Children are adorable, aren’t they?
As infants they coo and burble.
Then they’re toddlers, with their first steps, first words, and first crayons on the walls.
Then it’s kindergarten, when parents must accept no longer being the only influence on their little one.
We still have some control, of course. Just not full control.
As our children grow up, most receive steady guidance from parents, teachers, clergy, supportive adult friends, etc.
But children are also guided by other children, who are likely to be as immature as they are.
Some will have a positive influence. But some can be monsters.
I’m told that bullying among children is still a thing. This is despite the ever-increasing awareness of adults that bullying not only hurts a child in the moment, but for the decades that come afterwards.
The best guesses and studies tell us that about 20-25% of children are bullied in school, and that the bullying peaks around sixth grade.
That’s how it was with me. My sixth-grade year was a mess.
It got pretty bad, actually. I didn’t get beat up or anything, but getting beaten up may be the least damaging part of being bullied. At least you have something you can show the grownups.
Towards the end of sixth grade I finally sort of maybe spoke up a little bit. Fortunately, some adults listened. There was action behind the scenes, and a couple of intensely uncomfortable forced face-to-face apologies.
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The bullying stopped. Instead, I was simply ignored and left alone. That was way better, by the way.
It’s funny how things affect you in the long run. In junior high I discovered I had a snappy and sarcastic sense of humor — and when employed disruptively in the middle of class I could make the other kids laugh. Ultimately, this led to my being moved out of honors classes and into the ones for the at-risk kids. The adults told me I needed to knock it off. But for the first time in my life I was sort of popular in a desperate way with the kids at school. You remember what it was like — what would you have chosen?
Years later I learned that I barely made it into high school.
In the end, I turned out okay — maybe even better than okay. I went to college, I utterly lucked out on the marriage front, following which I worked for four decades in broadcasting. I was on the small screen nearly every day long before the time when any clown with a cell phone could broadcast live while blowing bubbles out his nose.
I have a beautiful large family. I’ve written four books, a bunch of columns, and I’ve been able to do some good in the world.
To my knowledge, I’ve never bullied anyone.
So why am I writing this? I promise it is not for self-affirmation on social media. I’m not looking for e-friends to tell me how wonderful I am. I guess I’m writing this for two reasons. One is altruistic, and one is pretty selfish.
I’ll do the selfish one first, since it will be the most fun.
To those of you in the sixth grade of Marquez Elementary School who made my life miserable — phfffft. You messed me up for a few years, but I beat you. And now I’m old enough to know that some of you may have come from messed up homes yourselves, and that turning your anger on a bookish kid may have made you feel better.
I’m not proud of how I acted in the years that immediately followed the bullying, but I am proud of the fact that I never turned on anyone else the way you did on me.
But I confess that 55 years later there’s still a small corner in me that has never successfully snuffed out that tiny final dying spark of anger. So, to all of you — just…phffft.
And to the quarter of you reading this who were bullied yourself as a child, may you learn, as I have, that while you don’t get to choose your pain, in time you can manage it. Good luck, my friend.