My kids appear shiny, sturdy and confident – so it might come as a surprise to some that all three of them have been the target of bullies.
My son was stalked throughout 7th grade by a pair of boys (both classmates and soccer teammates) who never missed an opportunity to belittle him at school or throw a soccer ball at his head when the coach turned his back. I never understood the fascination they took in Reid, who was easy to like, could tell a great joke, was a strong athlete and always considerate to those around him. It finally came to a halt on the day that they stomped on his bike in front of the vice-principal….no one ever said bullies are very bright.
My middle child suffered through her middle school years with a male classmate who cyber-bullied her with frightening precision and whispered horrid words at her in passing in the hallways. It took two years and the realization that her bully was also targeting younger kids that gave her the push to finally speak up about it. She kept saying, “I thought I could get him to stop. I just wanted to keep the peace.”
I’ve heard my youngest express that at times she doesn’t feel like she can safely disagree with the status quo (in word or deed) without fear of being rejected and described sadness over peers who act nicely to her when they are together one on one yet are rude to her when there are others present. She tries to shake off her confusion but wonders “why are people mean?” I realized that she is contending with a distant cousin of the bike-stompers: the passive aggressive bully. Like her older siblings, she puts great stock in being a thoughtful person. To her, being kindhearted isn’t just the right way to be – it’s easier and more natural.
So why isn’t the yield always positive?
By amazing coincidence, I read Robin Hoffman’s Huffington Post blog piece about 15 minutes after talking with my daughter. Hoffman writes about the adolescent desire to fit in and the effects of living a life in the shadow of fear of other’s judgements. Her blog reminded of my teenage years. Like my own kids, I was a nice enough teen who walked the careful (and weird) line of doing everything I could to be true to myself AND still be liked by others. It wasn’t an easy balance then and I confess, it’s not always easy now. I particularly resonated with Hoffman’s self appraisal “What’s at the core of this strong compulsion to be liked? If I truly knew, I’d vow to care less.”
My kids are (even now) more adept than I at separating themselves from the judgements of their peers. They know what makes them happy as well as who they want to share that feeling with, and even though it’s tough sometimes – they are pretty good at keeping their heads up. I think they have figured out that if you don’t like yourself, then nothing else really matters anyhow.