Bullying: debilitating, character-building, or both?

When our children go off to school, I think we all go through the same wave of anxiety. Will they make friends? Will they have fun? Will they get on ok on their own, without us there to guide them and protect them?

No matter what we do, how we prepare our children for that big step to primary or secondary school, it’s likely that they will encounter a few classmates who try to pick holes in their abilities. Whether it’s motivated by jealousy, boredom, a sense of inadequacy or simply vindictiveness, bullying is a common feature of school life. As parents we need to be prepared for it and to know how to help; how to walk with our children through whatever life throws at them.

This was Becca’s experience:

“For me the end of primary school and the beginning of secondary school were something of a challenge – and not just for me, but for my parents too.In primary school I was bullied for, would you believe it, being too “girly”. When girls are below the age of 11 I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t consider being girly and wearing floaty dresses to be a bad thing! I was my mother’s daughter, and I loved a good old-fashioned flowery dress. It wasn’t a view shared by my classmates, though – I was taunted at birthday parties, school discos and even mufti-days for wearing a dress.

To be honest it never ceased to hurt my feelings, my ‘thick skin’ wasn’t all that thick and it was a relief for me to come home and feel accepted, feel ‘normal’. When you’re 8 or 9 you do think that the world is coming to an end when someone in your class doesn’t like you or makes a nasty remark and it can take a while to realise that other children don’t have the same values or manners that you do.

The support of my parents was so important to me. My mum cried with me a lot of the times I came home crying about what ‘she’ or ‘he’ had said, but she also taught me that bullies feed off my fear and that I should never be afraid of them. Together my parents gave me a sense of security in my own identity, which helped me to face the situation head on. There’s a baseball quote that says, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game,” and that was the attitude my parents encouraged.

Bullying can be debilitating, but it can also be character-building. In my case, and I’d like to think in most cases, it was a little bit of both. I realised that it doesn’t really matter what other people think or say – the important thing is to be yourself. I strove to be different and to make my difference; the very thing I was taunted for became my distinguishing characteristic – the thing that made me unique.

It was a phase, really – and one that many children go through and grow through. Where are my bullies now? Who cares? It took time to get here but I know who I am and what I want in life.”