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Bullying (For Parents) Please note, while this article refers to "he" as the child, it could just as easily be a "she."

Have you ever been bullied? I mean by that... really bullied, constantly bullied, humiliated, degraded, and made to feel totally ashamed of yourself? If you havenít, just try for a moment to imagine just how that must feel. Imagine the fear, the embarrassment, even the passive resignation a person must experience when this is a constant occurrence. Try to imagine the abuse becoming the central and overriding theme of your existence. Imagine it that way, because thatís exactly what happens when a child is constantly bullied.

If you are the parent of a child dealing with gender issues, realize now, the likelihood that your child will, at some point, experience this. If they are at all suspected by their peers to be in any way different, they may be subjected to bullying.

My qualification to speak on this is based on the fact that I was once in the very place where your child may be now. The first abuse that I can recall being directed at me was as a tiny boy, who innocently and naively ventured outside with his motherís makeup painted crudely on his face. The laughter, jokes and pointed fingers made me realize, instantly, that any gender explorations on my part had better be done in secret. Not so easy to hide, however, was the nature of my personality. I suppose I was softer, gentler and shier than most of the other boys. In fact, I often felt just as comfortable playing with the neighborhood girls. By high school, though I in no way carried myself in a feminine manner, my shy and quiet nature soon caused me to be marked as a wimp, and therefore I was deemed fair game for anyone who wanted to take a shot. It seemed many wanted to do just that. By sophomore year in high school, life had literally become a living hell. People would humiliate me for laughs, abuse me for kicks and generally try to minimize my existence in any and every way imaginable. I once had an entire bottle of cologne poured on me at lunch. I had spitballs fired at me in class, insults hurled at me any time and the cruelest humiliations served to me several times a day. I was physically abused as well. I remember being wrestled into the schoolís tiny elevator on my way to class, so I would be late and get detention. I was once dragged into the subway and punched in the face for no other reason than being me. For giggles, I was nearly knocked unconscious once on my way to school, and on another day punched on the way home by a kid to whom I had looked up to all my life. So warped was my thinking from all this abuse that I actually felt a tinge of pride when I heard that particular boy say "Man, that kid sure knows how to take it." You see, it was not my body that bore the brunt of these abuses, it was my soul. On some level I began to actually feel that my abusers, since they werenít transgendered, were, after all, better than me. Actually, the term transgendered hadnít entered my vocabulary yet. But I knew that my feminine nature made me different somehow, sick or perverted. I also began to believe that I shouldnít really expect any different than what I was getting. I actually believed that. It is a phenomenon almost like brainwashing. Tell someone he is worthless enough times and heíll come to firmly believe it himself. Itís an old trick.

The damage it all caused me was deeper than you can ever imagine unless youíve been there yourself. Even today, my ability to trust people has been affected; my ability to truly communicate and relate to people has been shattered. Any semblance of self confidence or self worth was lost long ago. And those are very difficult things to get back once they are lost. To this day I sometimes find it hard to believe that I didnít deserve it all, and I struggle with the idea that they were, and still are, better than me.

My abuse steadily increased as my high school years wore on until, one day, as a senior, I experienced something all too common in situations where a person is chronically bullied, I exploded.

In U.S. history class, one of my chief tormentors decided, for sport that day, to throw wadded up paper balls at the back of my head. At first I shrugged it off as just another joke at my expense, another humiliation to be endured. After the 4th one hit me in as many minutes, something foreign within me began to stir. I could hear the sounds of barely muffled chuckles coming from students behind me and the occasional exhortation "Get him again!" After the 6th paper ball bounced off the back of my head, and with the sound of laughter burning in my ears, something snapped. Without warning and without a sound, in a flash I threw my desk forward, wheeled around and lunged at my tormentor, who was seated at the back of the room against the wall. Instinctively grabbing his throat, I began furiously bashing his head against the wall and the hard oaken windowsill. I literally wanted to kill him. Three years of pent up shame, fear, anger, humiliation and rage were directed precisely at the soft throat clamped in my iron grip. I wanted him dead. I remember yelling "You wanna f__k with me? You still wanna f__k with me? Iím sick of your s__t!" I donít know whether I would have killed him or not if I hadnít heard the yelling from my teacher. "Let him go! Knock it OFF!!! I SAID KNOCK IT OFF!!!!" As his commands to stop slowly invaded my consciousness, I let him go; hardly caring that my next destination would undoubtedly be the Principalís Office for the mandatory expulsion that fighting called for in my school. From somewhere I vaguely heard myself ordered back to my seat. In a daze I walked back to my overturned desk, righted it and sat down, oblivious to the stares of my disbelieving classmates; some of whom had witnessed for the very first time and with mouths agape, pure unadulterated rage. Mechanically I began packing my books to set off for Fr. McManusí office. The next words from my teacherís mouth, however, astounded me more than anything else that had happened. Addressing my abuser he coldly asked "What the hell did you think would happen the way you guys treat him?" That meant he had known. He had seen. He was aware of what they had been doing to me. As he returned to the lesson it began to sink in that I would not be expelled, not even suspended! I honestly didnít know what to feel. After class my classmates raised my hand in victory. I feigned a smile through this subtle mockery and wished only to be left alone. I hated them all. The amount of abuse I was forced to endure declined a bit after that day. And though it never even came close to ending completely it ceased to escalate as it had previously been doing week by week and month by month. Though I suppose my explosion was, in that sense, a good thing, I canít help but wonder what I would have been able to accomplish in life if it had never occurred at all. How much easier it would have been had a teacher or one of my parents had intervened early on. At the time I couldnít bring myself to discuss this with my parents for I was terribly ashamed of what I was allowing others to do to me. Why a teacher never chose to help Iíll always wonder. But I do know that in my all-male school bullying was never discouraged or even addressed. In that place, at that time, a victim of bullying was on his own to sink or swim.

So parents, please remember, your child may never be inclined to come to you for help in a situation like this for a couple of reasons. First is the feeling of shame involved in even admitting that he or she is having this problem. After all, in this society weíre all supposed to be able to handle, by ourselves, any problem that comes our way and to do it in John Wayne, Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwartzenegger style. Of course thatís not possible but even adults sometimes have problems remembering that. How can we expect kids to? Second thereís the fear that you, as a parent, may do something that might cause him greater embarrassment than even the bullying causes him. Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. "Iím going to tell my Mommy!" doesnít seem to be too appealing of an option to an adolescent. If it were we may never have had Columbine or Paducah, Kentucky.

We parents have to investigate and we need to be aware. If your child seems withdrawn and depressed find out why. If he doesnít want to go out anymore or shies away from extra-curricular activities find out if thereís a reason he is not telling you. If sleep patterns or eating habits change donít automatically assume it is drugs. If grades begin to suffer bear in mind the possibility that your child might be getting bullied at school. Often, if you can get a child to admit theyíre being abused he may suddenly feel the need to vent. Give him an ear to speak to and a shoulder to cry on if need be. Give him your time. Make sure he understands he is not alone, that others have gone through bullying too. Donít judge him or tell him to just be tougher. And whatever you do, do not imply that it is his own fault. Remember that he is almost certainly doing that already. Rather, suggest strategies and help him wherever and however heíll let you. Unless physical danger is involved or other children are being abused too, respect his wishes regarding notifying administrators and teachers. If you donít, then he may never trust you enough to speak to you about this stuff again. (Of course thereís nothing stopping you from finding out what the local, state and school regulations are regarding this. Most/many places have a zero tolerance policy toward this kind of thing. Look elsewhere on the Chysalis site) I suppose the most important thing is to make sure he realizes that the things the abusers say about him ARE NOT VALID, that the abusers abuse because they want to direct ridicule on others to protect themselves from being ridiculed. Try always to nurture his self-esteem, for that is what is really under attack here. Praise him, boast about him. When he does well, tell him. Help him find something he excels in and help him to develop it. Contrary to what your child may have been forced to believe, EVERYONE has talents. They need to be fostered. Be wary of supplying un-earned praise. Kids are very sharp; they know when theyíve done well and when theyíve just skated by. Donít try to ignore the problem or sweep it under the rug. This will only indicate to the child that this is something shameful. Though your child may not seem like he wants to talk about it, he certainly wants to know that youíre there for him and interested. Even your asking if those guys at school are still being jerks may give him some sense of validation that his feelings are real and important and valued. And the truth of the matter is that deep down he probably does want to talk of the abuse but is simply too embarrassed. Tell him some embarrassing problem you once had to deal with and heíll be much more likely to open up.

In the end I suppose it can be roughly summed up as this. If you know he is being bullied let him know that youíre aware that he is hurting. Let him know it IS NOT his fault and that youíre in his corner even if it seems like no one else is. Make sure he understands the dynamics of bullying and the real reasons behind it. And perhaps most of all show your love and concern for him in every way you can, then do everything in your power to give him a sense of pride in himself.

The cost of letting abuse go unstopped and victims unsupported is much too high. For proof, just look at the headlines. Most of these tragic school shootings are the direct result of children being bullied and the failure of adults to intervene beforehand. My explosive violence toward my tormentor in high school was the final step in a process, a very predictable process that had begun and should have been stopped years before. I had none of the supports Iíve been talking about here, none. The scars I bear from those years will always be with me. Theyíve left emotional and psychological barriers that I still have to deal with today, nearly twenty years later! Those barriers, formed when I was so very young, may never completely come down. They have cost me more than I can imagine or even begin to describe here. Daily, I battle with depression, anxiety, lack of trust, feelings of inferiority and a dull, throbbing ache in my soul. Donít let this happen to your childrenÖplease donít.

Some people may tell you that being bullied can "make a man out of you." But then I have to raise the question "But what happens when it takes the human out of you?"

Jennifer McCrennaugh


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Last modified: 02/09/09