Will bullying ever go away?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
I, like millions of others, was bullied as a kid. I mean, of course I was: I was a pudgy little girl, growing up with an ambiguous race in a predominately-white, middle-class community. People made fun of my round face, my spandexy style (hey, it may sound dumb now, but when you’re 11 and rotund, it makes sense to swath yourself in comfy lycra), and my bookwormy nerdiness. Sure, I was bullied, but I was lucky enough to move past it. Why? Well, I think I can look back at the pranks and name calling of my past without too much pain because I grew up in the ‘90s—in a pre-Internet age.
I don’t think that kids today are as lucky.
While bullying has always had terrible psychological consequences for its victims, kids nowadays are subjected to mockery and torture that’s both all-pervasive and everlasting online. When I was little, I could go home after school and cry to my mom and read my books and escape. Once we grew up, most of my tormentors matured and moved on with their lives (I mean, they’re still jerks. But now they’re adult jerks and don’t yell at me out their car windows in front of their kids or anything). But now, kids go home and are followed by their bullies onto their Facebooks and other public spaces online. And, as anyone who’s ever made a sex tape likely knows, those words won’t fade into nothing more than painful, distant memories—they will be somewhere online forever.
The death of local teen Amanda Todd last fall really drove this point home in a dark and very real way. If Todd grew up in a different time, maybe she would have had a chance to grow up and move on—never forget, mind you, but move on. Unfortunately, she grew up now: in a time when bullying is as strong as ever, and where bullying could follow her beyond physical spaces and into her min—to the point where she could no longer support herself.
What this tells me is that the actions we’re taking against bullying aren’t working. As Shane Koyczan’s spoken-word poem, “To This Day,” attests, simply telling kids the old adage that sticks and stones will break bones but words won’t hurt you is pointless. We need to find another way to raise our children in a culture where bullying isn’t cool; where kids find self esteem in ways other than hurting each other. We can’t keep pretending that bullying is innocuous, or kids who might otherwise have grown up as wonderful, productive people may never grow up.
The CKNW Ophans’ Fund annual Pink Shirt Day to combat bullying is Wednesday, February 27.