled me out in front of the whole class and made a fool of me and it wasn't my fault and if I could turn back time I would have told my parents and got her into a considerable amount of trouble for doing it too.
e. The wrong best friend - a bad decision
Parents take careful note of this one. In all my educational life, I feel that this is the place I really went wrong. A few months before moving to secondary school we were asked to write down our best friends names, we could have up to 6, but we had to put a circle round our favourite. A few weeks before this I had had a big fall out with my best friend and we weren't talking, so I decided not to put her down. I had another friend who I didn't know too well but who I had recently been hanging around with. She had lots of friends and would do anything just to fit in, I decided she was a safe bet as she would help us both to fit in at secondary school. I was really happy when she put me down as her best friend too. So why was this a bad decision? When we moved to secondary school she had her birthday party more or less straight away and she invited all the really popular girls from our class, and I was invited along too. I soon realised that she became a different person for whoever she was with. She used to try and outdo people by making up lies about what she'd done. At first this wasn't so bad but then she started doing stuff to make herself look cool. At the age of 12 she started smoking. We had been put in a tutor group with each other and no one else from my previous school which meant I had trapped myself into being with her. As time went by we met some other friends one, Katie was one of my dad's friends from schools daughter, so we started talking as soon as we found out and made friends and another Steph went swimming with my "best friend". At first me and Katie got one well, but she began to immediately get jealous of my relationship with my best friend Charlie, I would catch her telling Charlie I was a bitch and convincing her to sit away from me. But when Charlie ignored her and carried on hanging round with me and coming back to mine after school, Katie got really nasty. She'd call me names and say "no one wants to sit next to you!" and people wouldn't because they were afraid she would start on them too. She'd started writing letters to my friends about me and she started smoking so she could fit in better with Charlie. Soon Charlie and Katie became best friends but it didn't bother me too much because I didn't have much in common with either of them. I thought now that Katie had got her own way she'd leave me alone but she didn't and things got much much worse.
As I progressed into second year secondary school, our tutor group began to get a reputation for being "The worst tutor group in the school" it was true, we had so many bullies, trouble makers and generally not nice people in my group that some teachers refused to teach us. I remember sitting in English one day and doing nothing, the teacher just sat in silence at the front of the class doing her marking, she said refused to teach until we shut up, but the people just didn't, as far as most of them were concerned what she'd just said was, if you don't shut up you don't have to do any work. So what's this got to do with bullying? The people in my group often targeted me and would bully me, calling me names that upset me. The occasion that I remember the most was one day in a music lesson, and this story still haunts me now. At the back of the music room we used to have practical rooms where we would go to work when we had a practical lesson. There were three or four. By this time the bullies had developed a nickname that really got to me, no longer did they call me stretch or pick on my height, but they had begun to call me, Stinky Sian, it made sense, same letter and everything and to be honest at first I wasn't too worried and then everything got terrible. We were told to go to the backrooms to do some practical work in groups of 4 or 5, Katie was in a mood with me, I can't remember why now, or if there was even a reason or if she was feeling that way out. She told me that I wasn't allowed to work in their group and to go and find someone else to work with. So I went to find someone but she didn't leave it at that she shouted "Does anyone want to work with Stinky Sian? - No? - Looks like you'll have to work on your own!" the next thing I remember was being pushed into the end practice room, and the door slammed, someone held it shut from the other side. I felt around for a light switch but when I couldn't find one there was nothing I could do, I sat down on the floor and cried, I was sat in the dark, I couldn't get out, I'd done nothing to deserve this and I felt stupid and embarrassed. After about 10 minutes the door creaked open and in walked a girl called Fi, she was well known as the class joker and she looked down at me, then she said "hey listen, I was thinking, we haven't really got a good nickname for you and I thought of one I liked, I thought Bo, like Bobo the elephant, or Finger Bow, or maybe BO!" there was an eruption of laughter from outside the door, she looked at me in disgust and walked out.
g. Singled out
From that point things went down hill, people knew that I wasn't going to do anything if they called me names or bullied me. I would see people in the school I'd never even met, I remember on one occasion I was walking into the dinner hall and a lad came and pushed me out the way and said "get out of my way, Bo!" Everyone knew my name, everyone knew what they called me, I'd never even see this guy in my life yet he knew me as soon as he saw me as the girl everyone called "Bo" and "Stinky".
Teachers have this warped idea that when someone is good that they can rub off on someone else. Let me explain, our school started operating some kind of second chance policy, where expelled kids were welcome at our school. On the odd occasion these kids grabbed this second chance and turned over a new leaf, I've seen it happen. Normally they used this second chance to wreak havoc into the lives of the other students, cause problems in assembly and classes and generally cause problems. The teacher's way of encouraging these students to behave themselves was to introduce them to the school by assigning them good students as guides. So when I was in Year 9 I wasn't surprised that I was assigned my own expelled student to show around school, I remember vividly being so frightened, I didn't want to have to show this girl round, she swore all the time, smoked and was rude to everyone. It wasn't long until Katie and Charlie to a shine to her, they began showing her all the places you could get away with smoking, all the ways you could skip lesson and in return she showed them how to leave the school without anyone knowing and I believe she introduced them to drugs as well. This is something that a lot of teachers do, some sort of tactic, it's happened before to me as early as primary school, I used to get placed with the naughty ones when we were doing work in pairs to try and stop them from being naughty? Does it - no it gives them a brilliant chance to bully the good ones without being overheard?
This is when everything started to get really bad, on a Thursday I used to walk with Katie to the bus stop which was just round from my house and occasionally she'd asked me to stand and talk to her, being the forgiving person I am I had done so many times but it started to get to be every week. One week I was going out with my parents so I told her that I couldn't wait, she immediately took my stuff off the bench and told me, I could have it back WHEN I'd finished waiting for her bus with her, this happened several times and I'd always fight to get it back and she'd always do awful stuff to me, telling me she'd throw my bag on the roof or smash my glasses on the floor. One day at school she took my bag from under the table and put it in a bin outside, so I had to get it out, as I was getting it out she started shouting "Ergh, look what Smelly's doing! She's going through the bin!" and everyone was looking and laughing, I couldn't believe it, I felt so dirty.
One particular day I was walking with Katie to the bus stop on a Thursday afternoon, I told her I was really sorry but I really had to be somewhere, she laughed and said "When you've finished waiting for my bus with me, you can go…" so I said "No, I'm going now" she knocked me over and took my bag, "Not without this," it was at this point I made a fantastic discovery about bullies, they're only interested in people who play up to them, who react, I said "Nah it's ok, you can keep that, it's only got my school work in it and I can get some new glasses for free" and headed home. She was gob smacked but she didn't stop "I'll throw it!" she shouted "I'll throw it into the road and it'll get run over!" I said "Ok then, you do that" and carried on walking, she didn't know what to say "…fine then!" she shouted, "You can have your stupid bag!" I carried on walking, she held it out but I ignored her, so she threw it down the street after me, I carried on walking "I don't want your stupid bag!" she yelled, I shrugged and carried on walking. Later that night she called at my house to return my bag and tell my parents I'd forgotten to pick it up. But most importantly because I didn't play up to her pathetic game she never tried to do it again. When my mum questioned me about why I had left my bag at the bus stop I burst into tears and told her everything, about the bullying, about Katie and she convinced me that I needed to go to my teacher and report Katie and as for the bullying we would tackle it together, one step at a time.
"You stupid cow" Katie had waited for me outside my lesson for 15 minutes; I could see her through the glass door. Then she hit me, she said "Don't you dare EVER tell of me again! You're a smelly little tell-tale!" It hadn't worked, reporting Katie had just made things worse, she went out of her way in the next couple of days to hurt me, she stamped on my toes when she was walking past and stood on my fingers in assembly. She was making my life unbearable calling me names at every chance she had. She'd say things like "Face it, no one wants to be your friend because you smell!"
People had been saying that so much lately I'd started to believe it. Why did I smell, I had a shower every day, I used body spray, deodorant and perfume. What was I doing wrong? I became obsessed, changing my clothes every single day, 5 pairs of trousers, 5 shirts, 5 jumpers, 2 showers a day, 2 bottles of body spray a week and ridiculous amounts of perfume. I got in the car one day for mum to take me to school, "You stink!" she said I burst into tears "What else can I do!" I cried, "There's nothing else I can do!" I was in a state of despair but my mum put her arm round me "No Sian," she said "you stink of body spray, perfume and hairspray, you've got nothing to hide but you're making it look like you're trying to cover something up!" After a long chat me an my mum agreed that for my own peace of mind it was better that I visited the doctors and was told by a professional that there really was nothing to worry about and the only thing I was suffering from was the mindless bullying of other kids. She also told me that I needed to go and speak to someone about it, that we'd given it time and it hadn't got better. I told her no and explained what had happened last time but she was sure if I was persistent and strong it would work. It did, my head of year immediately informed all of my teachers of what had been happening. I was watched closely in lessons by all of them and after lessons occasionally they would chat to me to make sure I wasn't suffering in silence.
i. The right sort of friends
Since that day things began to go up hill. It was around that time that I met my new friends, they were all victims of the bullies too, some were "too clever", some were "too fat", some were "gay", some were "too thin" and some were "weird", one boy was even disabled, these were all being victimised by the same people. It was in these people that I found comfort, we'd been forced together by our unfortunate situations but because they'd forced us together they'd given us the ability to stand as a group against them. There were 14 of us in total, we'd go out after school and at weekends, we'd eat out together and have parties and we'd stick together if someone started bullying us but because we were together they generally didn't. Charlie and Katie began to get jealous and follow me onto the field at dinner time and try and hang out with my new friends, but they didn't fit in. We all had something in common, we were the victims, Katie and Charlie were as good as bullies in their eyes and a lot of them turned their backs when they came over. This is the kind of friends a victim of bullying needs, people who understand their situation and who don't question them, eventually I began going out with one of the boys in the group who everyone called gay, it was the talk of the year at one point "Smelly and gay boy are going out together" but after a while things died down, they realised that we were attracted to each other and that we could support each other and they left us alone.
Everything had sorted itself out, me and my friend were no longer going out together but stayed friends and I had met a new boy who was a friend of an old friend of mine, who I still met up with occasionally. One day I was sat talking to my boyfriend when he told me that he thought Rach my old friend was jealous, he told me that she'd told him that I smell and that at school no one likes me, that if anyone saw he was with me then they'd laugh at him too. I told him she was lying and that I had been bullied but it wasn't for any reason, then he revealed to me that she had revealed herself to him on her webcam and told him that I had nothing to offer him compared to her. I couldn't believe it, he told me not to worry and that he didn't believe her but shortly afterwards he finished out relationship because "it wasn't working." I rang Rach to find out what was going on and see if there was a reason she was being like this, when she heard my voice on the other end of the line she slammed the phone down. When I got back to school she'd stirred everything back up telling everyone my boyfriend had finished me because I was smelly. Everyone started laughing at me again. I remember being sat at home the day when she slammed the phone down. I cried on one of my new friends, she held me and told me that we would sort everything out, she stayed at my house and we went out shopping to take my mind off things. It's sad but that day I felt the same kind of friendliness that I had never felt since the day my best friend held my hand in the dinner queue. An important part of beating the bullies and overcoming peer victimisation is having supportive friends who will hold you if you need to be held and give you the support you need to get over things like this.
k. The Singer
As time went by and that incident blew over, some of my friends suggested that we start a band and sing in the talent show. Singing is something I have always enjoyed and this was something that although I was nervous of doing, I wanted to do, in a way to prove myself that I had the confidence to do it. On the first occasion me and my group (2 of my other friends) UC3 won the best group award and on the second occasion I went solo after receiving singing lessons for a few weeks. I felt confident up until the day, I remember being sat on my bed with my new boyfriend petrified that someone would shout something onto the stage at me. But of course they didn't, I had the microphone I could have showed every single one of them up if I'd wanted. What I was doing was something that I'd always wanted to do and I was showing power against them by doing it, it was almost like saying ok, you've ruined my life, you've hurt my feelings, but here I am standing in front of you and 500 other people and singing, because I want to. And I'm happy to say that's when it stopped, I don't remember ever being bullied after that day.
When I moved to college I lost contact with a lot of my friends. Most importantly, I went to college away from where I was planning to and lost most of the bullies along the way. I also went to the same college as my cousin and his friends who all supported me, knowing nothing about my past, none of them ever saw any problems with me and I made new friends really quickly, friends that I remain in contact with now. I've lost contact with Katie and Charlie who both went to a different college but sadly I've also lost contact with a lot of my good friends as well. There was one single occasion where I was walking my dog on the beach and I heard some boys shouting "smelly Sian!" I ignored them and carried on walking, they threw rocks at me but they missed, but since that occasion I have not experienced any more bullying.
m. Moving on
I now go to university, away from everything that's familiar, I've had the opportunity to make a completely fresh start with a boyfriend who I love and who supports me through everything and who knows the full details of my past experience with bullying and who is sympathetic and kind about it. I have made a group of new friends who have great fun together and although I have been slightly overlooked sometimes because of my quiet/shy nature, I have learnt to speak out for myself.
Obviously bullying has had some pretty devastating effects for me, on my confidence, on my self-esteem, but also I have learnt some important lessons. I am not going to focus on the negative effects rather the positive.
This is something really interesting; in some ways bullying has had adverse effects to what you might expect. In the future I am determined to tackle the bullying problem. I am now doing an Education Studies course and hope to become a primary school where I will tackle bullying at it's routes. Importantly I know the effects of singling a child out, like my teacher did to me, I realise that children need support with problems like I had and I am determined that in my life I will make a big impact on the bullying problem. So bullies watch out, you've got me once, but I'll get you back.
o. How could I have stopped bullying?
A good question is; if I could go back what would I have done to prevent bullying? Personally I wouldn't have retaliated like I did, throwing back pathetic insults, I'd have answered with "whatever" or "ok" if anything at all, because as I previously mentioned, when I left Katie alone at the bus stop with my stolen school bag she returned it to my house. I would have reported my teacher in Y6 to my parents or to another teacher for singling me out and I would have reported the bullies as soon as it happened. Something that's worrying is that I made the mistake of picking the wrong "best friend" at the age of 11. This is something else that I would change but would advise parents of children this age to keep an eye on any important decisions like this one and to try and sway a child's opinion if you're not happy with their choice.
By retaliating bullies just think it's a game, it's like playing tennis, if your opponent lets the ball go past them all the time then it's no fun but if they viciously hit it back at you then it becomes a good game and to them I'm pretty sure it's all about winning.
I didn't report the bullying until it was too late; I'd already tried running away, asking to be transferred to a different school and cutting myself for attention as well as going on hunger strike. I tried to attract attention to myself in different ways, I thought if they saw what they did to me, they would understand but they didn't.
Another thing I wish I'd done is accept the invitation to be mentored, mentors can provide you with useful advice, how to stop bullying or help yourself, they can report anything to the teachers that they think they should know, but they tend to keep most things personal so you can tell them anything, unless they feel that it is vital someone knows, e.g. You're pregnant. Why did I turn mentoring down? Because I thought it was showing weakness, I realise now that I could have helped myself so much by accepting.2. Some Advice from my experience
Here are some important lessons I have learnt from my experience and I hope that the story has enabled you to see some ways of bypassing bullying:
- Don't suffer in silence - it sounds cheesy, it's not. If you are unsuccessful the first time and the bullying continues tell someone again, the higher authority person that you can tell the better. They are more likely to be able to spread the message through the ranks. For example, I told my head of year who then quickly informed all subject leaders who informed all subject teachers, all of which looked out for me.
- Don't retaliate - for a start this can get you into trouble, especially if you resort to violence. But it's not worth getting wound up about, if you act cool even if you're not (if you don't hit that tennis ball back) it's not a game to them, it's boring.
- If help or guidance is offered to you, take it - I can't stress enough how much I wish I'd taken the offer of mentoring. If you feel brave enough seek help from a mentor or councillor. I realise that at the time you're head can get very messed up, you have all these great ideas, like cutting yourself (like me) that you think will bring it to an end, a councillor or mentor can look at your situation from an experienced persons point of view and offer advice and guidance, not just with how to deal with the problem but how to overcome victimisation and what you can do to prevent it happening again. It's also a shoulder to cry on, it's someone that's seen it all before and is trained to deal with it, they understand what you are going through and aren't going to judge you.
- Pick your friends carefully - carelessness in choosing your friends is a problem, obviously it's not easy, but don't be like me and judge people too early, I'm not saying treat everyone with suspicion, I'm just saying being careful is important, because it hurts the most when a friend lets you down, especially if they join in with the bullying, but still if they don't support you. It's important that you don't get in with the wrong crowd; I could have easily smoked and taken drugs like some of my "friends."
- Don't ever think you're alone - There are so many other people out there who suffer the same as you, when you feel like you're the only one (and I know that a lot of people do sometimes because I did) try to remember that there is support available. Even if it's just ringing a support line like ChildLine.
3. Are we doing enough to help the situation?
I think that recently there has been a lot more publicity about the bullying problem recently. It's good that stars such as a member of Linkin Park and Scissor Sisters have come forward with their stories of bullying; it really helps to see people that kids look up to say they were bullied. I think the beat bullying video featuring many popular stars really brought the point across that it's unacceptable but it also shows those who are bullied that they are not the only ones. I've recently seen a feature on Blue Peter about bullying, this shows that children's shows are getting involved as well; hopefully this will help stop bullying at its roots. I think that schools need to look at building strong and more effective anti-bullying policies, I realise that many schools (mine included) claim to have an anti-bullying policy, but when it comes to practice, either they don't have one or they don't have an effective one.
Note: When leaving reviews on sensitive topics such as bullying please try to be sympathetic, constructive criticism is not a bad thing but please try to be sensitive with your wording as this is a touchy subject with a lot of people.
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