3 Lessons on Bullying From My 4th-Grade Self

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You won't be able to protect your kids from every form of bullying, so build their confidence by helping them learn how to work through it.

Note: The following is a real excerpt from my 4th-grade diary.

Wednesday, 2-21-90

Dear Diary:

Today Sarah, Megan, Mandy and Kathleen were being real jerks.

They were making fun of me all day. Like in P.E. I was doing my thing and they were making fun of me. They were really trying to make me mad or cry. It made me very sad.

Now I can cry wenever (sic) I want to. They were also calling me cussing names. They really hurt my feelings.

Sarah = X Friend.

I really hate her.

BULLYING is a hot topic today, in part because of the way social media has changed relationships. After all, my mean girls referenced above just wrote notes. On paper. This paper was thrown away and eventually became worm food.

Thanks be to God.

Now bullying is forever archived in ghostly data bytes that will haunt the halls of childhood memories forever.

For parents, this new technological complexity adds a layer of anxiety. We still remember the potency of teasing in its simpler form and worry that today’s version is even more damaging for our kids–and that we’re unprepared to handle it.

Reading through my diary entries, however, delivers hope. The technology of teasing may have changed, but the core roots and causes have not.

Parents: you aren’t as unprepared as you might think. If my 4th-grade self could share some insights into bullying, here’s what she’d say:

Lesson 1: Start addressing teasing and bullying early.

The mean-girl-phenomenon totally bewildered me when it first started around 3rd-grade. Suddenly, straight-forward teasing turned into something far more sophisticated. There was ostracism, passive aggression, and manipulation.

I had no idea what was going on.

Because of this, I also didn’t know how to talk to my parents about what was happening at school.

Fundamentally I knew kids were being mean, but my 9-year-old vocabulary didn’t have words for what I was experiencing.

Here’s what would have helped: a grown-up asking me questions and talking to me about these new social dynamics using language I could make sense of.

Parents spend a lot of time gauging when their child is old enough for grown-up topics like sex, dating, divorce, and puberty. But what about manipulation? What about vindictive gossip? These things are happening in the early years of elementary school way before the preteen years.

Start talking early and often. Start now.

Lesson 2: Let bullying be a teacher.

My mean-girl years (primarily 3rd through 7th grades) were the most challenging of my entire childhood. And though I’m sure my parents would have preferred to completely shelter me from the teasing, but here’s why I’m glad they didn’t:

  • I learned compassion for outsiders.
  • I learned how to stand up for myself and for others.
  • I learned the qualities I wanted in friends, and how to spot quality people.

As an adult, all of these things contribute to my character, my professional success, and the caliber of my relationships.

I’m a better person because of the mean girls.

This is possibly one of the hardest things about being a parent: seeing your kids exposed to hurt. It goes against every protective instinct.

But my 4th-grade-self would tell you that you’re not going to be able to protect your kids from all of it. It’s called real life. So build your child’s confidence by coming alongside them--help them learn how to navigate situations and explore tools to help them work THROUGH it.

Learning how to deal with bullies and teasing is a life skill that your kids must learn, and the only way to learn it is to live it. 

Lesson 3: Don’t assume your kid isn’t dishing out meanness, too.

Case-in-point, below are a few sample diary entries from my journal, recorded around the same time period:

  • March 2, ’92: Dear God, please forgive me for lying to Mandy and Amanda, talking about Jill, and being mean to Sheryl.
  • March 5, ’92: Dear God, please forgive me for calling people names and hurting my friends (sic) feelings by leaving them out.
  • March 11, ’92: Dear God, please forgive me for losing my temper, being mean to Neil, talking behind backs, and calling Sheryl names.

It goes on like this for quite some time. In one entry I even asked for forgiveness for “throwing rocks at little kids.”

Seriously.

Being bullied made me feel bad about myself. Seeing other kids being bullied filled me with compassion. And yet I still bullied and teased others, too.

Sure, I felt guilty about it, but I was also learning how to navigate peer pressure and the social-pecking-order.

Obviously mistakes were made.

Name-calling, gossip, and manipulation are bad habits to learn at an early age. They’re also easy to learn unless you have someone (that’s you–parent!) obstructing the path with a few well-placed consequences. My 4th-grade-self, for instance, responded really well to not being allowed to go to slumber parties and having to miss my favorite TV shows.

And even though there were plenty of “I hate my mom!” diary entries during these years, too, my friendly, kind grown-up self thanks her and my dad for not letting me get away with teasing.

In the end I turned out OK…

My 4th-grade-self would say that with or without social media, bullying is a part of growing up. It’s messy and unavoidable. But so is life.

She’d also say beware: my next set of diary entries were about boys…

by Stephanie Hillberry

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