Friday, April 11, 2014

Sticks and Stones

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"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words almost killed me."

This is a quote from a woman's blog who wrote about her battle with an eating disorder after being criticized and teased relentlessly because of her fuller figure. I remember growing up and hearing my parents say, "Remember, sticks and stones will break your bonesBut words will never hurt you." I also remember sitting in class and having my teacher make us all repeat the saying after her, over and over again. Back then I thought it was a good idea and it made sense to me. However, after years of being bullied and watching other kids get bullied, I realized that technique is borderline useless. Why are we passing on this ridiculously misleading saying to kids? Instead of trying to convince kids that words aren't hurtful and that they "don't mean anything", why aren't we teaching them how harmful words can really be? Why are we not teaching our kids that their words are filled with power that can be used to better the world or power that can hurt others, depending on how they use them.  And why aren't we teaching them that words, in fact, hurt far more and cut much deeper than "sticks and stones"? By passing these sayings down to our youth, we're not only teaching them that they don't have to be careful with their words but we're also sending the message that words shouldn't hurt you. Because of this, when kid's are called names or teased and end up with hurt feelings, sometimes they're left feeling even more inadequate because they have been taught that this shouldn't hurt them. So when the words do hurt, they feel like they're weak or pathetic.

I remember almost every hurtful thing that was said to me growing up. Was I hurt because I was weak? No. You can't tell yourself that something doesn't hurt, and make it true. You can't protect yourself from pain caused by words of others any more than you can protect yourself from the pain experienced when you break a limb. As a kid I could have told myself a million times over, "It doesn't hurt that she said _____ or he said ______. It doesn't hurt that they called me _____"...but it still would have hurt. As an adult, we have a little more power to block out negativity by being rational, but we still can't prevent it completely. There will always be times when a person's words cut like knives. 

I've been reading a lot about the stabbing in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, and with each article my heart hurts more. I've found that when these things happen, we tend to "forget" about them once the physical pain of the victims has subsided and the news moves on to the next thing. Almost always, there is a motive behind actions like these. These kids don't just wake up one morning and decide they want to stab their peers and face the consequences for the rest of their lives. These actions come from deep-rooted problems. Some of the stabber's classmates said that he was bullied (although it hasn't been confirmed), and that's not hard to believe. Ongoing bullying was probably what drove this young man to do what he did. While shooting can detach a person from a situation and their victims, stabbing is much more personal. Studies show that those who choose stabbing over other forms of assault are usually filled with intense rage and adrenaline. This young man was ready to be up close and personal with his victims, he was prepared to use the necessary physical effort to use his weapons and he was ready for blood. And this is terrifying for me. Bullying has been linked with suicides and homicides countless times in the past. 

Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters in the Columbine shooting back in 1999, had written in his diary about how he felt like an outcast and like everybody was conspiring against him, he also suffered from depression. In 2011, a man named Don who was a victim of bullying when he was a boy opened up about his experience. One day in the summer of 1946 when Don was 11-years-old, he and his friend lured their bully to a pond and beat him to death with a club. These stories are among hundreds that link bullying to suicide and homicide and they span over decades. As a man in his mid-70s, Don wanted to speak out about what happened because he wants to save the lives of others...even bullies. It is a fact that nearly all of school shooters/mass killers were victims of bullying.

My number one dream is to have children one day, but I'm terrified. I'm terrified because there is so much evil in the world that we can't protect our children from. Aside from the potential daily dangers like driving, there are things like this. We could kiss our children goodbye and send them off to the mall to hang out with friends or send them off to school and they could have their lives taken from them. Or on the other side of things, we could become so detached from our children and their emotions without even knowing it, and they could become these closed-off, withdrawn kids who commit these horrible crimes. I remember getting bullied all throughout middle school and I would get home from school, go straight up to my room and sit there all night. I didn't interact with my family hardly at all. My parents are wonderful and couldn't have been more loving. My mum would always try to start conversations with me or ask why I was so detached, but she couldn't force me to tell the truth. After a while she just figured I was a "regular pre-teen". Because of my experience with bullying, I wont' be caught dead allowing my kids to bully others one day. We teach our kids stupid sayings like, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me", when we should be teaching them that words can ruin lives and break hearts. That words can kill. They can cause other children to hurt or kill themselves or others. It's a dark world and so many parents and schools are trying to hide that fact from kids, when instead they should be educating them and informing them of the gravity of their words and actions when it comes to how they interact with and treat their peers.

Parents and schools need to try even harder to be more aware of what's going on in their homes and in the hallways at school. Principles and teachers aren't stupid, they aren't oblivious or naive. They see what's going on, they see who likes who, what kids have tons of friends and what kids are alone every day. Just like students do, they hear rumors and secrets being whispered in the halls, they know what kids are getting picked on. But so often they choose to ignore it or brush it off with, "They're just being kids". I can't hear about kids killing themselves or others without crying. But so many people can, so many people can watch these things on the news without batting an eye or just change the channel and say, "This shit is so depressing." I understand not wanting to fill your mind with things like this, but we have to be aware. We can't have this "Out of sight, out of mind" attitude or things like this will keep happening. People often wait until it happens at their kids school or in their town before they truly become concerned.

If your child is being bullied what should you do? If you can't remove them from the situation by switching schools or other options, instead of telling them that they're "just words" and to not let what others say affect them so much, we also need to teach our youth that bullying is not about them as a victim. There is nothing wrong with you, there is no REAL reason this person is targeting you. Bullying is about the bullies. Bullies project their insecurities on other people. There isn't a bully out there who is 100% happy with who they are and genuinely proud of themselves as a person.  If there was, they wouldn't feel the need to bring others down or criticize and tease their peers. Parents can't be held responsible for all that happens with their kids because some things are out of their hands, but you can be aware of the situation and assure your kids that it isn't about them. You can tell them that one day none of this will matter.

I think one of the greatest songs for a kid who's being bullied to listen to is "Invisible" by Hunter Hayes. I remember the first time I heard this song. I was sitting in my car on my lunch break and I started bawling because it is so real and there's so much truth to it. In it he sings, "Trust the one who's been where you are, wishing it was sticks and stones. Those words cut deep but they don't mean you're all alone, and you're not invisible. Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is going to be invisible." I said that I remember every cruel thing my peers said to me over the years, but I can honestly say that the pain itself is gone. I can repeat all the harsh words and names over and over again in my head and not feel a thing other than empathy. It doesn't hurt me anymore, but I feel for those who are going through the same pain right now. All those kids that feel like they have no other way out than to end their lives or end the lives of those who're bullying them. If we could help show these kids that there is light in the future and that their pain won't go on forever, maybe they wouldn't feel like they had to do these horrible things. To go from being the victim to making victims out of others.

I could go on forever about bullying, but I'm just going to continue to repeat myself. I just had to write a little about it because of the horrible stabbing, my mind still has a hard time wrapping around such a horrible thing. My heart is breaking for all of those involved and all of those affected by bullying, past, present and future.

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