Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Guest Post - Bullies Bite the Little One

Bullies Bite The Little One
By Paul Joseph

I was in seventh grade. The bell dismissed me from language arts. I proceeded to the locker pod. I opened my locker and removed my lunch, a daily ritual since my small Christian private school did not have a cafeteria. It was ‘brownbag or starve.’

As I shut my locker, my left arm was grabbed by a hand – a soft hand, perfectly manicured, that pulled my arm towards her teeth. Before I processed what was happening, my skin had been punctured.

The culprit was no stranger – she lived in my neighborhood. We were in the same carpool (my small Christian private school did not have transportation, either). We were in the same sixth grade class. We were in the same seventh grade class. We went to the nurse every afternoon at 1:00 to take our allergy medication. We worked together on a project for religion class – she liked to draw and I liked to write. We were a good team.

But the rules of society forbid us from being friends. She was a 5’4” attractive cheerleader - blonde, thin, and athletic. I was a 4’8” overweight nerd – the honor roll student who would rather read a book than play basketball in the driveway, and who couldn’t get picked in gym class for all the bonus points in the grade book.

I never found out exactly why she bit me. I know that when confronted by a teacher, who was not a real teacher by certification standards, her explanation was that she didn’t like me. In her mind, the reason justified the behavior.

I suspect she was tired of taking heat from her popular cheerleading friends. They most likely heckled her for associating herself with me, so she sought a divine moment, one where half the grade was present, to make her point. Her point had been made.

Ten years later, I returned to a seventh grade classroom. As I got ready for my first day as a History teacher, I noticed the faded scar on my left arm – the remains of a ten-year old bite.
The scar has faded with time. My dark, hairy Italian DNA worked overtime concealing it. But it’s still there. It will always be there.

As a teacher, it wasn’t long before realizing bullying was alive and well – that rather than making progress, kids find new methods with time. I was often quoted for saying, “I’m so glad I graduated before facebook existed.”

Kids today face a new genre of fear: the fear of online harassment. They post disparaging comments forgetting the world can read them – and that once something is posted on the Internet, it is never gone for good. As a society, we have not been able to convey to children that despite the stupid sticks and stones saying, words do hurt. Words scar. Words matter.

As an anti-bullying advocate at my former school district, I heard stories I never needed to hear. Kids reported bullying situations that left me stunned. What makes someone alter a pornographic photograph and distribute it with the face of a fellow classmate? What makes someone invite a kid to a party that never existed – only to show up and sit for three hours because he was embarrassed to call his dad for a ride home before the ‘party’ would have ended? What makes kids destroy each others property out of hatred or revenge? I never understood it. I don’t want to understand it. I just want it to stop.

At twenty-seven years old, I remain scarred (physically and emotionally) from situations I encountered as a kid. On June 14, it will be ten years since I was handed my high school diploma, yet I continue to get anxious in social situations. I hate meeting new people. I hate getting nervous before meeting new people. I hate worrying about things I shouldn’t worry about.

There is a part of me that will always wait for the next mouth to bite me. The good news is, with age comes wisdom. We find our niche and connect with people worth our time – people who embrace us for who we are, not who they want us to be. We have opportunities to use our experiences to make a difference. For me, that venue has been writing.

My mission in writing YA fiction is to help troubled teens find comfort through the characters; to give kids a voice when they feel they don’t have one. I want teens to find themselves through the stories – to learn through the characters, and hopefully, feel inspired to apply that new knowledge in a positive way.

Literature is a valuable teaching tool. It’s no surprise I chose bullying as the focus for my first YA novel. It is an epidemic in our country, which produces a need for high interest literature that addresses the issue while holding a teenager’s attention. Regardless of what happens with my novel, I look forward to the day we no longer need to write books on bullying. I look forward to the day when bullying has become a thing of the past. Spreading awareness and educating others is the first step.

-Paul Joseph

I would like to extend a big thank you to Draven for inviting me to guest blog and talk about bullying. It was an honor to be here and share my thoughts on this important topic. Draven is a great friend and supporter; he is also a talented writer who sparks great discussions on his site. You are wise to be reading his words.


Paul Joseph said...

Thanks again for featuring me today. This is my first guest post ever. I'm honored!

Grace Elliot said...

The anonymity of the internet has opened up a whole new avenue for bullying. I have a fried (yes, really!) who is an Indie author and currently in the top 10 of her genre on Amazon. She's being picked on by jealous authors and given 1 star reviews,totally unjustly, just because those 'reviewers' dont have to answer for their actions.
Grace x

Tymothy Longoria said...

“I’m so glad I graduated before facebook existed.”

You really have only scratched the surface with this one. One of the reasons I respect you, Paul is that one of your missions as you write is against this epidemic. Something like this can NEVER receive enough attention. When we all agree-I mean we do, but are we all speaking out against it?-this will end.

I'm honored to call YOU a Friend. Be it on-line or not you are and I applaud your commitment. You had a real experience with this bs. You were on the "front-lines". So, you know.

Draven thank you for having Paul over. You ARE appreciated.

@Grace, it's everywhere. But, so are those of us who will not tolerate it.

Steve Umstead said...

Paul, what an incredible post. Thank you for this. I have a 13 year old who doesn't socialize much, only has one or two friends, and is advanced class in every subject. So far he's avoided the bullying, but next year is high school, and I'm concerned. I'm going to let him read this. Really well written, and powerful. Thank you.


Michele Shaw said...

Such a powerful post, Paul. Thank you for voicing your experience and continuing the fight against bullying. Your work in the school and through your words cannot be measured, it's priceless. I worry every day for my kids and wish Facebook didn't exist now or in their future teen years. It's going to be a tough road, and I'm so glad you are shouting what needs to be said. Disengaged parents need to wake up! It's not just scarring kids, it's killing them. Thank you for sharing your story.

Matthew MacNish said...

New follower here, via Paul's Facebook.

Good to meet you, sir.

Jeff King said...

Great post... never give up trying to help.

Regge Ridgway said...

Great post Paul. I applaud your stand. I was a social outcast after transferring from California to a small town in Texas. My name didn't help. Let's give Reggie a wedgie still haunts me. Lol. Being small of stature left me helpless to the swirlies too. Once I was called out after school for talking to one of the football kid's girlfriend of the month. Who could keep up. Not wanting to prolong the punishment, I showed up to a crowd of my peers all shouting fight fight. They formed a circle around me and my opponent who was already residing in a man's body. My plan was to fall down and roll into a defensive ball. But fate had a different plan. The goon yelled and charged me and I raised my arm defensively catching him right square in the nose. He and I crashed to the ground but he bounced up yelling. You broke my nose. The fight was over as blood gushed down his face onto his jersey which never seemed to completely wash out. People looked at me differently from then on. Girls took a second look too. Maybe that is why I became a writer. Confidence and a restoration of self esteem. :) Reggie Ridgway Hey Draven. See you at #pubwrite

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Paul, I admire that your mission is to put as much of a dent in the epidemic of bullying as you possibly can. You've found your niche and definitely have it within you to pay it forward. I am glad you have survived the bullying and am giving someone else a fighting chance to survive it, too.

Paul Joseph said...

Grace: I agree the internet has complicated the issue. When social cues are removed, people often turn off their filter, forgetting to take into consideration words do matter.

Tymothy: Thank you as always for your kind words. Your sentiments are reciprocated.

Steve: Your words mean a great deal to me. I'm glad you found some substance to the post. I wish your son luck next year.

Michele: Facebook is so rough for kids because so many use it for all the wrong reasons. Actually, plenty of adults do the same, so that's a big part of the problem. Parents need to know what their kids are doing online. I also think the media and celebrities need to stop sending the message it's okay to trash talk. Kids mirror what they see.

Matthew and Jeff: Thanks for reading!

Reggie: Thanks for the feedback. I am sorry to hear about your experience, but it sounds like you made your point. I have met so many writers who share similar experiences to both of us - I think it fuels a passion we unlock later in life. For adult survivors of bullying and peer abuse, we do walk away with a little something. I'm not sure what that is exactly, but it's there, and we get to apply it to various creative outlets.

Jeffrey: Thanks for the support, and of course, for the friendship. I think it's hard for kids to understand they can survive because they are so caught up in the insignificant moments of their teen lives. It's important to share these stories and hope it assist them in understanding better days are coming.

Eden Baylee said...

Paul, thanks for your post. It was enlightening. The more exposure this topic gets, the more educated people will become about it. Education is key.

It was another life when I was in school, and the pressures to fit in were difficult then. I imagine they must be even more so today with the ability for bullies to taunt over the internet.

In the end, bullies are cowards. They pick on the weak, and their actions cannot be tolerated. There have been tragedies, including suicides of young adults at the hands of bullies. It needs to stop before it gets to that point.

I appreciate you bringing this important issue to the forefront.

Draven, thanks for giving a voice to Paul on your blog.


Katie said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! It is certainly a huge issue that has been pushed onto back burners for far too long. I dread a day my daughter comes home from school crying because of bullying. I certainly hope she never has to experience either side of bullying.

Dawn M. Hamsher said...

Great post. I was made fun of terribly in the 9th grade. I took things into my own hands that summer and did a complete make-over (contacts, stylish hair, new clothes), so I could survive the remaining 3 years of high school. It worked. I even picked up some good friends. It is just sad that I had to change to survive the bullying.

Paul Joseph said...

Eden: I couldn't agree more; education is the key. The only positive that comes from the bullycide epidemic is making sure the trend is stopped. Teens are fragile; they don't see the big picture easily and act on impulse. Nobody should ever feel they have to end their life to free themselves from peer abuse.

Kate: Like you, I hope your daughter will never experience bullying. It stays with you your entire life; it gets easier, but we remain scarred by our experiences.

Dawn: I can't say I blame you, as I myself did some pretty stupid things in hopes of fitting in. it happens. When we are kids, we think that is an option. Sometimes, it does make a difference, but as you indicated, we shouldn't be creating a society where people have to change to survive bullying issues. Tolerance must be a more emphasized concept in public education.