Be the change

I’ve had my head buried in books this week and haven’t paid much attention to news, current events or anything that wasn’t related to neuroanatomy.

Yesterday, when I was finally able to rejoin the world, I heard about the suicide of Tyler Clementi. And then the suicide of Seth Walsh, who lived only an hour from where I grew up. And then the suicide of Asher Brown. And then the suicide of Billy Lucas.

Four young kids killed themselves in one month.

Four lives, lost, cut short because of bullying.

This is not okay.

I was bullied, mercilessly, incessantly when I was in school. I was called a tub of lard, I was told that I was so fat that I shouldn’t sit in the back of the bus or it would tip over. One girl told one of my few remaining friends that I had AIDS, well, in the end she told pretty much the entire 4th grade at our school. So I went from few friends, to none.

I switched schools because I couldn’t escape the bullying. Teachers were aware, bus drivers were aware and even the principal. And because the parents of the children were generous to our school, a blind eye was turned. Many blind eyes in fact. These children were given a green light to tease me, there were no repercussions, there were not punishments. I was allowed to be bullied by all the people who were supposed to protect me.

I’m lucky in a lot of ways. I was able to get away from these kids. My parents recognized that things had reached an apex and they moved me. They knew I needed help and they gave it to me. Not all kids are as blessed as I was. Not all kids have a support system or a family like mine. Not all kids can see that there’s a light at the end of this hellish tunnel.

And not all kids are as lucky as me because not all of them have parents who made it clear from a very early age that bullying others was unacceptable. Many of the kids who bullied me had parents who did the same thing to other adults. Who treated them badly to get their way. Who modeled the same behavior their kids then showed at school. It’s hard for me to hate those kids because how could they know better?

And now, after a month of 4 suicides from bullying, it’s more clear than ever that we have to do something.

I think our job is two fold. Because first, we have to stop teaching our children that this sort of behavior is okay. It’s not. And it’s up to parents and aunts and uncles and sister and brothers and all the adults in a child’s life to step up and model the right behavior. To explain why bullying cannot continue. We can help start a change in these kids.

The second part is supporting those who need it. Children who are bullied need support. They need to be reminded of how loved they are, they need family and friends to remind them that things will get better. There is hope, there are good people in this world and if you just wait, if you just keep being yourself, you’ll find them. You’ll find happiness. You’ll find the people that allow you to be yourself all the time. Who love you for who you are. And while things are indescribably tough right now, it will get better. And until it does, we will be here for you.

Something has to be done.

We cannot lose more lives to bullying, we can’t watch as more families are destroyed. We can’t allow more children to reach the point where they feel that they’re better off dead. We can’t allow kids to prey on each other.

We.

We have to do something. As the adults, as the role models. We have to start a change so that no more children die because of bullying.

I know it’s hard to step up and do things like this. And maybe we start small. Maybe we start by modeling the behavior that we want the children in our life to have with their peers. Maybe we start by letting children in our lives know that they are loved. Today I’m going to send little letters to the kids in my life, just to let them know how important they are to me. To let them know that they are loved. And maybe that’s not a big step, but it’s just the first one of many.

And I hope that some of you will take it with me.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Ghandi

19 Responses to “Be the change”

  • I moved a lot growing up. Some schools I was “popular” and at other schools I was the butt of EVERY joke, mostly for being “smart” – whatever that meant to seventh graders. The hurt is still there. I remember being the ONLY girl in 5th grade not invited to a birthday party….

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  • Lauren:

    Hey, Katie, search on Youtube for the “It Gets Better Project” — initiative started by Dan Savage, featuring videos of gay/lesbian adults talking about how their lives got better after high school. It’d be great if any of your readers who are gay/lesbian made videos of their own, and/or shared the site with youth in their lives.

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  • Amen. Bullying is a plague that destroys children and Is perpetuated by horrid adults. Stop it where ever you see it, whether or not you feel it is “your place”. It is your place. It’s all of our place.. Do not stand by and allow cruelty to pass you by unremarked. Or depair may prevail, as it did last month for 4 young people.

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  • I couldn’t agree more with you. There needs to be a larger voice for these children to hear. A voice for them to run to, to hear and to feel supported. It’s so so so sad.

    http://www.stopbullyingnow.org was aired on TV the other night. It was a great thing to see between ads for toys and cell service.

    Parents, myself included, need to set the example for their children. My husband and I are adament about this.

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  • Jen:

    Thanks for this post, Katie. I was also bullied, mercilessly, in Jr. High and early high school for having a cleft lip… talk about something you can’t control. As much as I wish it didn’t, it affects me deeply, even today. I was also lucky, like you, to have parents who made sacrifices to make sure I was spared the very worst of it, but also, like you, was involved in a school system who just didn’t do enough to keep me safe. I have seriously considered home schooling my kids during Jr. High just to keep them shielded from the most difficult years. I now have a 2 year old daughter and I dread the day that she comes home and says someone was picking on her. We are trying so hard to raise a self assured, confident, kind, respectful child and I think so far, we’re doing okay and I hope that the knowledge we are working to instill in her of her basic, innate worth will be enough to get her through.

    Anyway… thanks again for your post.

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  • I was getting bullied a little in the middle grades, and granted, it was a different time, a different societal metric, but finally, I stood up for myself and surprised the bullies by whipping their asses. But the fear I carried around before finally building up the courage to fight back, always stuck with me. It really manifested when I started coaching kids sports. Little league, youth basketball, soccer, etc. When they are little, any kid that shows up gets to participate. There were always a couple klutzy, tubby, kids who immediately would start getting teased and bullied a little. Those were the kids I gravitated to. I went out of my way to find out what those kids gifts were, humor, witty sarcasm, good grades, whatever. And I made sure that I celebrated those things in front of the whole team. Katie, you are so right about kids following the example of adults. Without fail, every sport, every season, after a short time, it was just one big happy gang with no problems. As a matter of fact, about a year ago, I ran into one of those “lumpy dumpy” kids who I coached many years earlier. He had the prettiest gal on his arm, whom he disengaged from in order to give me a great big hug. He was built like a brick shit house and looked like a million bucks. He wouldn’t let go, squeezing, repeating over and over, “Coach, Coach, Wow, good to see you!” I faked a sneeze to hide the tears in my eyes.

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    Katie Reply:

    @Stephen, And that just about made me cry too. Such a wonderful story to hear, such a great example.

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    Stephen Reply:

    @Katie, Katie, I’ve really been thinking alot about this post of yours. And just recounting for you a little of my experiences with kids, has caused me to delve a little deeper in my own feelings about this subject. That is why I just got off the phone with our local Special Olympics honcho. I guess after about a dozen years I’m getting back into coaching. Be the change.

    Incidentally, at the risk of coming off as a shameless self promoter, here’s a link to something I wrote about one of those special little kids I fell in love with a long time ago.

    http://uncommondenominators.blogspot.com/2010/02/how-to-succeed-coaching-t-ball.html

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  • I’m sorry for what you experienced. I can only hope that my girls will know a different childhood.

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  • I was never bullied. I did get my butt handed too me my freshman year of high school by some amazon redneck chick who was too old to even be in high school at the mall. But other than that, I got along with everyone. Even though I was a cheerleader, and played softball, I was always also friends with the ubber geeks, outcast, freshman, most popular, it didn’t matter, it was the person that mattered to me. My husband school life was extremely cruel. 12 years of unadulterated hell. He survived unscathed and stronger, it was a different time. our son had disabilities and where I thought there would be kindness and helpfulness there was only bullies and cruelty. we changed his schools 9 times. some not by choice. some by court order. we moved 4 because the neighborhood kids would “jump” him as young as 6. even in gated communities. They sense the weaker, or more vulnerable. Then as a pack they attack, you never hear of a bully 1 on 1 doing it, usually most kids alone would be decent but they follow the lead bully for fear they will too become a target if they show weakness/kindness. By the age of 16 our son had 3 suicide attempts, we got him through, but his social awkwardness and soul staining life altering formative years with cruel pack of thoughtless scum will remain in his psyche forever. Adults knew. Teachers, administration, bus drivers, counsilors, doctors, judges, lawyers, no one could stop it.

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    Katie Reply:

    @ThePeachy1, It’s just not right. I’m so disappointed in his school systems, in all those adults who didn’t step up and do what they were supposed to do.

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  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by enderFP, Katie. Katie said: @alotofnothing So mine isn't gay specific, but I wrote a post about bullying today. http://bit.ly/bVk0hk [...]

  • I read this post yesterday and could not get it out of my mind. I as so appalled that this has happened again…again…OMG, my heart just aches.
    Your post was wonderfully written and I know you spoke from your heart, your beautiful spirit shining through once again.
    You have inspired me. I am writing little notes to my neice, I’m going to make a point of it. She’s in 5th grade this year and she is a child that would be bullyed…she’s a little different. I love her with all my heart and I am going to make sure she knows that she can turn to me if she needs to talk.
    I am expecting my first grand-girl soon and I NEVER want her to know what this is like. I was bullied and it still hurts…o.k. I’m getting off point now.
    Thanks Katie…you rock.

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  • I cannot imagine you being bullied. You are so darn cute Seriously, my daughter has been teased, and as a mom, it breaks my heart in a million pieces.

    For the record, I think you are amazing.

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    Katie Reply:

    @designHer Momma, Right back atcha. And I have no doubt that your daughter is too.

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  • Beautiful post, Katie. This whole horrible situation moved me to write something too (up tomorrow), but I am as always awed and inspire by the passion in your writing.

    I love your idea of writing notes to the kids in your life.

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  • I was also made fun of in school for being different. For some reason, it’s the kids who are different who get made fun of. If parents don’t start showing their children that those who are different from them are okay and accept them, or at the very least tolerate them, then this will become an epidemic. I think a lot of blame also falls on the teachers and those adults around the kids at schools. There is no excuse what so ever for an ADULT at a school to stand by and watch children bully and belittle other children!!!! That is ridiculous! You are an adult! I’m tired of this passive aggressive approach everyone is taking to their children lately. Step up and correct them! That’s your job!!!! I know how it feels to be made fun because you’re different and I know how it feels to carry that with you the rest of your life! This needs to stop now!

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  • Great post. I’m so sorry for you, and all the other kids that have experienced bullying. I was teased a lot, and definitely had pain and embarrassment, but I was never beat up or stuffed into a trash can or locker or anything like that.

    Stopping bullying is really important to me, and particularly stopping the bullying of LGBTQi kids.

    Thank you for writing and publishing this.

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Welcome!
I'm Katie, a 30-year-old, wife, mom, former teacher-turned PT, who also had brain surgery in November of 2007. This blog chronicles my daily life, from mundane to crazy, often with far too much detail. Sit down, get comfortable and stay for a while.
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