On Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 CKNW Orphans Fund and Coast Capital Savings present Pink Shirt Day. On Pink Shirt Day, people of all ages, wear pink to help raise awareness and take a stand against bullying. Bullying happens all around us. It’s prevalent in homes, work environments, schools and now more than ever, the internet. The effects of bullying have serious lasting problems and are linked to many negative outcomes, including impacts on mental health, substance abuse, depression, and suicide. These problems not only affect the people being bullied. They also affect the person with the bullying behavior.
Unfortunately, growing up I was a school ground bully. The past memories of the hurtful things I occasionally said, or did to other children have affected my life with immense shame and guilt. Although I have forgiven myself, the memories are always with me. I’ve done many years of reflection, especially after having my own daughters, about why I was a childhood bully. My education as an early childhood educator and experience working with children give me great insight into ways we can prevent our future generation from becoming bullies. Taking a stand against bullying by teaching our children courage is an integral way to put an end to bullying behavior. However, fostering empathy, kindness, and compassion are the first step in bullying prevention.
Here is one of my bullying stories that I courageously shared in a blog post last year:
In elementary school I had a best friend. I loved this friend of mine. I loved the smell of the pert plus shampoo in her hair. I loved her beautiful, home with the hot tub and trampoline in the yard. I loved how her parents used a gentle tone in the home. I loved her athletic ability. She could do front and back walk overs, making them look so easy.I especially loved the color of her big blue eyes. I loved everything about her and her life so much that I began to compare myself and my life with hers, which led to deep insecurities and jealousy.
One school day, I randomly decided that I didn’t want to be friends with my best friend any longer. Whatever compelled me to suddenly hate her out of the blue, in hindsight, came from my lack of happiness, jealousy and insecurities. I told her to meet me in the top field at recess and I gathered some other children with me. I had a slurpee and crew of children following me. The walk to the field with the other children following me, made me feel tough, and cool. I was the leader of the pack. When she got to the field, I stood in front of her and looked her directly in the face. A whirl of butterflies swished around in my insides as I lifted my right hand with the ice-cold slurpee in it and forcefully chucked it directly on her. The slurpee splattered on her shirt while some of the other kids laughed. But her face in that moment… I will always remember. Her eyes instantly weld with tears as she turned around and ran away.
I vividly remember her tears of sadness as we sat in the principles office together. “Why did you do that to me?” she asked while tears streamed down her cheeks. I remember crying with her as I apologized, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I did it.”
In retrospect, If I knew that this incident was going to cause so much hurt and pain, I obviously wouldn’t have done it. If I knew at that age I held within me the ability to be a leader, then I would have used this ability to teach the other children being kind is “cool”.
I recall so vividly, another childhood memory of being yelled at, on the play ground, from a parent of one of the children I bullied. This parent told me I was an awful child and I didn’t deserve any friends, because I was so mean. She was right. I was being mean. And she had every right to directly approach me about my behavior. However, she deeply hurt my feelings when she said I didn’t deserve any friends. Everyone needs a friend. My friends just didn’t deserve to be treated that way by me. What this parent didn’t realize is that she damaged my self-worth more than it already was. If she only knew, that being screamed at was what happened to me at home . If she only knew… I just needed a hug. If she only knew..how hurt I felt inside.
This parent didn’t want her child to be a victim of bullying, yet her approach towards me was that of a bully. Her finger pointed directly in my face, her facial expression and tone of voice full of anger and rage. Her words were harsh and mean. If only she approached me with the intent to understand why I was bullying her daughter, then she would have led by example to her daughter, what it means to be empathetic. And empathy is the best way to prevent bullying.
My hope is that by courageously sharing my bullying story, it gives perspective from both sides. Bullying is complex. There are many factors that contribute to this type of behavior. For example, in my case, it came from a place of insecurity, trying to be “cool”, stress, abuse, hurt and lack of empathy. Bullying was unfortunately my way of dealing with the issues I carried within and at such a young age, I was unable to articulate these feelings. In other words, my mental health was suffering which led to my disruptive behavior. My behavior was unacceptable and I can’t take back any of the hurtful things that I said or did to other children. I can only move forward, by teaching my daughters and inspiring others, to live their life with kindness, compassion and empathy. Essentially, if we want to prevent our children from being a bully or a victim of a bully, then we need to be the change and lead by example.
How can we lead by example?
Recently, my daughter came home upset because someone made a hurtful comment indirectly about her body image. Her first reaction was she wanted to change schools. A parents natural reaction in this scenario is to get very upset with the person who made the hurtful comment. Although it was very upsetting to hear and see my daughter so hurt, I knew that stomping off to the school ground and yelling at this child or the child’s parent, wasn’t going to solve the issue. I also know that switching her out of her school isn’t going to prevent her from facing comments like this in other places.
I wrapped my daughter in a very tight hug. I told her that I love her. I explained that the child who is calling her this may think saying these things is cool. And being unkind is never cool. I told her how insecure, hurt and angry I felt inside as a child, as well as my bullying behavior. I explained that what this person is saying about her is NOT o.k. However, I also explained that this child probably isn’t feeling good on the inside. Talking about the potential motives behind her bullies behavior helped my daughter put the hurtful words that were said into perspective. Perhaps this child was jealous, insecure, trying to fit in, or having issues at home. This helped my daughter realize what this person said to her is not a personal reflection of who she is. I told her that she did the right thing by talking about it, and if it happens again to have the courage to stand up for herself, and to tell someone. I also explained to her that the reason she is a leader in her school and her peers look up to her is because she is confident and most importantly, kind. I told her to continue being kind to herself and to others, because being kind is always the “cool” thing to do.
I hope Pink Shirt Day reminds you everyone is fighting a battle that we know nothing about. Let’s wear pink shirts on Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 to show kindness and compassion for all…even the bullies.
It’s not to late to get your Pink Shirt Day T-shirt! Head on over to Pink Shirt Day to buy yours! Make a donation, find out ways you can get your school or work involved, and… don’t forget to snap a picture of yourself wearing your pink shirt on February 25th!
“In February 2014 hundreds of thousands Pink Shirt Day supporters committed to “make some noise against bullying” and their message was heard. $200,000 was raised as a result of the 2014 campaign organized by the CKNW Orphans’ Fund. Since 2008, over $830,000 has been raised and donated to anti-bullying and violence prevention programs.” -Pink Shirt Day