- October was named National Bullying Prevention Month in 2006.
- When I was in school, I was bullied for my looks.
- As a teacher, I know that anti-bullying laws mean nothing if adults aren’t going to enforce them.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time when school administrators talk a good game when it comes to their “no-nonsense” bullying policies. I’m a teacher, and I know firsthand that anti-bullying policies are only as good as those willing to enforce them.
If school officials were serious about bullying prevention, they wouldn’t have to pay $1 million in damages to a victim, as was the case with one school district in California that was recently found complicit in the bullying campaign against one of its students.
As an educator, I know how ineffective schools can be in protecting their victims. But I also know this as a former victim myself.
At 42 years old, I still have the occasional nightmare about being bullied in school all those years ago. I was one of the estimated 20% of all students who have reported being bullied. The impacts of bullying on the developing brain are lasting. The topic continues to crop up during my therapy sessions, and I’ve only recently begun to deal with the impact of those experiences on my soul.
I couldn’t be invisible
I was a shy, quiet kid; like most shy kids, my goal, above all else, was to remain invisible. Alas, I had a huge head of unruly curly hair that my parents refused to allow me to tame with LA Looks or any other product. My unfortunate blond mop was complemented by massive buck teeth, qualities that earned me an unwanted place in the spotlight among my school’s most venomous bullies.
Invisibility in the public schools I attended in New York City was simply not an option.
My height certainly didn’t help matters: At five-foot-one — and growing — by the time I entered the fifth grade, I was the tallest of all the students, both male and female.
My niece, at almost 4 years old, is the height and weight of a 7-year-old and looks exactly like I did at her age. She will start kindergarten in a year; I am terrified for her and what her experiences at school may be. Anti-bullying legislation does absolutely nothing to assuage my fears. Invisibility will not be an option for her — the children she attends school with will make sure of that.
I still have nightmares
Even as all states have implemented anti-bullying laws, school-aged victims of bullying continue to take their own lives. On some level, I understand.
The treatment I experienced during school at the hands of several classmates was life-altering and has stayed with me more than three decades later. I sometimes have nightmares about being that helpless 12-year-old, desperate to change schools but simultaneously resigned to the knowledge that there is no hiding, there is no escaping.
Bullying is still a crisis
More than 20 years since the state of Georgia became the first to enact anti-bullying legislation, bullying remains a multifaceted crisis. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan revealed that victims cannot often rely on their classmates to come to their defense. The impacts of bullying on a child’s brain are well-known: PTSD can be an outcome of chronic bullying and one that our nation’s schools have yet to take seriously.
Adults continue to fail children in this regard. In one current example, legislators in the state of Virginia have enacted policies that will block schools from accommodating transgender students and their rights. Under these policies, which will go into effect in 133 schools in time for National Bullying Prevention month, transgender students will be required to “access school facilities and programs matching the sex they were assigned at birth.” Students will also face an uphill battle attempting to change their name and gender at school.
With adults creating and enforcing these inhumane policies, our children are walking targets. With constituents voting for these policies, adults continue to fail our children. National Bullying Prevention month is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
History continues to teach us that national anti-bullying laws are only as useful as the adults willing to enforce them.