Guest Post: I Was Bullied As a Kid

Stacy Lipson is a terrific freelance journalist and a woman who’s not afraid to speak up. I’m so happy that she wanted to share this very personal post with you, and I think she sends a critical message to parents.

We need to talk with our kids about bullying. Someone’s children are doing the bullying. Someone’s children are either joining in, standing by and doing nothing or standing up for the rights of the kids who are getting bullied and saying “this is not OK.”

Please take a moment to read about what Stacy went through as a child and a young teenager. Then sit down at the dinner table tonight and talk with your kids. It’s going to take all of us together to make a dent in this very real problem — which can sometimes lead to tragedy.

Thanks, Stacy, for your post.

Growing up, I wasn’t a part of the popular crowd. I didn’t seem to fit in with the other kids. I was terrible at sports, and with big, dorky glasses that seemed to envelop my face, I was a prime target for bullies.

The abuse started in third grade. It began with a small paper airplane that had been tossed into my cubby hole. “You have germs. Stay away from me.”

Later, my classmates graduated to an even better nickname: Stacy Germs. In line for lunch, on the playground, or at class events, my classmates would huddle as far away from me as possible. I felt isolated, alone, and miserable. So I did what any child would do — I told my teacher.

My teacher held a class meeting, in which she discussed how wrong it was to tease others. Still, my classmates’ behavior was clear enough. I wasn’t a part of their group.

As the years passed, I had trouble making friends. Every time I tried to talk with the other children. I would be shunned for being an outsider. Over time, I learned to find solace through reading. My mother would take me to the bookstore and I would spend hour upon hour delighting myself with fictional characters, immersing myself in a world full of literature and knowledge. Yet I was alone, in ways more than one. And I didn’t know how to tell anyone.

By the time I hit seventh grade, I was a walking mess of insecurity. I was desperate to make friends, but had no idea how to do that. At the same time, my body began to change, and the bullying that I had gotten so used to over the years began to turn into a dulling roar — only this time, it was directed at my body.

A neighborhood bully, Arthur, started to sexually harass me on the school bus. The cruel comments he made left me a quivering, crying mess by the end of the day. Day after day, I endured the comments. My sister and brother, who rode the school bus with me, would try to stand up as my ally. Still, their words fell on deaf ears. Even with three voices raised, the other students sitting beside us never said a word. More than once, multiple voices would join in the torment.

As the abuse continued, I found myself wondering if there was something horrendously wrong with me. When I pounded my pillow at night, I wondered what I had done to make them hate me so. Was it the speech problem I had as a child, where I would accidentally slur my words? Or the way I did my hair, pulled up in a ponytail?

I wish I could say the abuse stopped. That an adult stepped in to make it better. But it didn’t stop with the sexual harassment. In gym class, other girls would offer their own version of torture. I began to get teased for the gym shorts I wore, the t-shirts I brought. Slowly, a ball of bitterness began to sit in a hard knot at the pit of my stomach. In class, I was afraid to speak, for fear that laughter would echo throughout the room. I ached to be a part of the social scene. Still, I didn’t know how to get the abuse to stop.

One night I confessed everything to my mother. With heaving sobs, I told her about all of it. She went to the principal, to the teachers, and to the bus driver, but the abuse never really stopped until I turned 16.

After reading recent news reports about the astonishing number of children who have been bullied, and after reading their tales, this is what I have to say to all of the parents out there:

You may think you understand. But you don’t. You can’t understand unless you’ve experienced it. And if you have experienced it, you know how it feels. The anxiety, fear, and sadness that seem to be a part of your daily experience. The wish that some day, not too far off, the abuse would stop. The wish to be someone else.

I don’t like to talk about what happened to me as a child. I never thought I would need to. But I think it’s important for parents to realize that bullying is an epidemic. It’s not going to go away anytime soon, and once one child starts, the rest can join in. It’s time to do something. Children need to realize the power behind their words and actions, and parents need to make sure that their children are listening. Hard.

I didn’t speak up then. I wish I had.

Stacy Lipson is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in regional and national publications. Follow her on Twitter.

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22 Responses to “Guest Post: I Was Bullied As a Kid”

  1. Stacey, thank you so much for sharing your story for this post.

  2. Kathy says:

    Dina, this post makes me wonder how many adults have a similar story. I remember two girls in my grade school who were teased and bullied mercilessly by a few kids. I have always wondered what their lives are like now and how they handled it through the years.

  3. Jen Singer says:

    Wonderfully written. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Cindy says:

    Several weeks ago, my son came home crying because one of his friends was made fun of in class. The girl (bully) didn’t say anything directly to my son, but he was still hurt and afraid. These were the main points I told him.

    1. You friend needs you. It always feels good to know someone cares about you. Even if he says “it’s OK” - it isn’t. SO, stand up for your friends.
    2. Do NOT make fun of the person back. You’ll only get yourself in trouble.
    3. Use “I statements”. I suggested: “This is my friend. I do not like it when you talk to/about him like that. Please stop.”
    4. You can always tell me when a person is hurting you or a friend. I will always be here to listen to you, believe you and do what I can to help the hurting stop.

    I was teased because of my kinky-curly hair when I was a girl and never said anything about it - and it kept going on and on. Several years - and lots of confidence later - when my high-school boyfriend told me I was fat (at 5’7″ and 115 lbs) I told him to stop talking about me in untrue and mean ways. He tried it again and I dumped him. No one ever called me fat (I wasn’t, I know) again. When a boy teased a friend of mine becasue she had a nose piercing and tattoo (I’m dating myself b/c they weren’t quite as cool back then), I turned around and essentially said what I told my son to say. The bully in that situation looked stunned and never said anything about my friend - at least around me - again.

    Bullies want attention. They want to press your buttons and get the people around them to agree with them by joining in and/or laughing along. It’s been my expreience that as soon as someone has the opposite reaction, the bullies are too insecure and self-conscious to keep going.

    What we have to do as parents is teach our kids how to stand up for themselves and their peers. We keep teaching our kids to be so passive (no hitting, no sassing back, no this, no that…) that it’s hard for them to know when it’s OK to be strong.

    When I gave my son the words and permission to handle himself in a difficult situation, I saw his mood change - and his posture, too.

    Yesterday he came home and told me the little girl in his class started in again, and he knew what to do. He was as proud of himself, as I was of him.

    I know not all bullies will stop. I can’t make them stop. But, I can teach my kids what to do when they encounter one so they don’t contribute to the problem.

  5. Jen says:

    I was bullied a lot from 4th grade on up. I had moved several times from the 4th grade through high school, so this didn’t help. I feel after all these years, I have come out of it ok, except I still hate (yes truly HATE) the people who did this to me. And if I ever see them again, especially the ones from high school, I will not be nice. Several have found me on FB and seem to think we’re friends. When they read my responses to their friend requests or if I just ignore them, they can’t seem to understand why. How quickly they forget how mean they once were.

  6. Stacy-how brave of you to write. Your story could be mine. Started in 5th grade, ended in 9th. Broken nose. I hope you found the writing eased the pain.

  7. Susan says:

    Stacy, thanks for your courage in sharing this story! It reminds me a bit of how I felt sometimes as a kid. I did have friends, but there were other people who’d pass me mean-spirited notes or tease me about my gym socks (seriously?! I never even noticed they had a hole until someone called me out on it). I also got teased in fourth grade for being the only kid to have acne (I was an early bloomer). Fortunately, most of us outgrow that behavior and move on. I was so saddened to hear about the Rutgers student who committed suicide recently. It’s an important issue and a tough one for parents (and kids) to deal with.

  8. Kathy says:

    These are the most heartfelt comments. Thanks to all of you for sharing. And thanks to Stacy for your courage. You are making a difference.

  9. Kathy says:

    Karen — a BROKEN NOSE!? Wow.

  10. Stacy, thanks for sharing your story. It reminds me of the time my son served as the “hero” to a young girl in his 4th grade class.

    One day, when I visited him during the lunch hour (I volunteered on campus a lot), and he whispered in my ear what he’d done, that he’d stood up for a girl in his class who had a physical disability and was being teased — and told me about the award his teacher gave to him in class, in front of everyone — I was never so proud. My son, the hero, I called him, for a long time after that. I asked him to always be that hero to those in need, that it’s our responsibility as human beings to look out for each other. I know he was proud, too.

    But he didn’t get that way on his own. As parents we have to teach and encourage our kids to be the heroes, so there are no more Stacy’s hurt on the playgrounds and in the classrooms, nor anywhere else. Thanks for reminding me of a proud mom moment. I’m going to share this with my son later today; he’s 27, and a parent now himself. With so many stories of young kids killing themselves because they’ve been bullied to death anyway, this is a good time to talk about being the hero — to help be a part of the culture that stops that kind of violence.

  11. Denise says:

    Stacy, lovely post. Very brave of you. It’s disheartening to know how little changes. Even today, with strong anti-bullying messages in the schools (my son’s school just devoted a week to it, and the third-graders did a whole unit in health on bullying), it persists. I wrote about this just last week on my blog: http://bit.ly/9PkraB. I’ve been thinking about it more, about the role of the parents of those kids. Listen, with little kids, the parents have a huge, undeniable influence. Just yesterday, a woman I know slightly was talking about how parents pay lip service to anti-bullying in schools, but there they are themselves, the adults, acting like bullies in the PTA meeting. There’s also the issue, more subtle, of parents who’d rather their kid be the aggressor, with some misguided idea that they’ll be better off in life. So wrongheaded.

    Denise

  12. Kate Walter says:

    Stacy,very good piece. I only wish you had mentoned the current epidemic of gay and lesban teen suicides caused by bullying. this is very much in the news. Kate

  13. TechyDad says:

    Great article. I wish posts like this didn’t have to be made, but they’re extremely important. I, too, was the victim of bullying from elementary school (from a teacher no less) all the way through high school. I wrote about my experiences in a blog series I called My Bullied History ( http://www.techydad.com/?s=My+Bullied+History%2C+Part ). I even found a short story I had written during my freshman year of college, when the bullying was fresh in my mind.

    At one point, my bullies (alone they weren’t brave enough to bully me) blocked my way into a class. As they kept me from entering my class and taunted me, I literally saw red. Everything around me turned a shade of red and I got ready to lunge at the nearest kid. Now, I wasn’t a violent kid at all. Still am not violent. Luckily, the teacher arrived and broke them up. Still, whenever I hear of kids bullied so much that they start shooting everyone in sight, I pause and think that, had things turned out slightly differently, that could have been me. It still scares me to this day.

    And now I look at my oldest son who is so much like me in so many ways and I fear what bullying he has ahead of him and how I can help him overcome the bullies without severe emotional damage.
    TechyDad´s last blog ..Apple Picking and Pumpkins Too

  14. Meredith says:

    I’m heartsick to read this as I am to read the stories in the press today, and to hear the stories from others about how much bullying has hurt. So important to keep talking about it and sharing. The loneliness of such experiences is hard and frightening.
    Meredith´s last blog ..Finding a Way In- 5 Different Takes on Adoption

  15. Sheryl K says:

    This is so, so sad, as are all the other stories that end in tragedy on account of heartless bullying. Kids can be so very cruel and they must, must be taught to be sensitive to others. There needs to be more tolerance. So sorry you had to go through such a hard time, Stacy. But it looks as if you’ve risen above it. Bravo.

  16. Gian says:

    I’m also sorry, Stacy, for what you had to go through. All so unfair, unjustified and useless. Schools and parents need to understand that they need to aggressively and proactively teach their kids that bullying is wrong — it’s a more fundamental life skill than the ABC’s.

  17. Gwen says:

    Thank you, Stacy. Your words are going to help others. We need more people to speak out and speak up on behalf of all children.

  18. Thanks for sharing this.

    I was bullied Grades 10-12 and it forever scarred me. I have no trust in authority figures because — like yours — they did nothing to stop it and help me regain my dignity. It is appalling to attend school and try to achieve your goals while being treated like a pariah for simply — being you. And you are right, no one has a CLUE what it feels like, the shame and anger ad humiliation. Live that every day for years.

    Here’s an essay I wrote about it for USA Today.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-04-08-kelly04_ST_N.htm

  19. Karen Bannan says:

    I had the same experience, except my horror was compounded with the fact that the teachers bullied me, too. The English teacher who had another student hold my hair so I couldn’t slouch when I walked. The social studies teacher who told the entire class — when I was absent no less — that I needed to get 140 on a test to even hope to pass his class. (You miss a lot of assignments and work when you are too afraid to go to school.)

    Today, even though I have tons of friends and the scared little girl/teen is gone, I am obsessed with bullying and blog about it often. Maybe all these voices, all these stories will change something for our kids. Maybe.

  20. Sarah Maurer says:

    Thanks for sharing, Stacy! It takes a lot of courage to revisit such a painful experience. I like to think schools are more aware of bullying than they used to be, but sadly, there are still some very sad, tragic stories coming out in the news every day.

  21. Roberta Wax says:

    What a wonderfully written, poignant piece by Stacy. Thank you both for sharing it.
    Kathy, your blog looks wonderful! I love your new photo!

  22. Just heart-breaking to read this. As a parent this makes me want to just take each of my kids and hug them and keep them from school from now until forever. What is it that makes some people feel like they have to harass others? So what finally made the teasing stop?