I confess. As a child, I was bullied on a fairly regular basis—sometimes physically, but usually a verbal attack—because I was always the “new kid.” My dad was a salesman and we relocated to where the work was. It wasn’t unusual for us to move on a yearly, sometimes bi-yearly, basis.
Clearly, I was an easy target.
But thanks to my family, and a few loyal friends, I survived pretty well. Personally, I try to use my life experiences as character builders, but I must admit that if I had the choice I would have skipped more than a few of them. They were quite painful, emotionally if not always physically, and I’d be just as happy if they’d never happened.
So when my son came home with stories of being bullied, it really hit home. And if you've read any of my previous columns on the subject, helping him through it was a true challenge.
Kids can be cruel—and I don’t see that changing much. But it does seem a little more intense these days. For example, in January 2011, a high school in Orange County, NY, had 12 suicide attempts—reportedly because of bullying. Two children died. I can’t imagine what they must have been experiencing to feel that alone, but clearly it was devastating.
I can’t help but wonder if that kind of insensitivity is because we, as the parents, are taking the wrong approach. Our children test our boundaries. It’s normal. But we are supposed to set those boundaries clearly, and follow through with consequences if they don’t understand the importance of mutual respect, character and kindness.
Since I’ve been writing this column, many people have come forward with heartwrenching stories of being bullied as a kid. I’ve also had a handful confess that they chose bullying as a childhood pastime—some shared this regretfully and some had no remorse. Many felt it was “just how kids are” (usually the guilty parties) and a few still felt the sting of being the victim.
I’ve also encountered a few childhood classmates who contacted me ... to apologize. Of course, I accepted and forgave them. The truth is I was pretty impressed by the character they showed by that simple act. After all, it was a very long time ago, and we were just children.
I guess confession is good for the soul and taking responsibility for all our choices—good or bad—can heal no matter how much time has passed. I think we all felt better.
Still, that got me to thinking about the kids who didn’t make it through those tough times—and those who will have no chance to apologize sincerely for their actions.
A lost opportunity they'll have to live with ... forever.
So the next time you talk to your children about school, or bullying, or relationships of any kind, consider encouraging them to take that opportunity now. Remind them to keep in mind the consequences of their actions, and help them to understand that behavior is a choice. If they’ve been treating someone badly, or standing by while someone else does the damage, perhaps it’s time to fess up, before it's too late.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert is the author of the I’ve Got character-building book series for children and 2010's Woman of Achievement in the Arts Honoree for Orange County, NY. Calling upon her professional acting experience on Broadway, film and television, she speaks out and takes her books into classrooms hoping to help kids build character, develop empathy and learn to create a positive future through creative dramatics activities.