I’ve never known quite what to say to families who want me to counsel their kids when they’ve experienced bullying. I know most won’t appreciate the advice I’d give:
Grab a bat, a wrench, a hammer…
I’m sorry if that disturbs you. I lived through bullying for many years. The shame it instills in a child can last a lifetime. I didn’t stand up for myself, largely because no one stood up for me. Instead, I engaged in a lot of self-destruction and depression.
Nowadays it’s not as simple as whether or not to fight back. You can’t punch a cyber bully in the face. You can’t necessarily revive a reputation after being slut-shamed, and you can’t take back pictures you’ve sent that were supposed to be private.
Racism, homophobia, and oppressive ideas about gender fuel hateful behavior, especially bullying. Being an LGBTQ+ youth is too often one of the hardest things a human being can persevere through.
My message to today’s youth: I promise it gets better. Middle school and high school are two of the worst things that happen to people like me. College is a million times better. Moving out of your shitty small town is a million times better.
Between now and then, please know that the thing that makes all the difference is how you relate to yourself. Please don’t honor your abusers by treating yourself the way that they do. Don’t hate yourself for being different. Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t stand up to them. Don’t seek relief in drugs. Don’t cut. Don’t binge. Don’t have sex you don’t want to have.
There has to be one thing – one f@cking thing you love doing or want to learn to do well. That’s real – that’s the escape plan. Build on it – get obsessed with it. Grab an old guitar, or some paint, or write something. Trust me, it works. I promise there is something you’ll love and it can be the very thing that helps you get through this and go on to have the life you most want.
Create the best possible version of yourself. Do it out of spite. Do it because f@ck them. Do it because you’re better than they are. Do it because there’s somebody who loves you. Do it because people like me need you in our lives.
Find others like you. Find the misfits and the kindred spirits. Nobody loves like we do.
My message to parents:
I know that bullies are insecure people who engage in cruelty to feel better about themselves. I don’t care.
I know that nearly all schools routinely fail to address bullying. I know that there are no easy fixes. I also know that if you see bullying and fail to be outraged and intervene then you have helped injure the psyche of a good person.
I’ll share with you what one of my local heroes does: He’s a wildly popular guy who uses his notoriety to build other people up. He’s constantly on the lookout for the underdog, the outcast, and the unpopular. He then makes sure everyone around is watching, as he relates to that person as though they’re the coolest f@cking thing ever.
We all have influence and we get to decide how to use it.
Never underestimate the power you have to build people like me up.