When I was 2yrs old, I developed a birth mark on my face. Unfortunately, it was not quite Cindy Crawford-esque & my parents reasons for not having it removed are questionable (aka I still don’t know the answer to this!).
Fast forward 16+ years—7th grade is when things turned ugly. (Funny how 16+ yrs later I still feel the heat rising from the pit of my stomach and the tears pooling in my eyes.) It all started the day ‘Brad’ turned around in his seat to stare. Instinctively I put my hand up on my cheek to cover the quarter-size ‘beauty mark’. After living with this birth mark for almost 13yrs I had grown used to the stares and it had become second nature to tilt my head to the side, look down at the ground, fake a jaw ache and hold my hand to my face, etc. ‘Brad’ was a dark haired, loud-mouthed popular boy who enjoyed attention–good or bad. On this day, ‘Brad’ was seated next to one of his buddies, ‘Scott’. They had become bored with throwing spit balls at the teacher and had now turned their attention to me. ‘Scott’ whispered something to ‘Brad’ and they started laughing hysterically. ‘Brad’ stuck his finger inches from my face pointing at my cheek.
“Hey, chocolate chip face! Chocolate chip face!!” -Brad
“Hey, Hairy Mole! Look at that thing! Did you eat some ice cream, Chocolate face??”- Scott
“Brad, here’s a quarter tell her to have a rat gnaw that thing off her face!!”- Scott
I just kept my head down staring intently at my Social Study book praying the ground would either swallow me up or the teacher would do more than just keep repeating ‘Quiet down!’. The hour felt like eternity and the horrible, hurtful barrage of insults continued. I was anywhere but in that classroom. I wish I could say it got better, that the teacher finally did something, ‘Brad’ and ‘Scott’ were vaporized by a UFO, or my parents decided to homeschool…. but no. I survived an entire school year being bullied. First it was just ‘Brad’ and ‘Scott’ but then it gradually caught on and soon others joined in. The majority of the taunting was from the boys but there were 1 or 2 girls that were trying to impress the boys by joining in on all the fun. l tried everything to avoid having to go to 5th period social studies— nurses office, pretending my locker door was stuck, even going to principal’s office to ask for extra pencils, paper, ANYTHING but doing what I should have done. Looking back I wish I could have stopped hiding behind my hand and asked for help, told someone–my parents, counselor. teacher.
There is a deeply disturbing epidemic out there that is killing our children. There seems to be more and more in the news lately about kids taking their own lives due to bullying. I feel their pain and remember the absolute helplessness I felt. At that age its you and your peers in one social sphere— and the rest of the world in another. Why didn’t I tell an adult about the cruel taunting I was enduring? Thinking back on it I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be believed or I would be told the same thing my parents told me when I would tattle on my little brother for calling me sillyhead or poopooface. “Amber, sticks & stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you.” What I was most afraid of ,however, were the kids finding out I told— the taunts and name-calling would just explode–at least that’s what I imagined happening.
“Nearly 1 in 6 high school students has seriously considered suicide, and 1 in 12 has attempted it, according to the study by the Centers for Disease Control (NY Post, Youth at Risk, 2012). That’s terrifying. Back when I was in school there was no Facebook or Instagram— and I’m thankful there wasn’t! With more and more communication avenues opening up there are inevitably more ways to bully and harass so not only would there be classroom bullying being hurled at our very vulnerable, fragile pre-teens, teens (Yes, fragile! All the hormones, changes physically & mentally, trying to ‘find your identity’.), there will be bullying coming from so many more directions. Now how on earth can we save our kids and boost their immunity to bullying?? I wish there was a vaccination for it, but reality is that there is no one, all-encompassing answer to this question.
I think community or school social media cops should be put into place, and they should be a priority on the budgets of school districts. With the ever-growing trend of the breakdown of the family unit and more single parent households it would be unrealistic to expect bullying immunity to come only from a child’s home. There needs to be more repercussions for bullying. Being suspended from Facebook is just not enough (The bully will just find another avenue!). Putting specially trained ‘bullying’ authorities in charge of overseeing students social media accounts, classroom discussion on the importance of asking for help, and having continuous education to keep up with the rapidly evolving internet trends should be seriously considered by school districts nationwide.
Now going back to where I left off on my personal bullying account. At the end of 7th grade I noticed the birth mark changing shape which grew concern from my parents. The “poop smear”, “chocolate chip”, “hairy beast” was bid farewell by the time the next school year started, and on top of that my father was transferred jobs! I was able to start fresh at a new school— which I happily attended and graduated with honors from. I mention ‘with honors’ because throughout 7th grade my grades had plummeted. Instead of studying in my room like my parents had assumed I was doing after dinner every night, I was watching tears fall onto the pages, and imagining what life would be like if I looked ‘normal’.
The 3in scar is still visible when I’m not smiling. I view it more as a battle scar now. I do catch myself from time to time talking with my hand resting on my cheek—I mean I did it instinctively for so many of my early years. I consider myself lucky though, my bullying experience is absolutely nothing compared to so many others from my generation, and it doesn’t even compare to what this generation and future generations will have to fight. I can’t only pray that our children and our children’s children will be protected & the bullying epidemic is eradicated— my words & actions as well as the words & actions of thousands of others are a vital component in the recipe to end bullying.