Well, another week is upon us. Another Monday. However, today is a bit different for me: It’s my birthday!
My presents there? All of Mad Men and The West Wing on DVD!
Apparently, I share the same birthday (but definitely NOT the birth-year) with Beyoncé. Long before she was a star, when I was in school I hated my birthday. It coincided every year with the opening of the new school year.
I know I’m lots older than some of you. I am also sure that under-21s are not usually readers of my books; and I know that few of you reading this are under-18. But I do know some of you of ages 18-30 have read my novels and are probably reading this post, so you weren’t school age that long ago and naturally may relate to this.
I saw this back on Saturday and posted it to my Instagram. I don’t normally use my Instagram that way; I’m usually lighthearted and a bit silly. I didn’t explain this on that post’s caption, but I consider it important enough to note here because it brought back a school memory:
I was a teen before social media such as Facebook and Instagram existed. In some ways as we know they have certainly created a wider and better world for all of us now. On another – much lower, ugly – level, of course, they have created a mass of new social problems too.
Before social media, aside from scribbled abuse in notes, writing on desks, and on bathroom walls and such, our bullying troubles in school were almost exclusively “in your face.” And I know that aspect does remain. At a family party a year ago, over dinner my then 14 year old English nephew was telling his grandparents how “tough” school can be. I explained as well to my disbelieving in-laws that in my schools back in New York there was also name-calling and those who picked on this kid or that kid. I posted this previously about that recollection of mine, and here I reshare these parts of that post:
“Once, when I was [his] age some bully was making fun of a girl in my class. When no one else said anything, I finally said, ‘Oh, why don’t you just shut up.’ He said to me, ‘Yeh, what you gonna do [if I don’t]?’ As we walked out into the hall after class, I tapped him on the shoulder, he turned around and I punched him in the face.”
“Why, you were a thug,” tongue in cheek, my mother-in-law observed.
“He was picking on a girl,” I reminded them. “He deserved it.”
I looked at my nephew, who was half-laughing. I also think he was enjoying hearing my [one] little story of my “tough” teenage years.
But I didn’t get a chance in the noisy function room to explain the background. It had happened during and right as we left a study hall. [My in-laws wouldn’t have understood what that was.] No teacher was in the room with us for a few minutes when the guy was “acting up” and picked on her for some reason. What really led to my punch was that a few moments after I’d told him to close his yap, he’d thrown a large spitball at her, which hit her in the back of the head and somehow landed on her desk. She didn’t have close friends in that study hall, and looked really hurt and upset.
I can still recall her face as she glanced over her shoulder after he had hit her with it; her expression was much like that of the distressed girl in that BBC photo. Sitting behind and to the side of her, my head almost exploded. She didn’t deserve that treatment. No one does.
A year earlier, some sneak had shoved me down a flight of stairs. I didn’t see it coming and never found out who did it or why. My mother was livid and let the school office know that the next day.
I vaguely can still recall the aftermath of my punch, but at this distance in time and place it is now pretty much a blur…
I didn’t hit the jerk that hard anyway. (We were about the same size, and I weighed probably about 6 lbs then.) Right after, I threw my books to the floor, sure he’d swing back at me, and I was ready for him; but he didn’t get in a clean punch. I think he called me some four-letter name, too. There was some commotion and other kids looking on. And I could use a four-letter word, too.
When a teacher appeared everyone scattered and that was that.
I didn’t tell them at that party that before that had happened I had also secretly liked her. Her locker was in the same row as mine, but I had not been able to work up the courage to talk to her. But I would have reacted much the same way had I not “fancied” her.
Indeed, when I did what I did I had no idea what would follow. The next time we were in that study hall together the bully sat far away from me. But she sat next to me… and passed me a note with her phone number.
“Rita” became my first girlfriend.
The lesson I (happily) learned: don’t be a bystander either. Speak up.
Naturally, back then that loudmouth could not take to Instagram or Facebook to insult her, nor could others in any “cybergang.” Rereading nasty comments again and again on Instagram or elsewhere surely just compounds the pain, I’m sure. That is what has changed. Being sneakily pushed down stairs, or having a spitball thrown at you, is a moment of abuse and nastiness; but today, due to social media, “it” may never “end.”
None of us can “control” what is said about us elsewhere. On this site, or social media like Instagram, I have never blocked someone over a mere differing opinion. I have blocked, however, over rudeness and vulgarity/obscenity.
If you happen to be a teen reading this, let me just say this.
No one has a right to assail you on your own Instagram in your own comments, to call you names, or to make nasty comments about how you look. Same with tags. I know doing it is difficult if you see the person in person at school, but don’t hesitate to unfollow or block those who are mean to you. If you do that and they actually do value you, it may lead to a conversation and a better relationship between you. If it doesn’t, they were not worth your time or any hurt you felt because he/she was actually NOT your friend in the first place.
No one is so hugely important that you have to put up with being belittled by them. Today is everything to you, I know, but you will find that, ten or twenty years from now, you may not even remember their names. Trust me. If any of your current friends make you feel uncomfortable or less of yourself, they aren’t really your friends. Find new REAL friends who treat you as a REAL friend. You can do it.
If you are bullied, talk to someone you trust. A teacher may be able to help. Above all, don’t be afraid to tell your parents: they will want to know.
Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t feel you are alone. And, no, everyone does NOT hate you.