"I think it was third grade when I started to notice that it wasn't so funny anymore. It wasn't just kids being kids joking around. They were being mean to me." said John Williams. Williams who is now in his mid-20s sat down with us to discuss how being bullied in elementary school impacted him then, and even now. Being bullied has a very direct and negative impact on a child's mental health and we wanted to hear William's story to learn directly from a child who was bullied what he wishes was done to help.
"I have always been a tall guy. Growing up I was about 5-6 inches taller than the average kid my age. Now some may expect that big kid to be the bully, but my size is actually what got me bullied in the first place. Kids used to make fun of how big I was and I think it made them feel tougher picking on the biggest guy in the room like it gave them status or something. As a naive kid, I thought it was all fun and games at first but the more it happened the less funny it got. I got called fat, people always told me I was too big. Everyone sees a tall kid and immediately they make comments about how they need to play basketball, or for boys that they need to play football. Nobody sees a short kid and says 'Wow, you are so small! Have you ever tried being a horse jockey?' These comments are not meant to be mean but when everyone you ever meet says that to you; and then you aren't particularly incredible at sports it's even more fuel to the bullying fire. I got picked on a lot for people thinking that my athletic ability did not match my size."
"One time I was playing football and I was running and my shoe fell off. These kids picked up my shoe and were running around with it and playing keep-away. Then one kid threw the shoe right at me and it hit me square in the head. I was really mad and embarrassed about that. Other kids started laughing." That day I went home to my parents and told them what had happened. They were aware of the fact that I was being picked on and they originally gave me the advice of 'Be the bigger person. Try and brush it off. Don't let them get to you.' That advice makes sense and is good in theory but the kids were very much 'getting to me'. Once I told them about how I was hit in the face with a shoe they switched up their advice a little. They told me if someone was physically harming me that they wanted me to stand up for myself. What they meant was if someone was hitting me I could defend myself. What I took from it was that if someone was mean to me; I am now allowed to fight them."
"I just started swinging. At anybody and everybody who was not only mean to me; but a bully to anybody. I remember being on the bus when a kid two grades below me was getting picked on by someone in my grade. Once the younger kid got off the bus I ran up to the bully and got in his face saying he had no business being mean to a kid so young and small. The bully started to get physical with me and now with this newfound permission to get physical back; that's exactly what I did. I got into a fistfight with this kid and we were both suspended from school for a couple of days because of it." said Williams. "This was just the start of basically a two-year stretch of me getting into fights and getting in trouble because of it. Anytime I sensed that someone was getting bullied I took it into my own hands to defend them."
"I was still being bullied a little bit but it did slow down when they realized I was ready and almost willing to fight back. I think I was just so hurt from the bullying I went through that I didn't want myself or any other kids to feel how I did ever again. I never once got into a fight with someone other than a kid I knew was bullying someone. I didn't like getting into fights I just despised bullying and my size; which was once the source of my own bullying; was now a huge advantage. I am not kidding it was pretty frequently that I was getting into fights and I even started to develop kind of a 'bad kid' reputation from a lot of my teachers. Teachers who did nothing to help me when I wasn't fighting back on my own. Teachers who looked the other way when it was me who was getting hurt. I do not condone what I did and how I acted those years of my life. I know it was not good to resort to physical violence as I did. Now looking back I can see how much pain I was in." explained Williams.
"At first I do think I had a lot of anxiety about going to school. Before getting hit in the head with that shoe and the subsequent 2 year stretch of fighting after it, I was dreading going to school and being bullied. I didn't understand why kids were being mean, I just wanted to hang out and have fun with my classmates and I couldn't wrap my head around why it was fun for them to hurt my feelings. After I started to fight I was no longer anxious about school because I had felt like I developed a tool to deal with the bullying. I think overall I did experience some depression during all of it. Again, I was sad that they thought this was fun. Like the only way to get a laugh was at my expense."
"I am so grateful that my parents never began to think that I was 'trouble' like my teachers did. They were not happy with my actions and they did their best to try to get me to see that what I was doing was not a solution to the bullying. However, they never forgot why I was doing it in the first place and they continued to support me and be on my side; while parenting me and trying to correct my behavior. Ultimately they were not happy with how the students or the teachers were treating me and I ended up changing schools because of it. They didn't want either me or my younger sibling to go to a school where they felt like we weren't being supported."
"I would say that stretch of fighting went on from sometime in 3rd grade to 5th grade. In 6th grade, I started a new school and I am really not sure what would have happened to me if I didn't make that move. I went from a huge school where I felt like I was just a number to a lot of the teachers and staff at a very, very small school. My new school had about 40-50 kids in each grade. I fit in a lot better with these kids and I am not saying there were no cliques at all or anything but because of how small it was we all got very close. Those are the kids I graduated with and many of the same people I call my best friends to this day. I am so glad that I left my original school because going to the new school allowed me to get into a much better headspace and really develop and have those childhood memories that are so important." said Williams.
When asked if he thinks it still impacts him to this day Williams said; "I do think generally I have my guard up and I hate it but sometimes I have a mentality that it's me against the world kind of. Like if I get into arguments my mind automatically goes there and I sometimes get defensive quickly." explained Williams.
“If I am ever blessed to have a son one day I know that I will make it a point to show them that men’s mental health matters too. A lot of little boys are not taught how to express their emotions and how to ask for help. Boys struggle with body image issues, boys have anxiety, boys get sad too. My parents always encouraged me to share my feelings and all of that but I think we need to keep having the conversation about men’s mental health. It’s just so important that guys feel like it’s not weird to bring something like that up to their partner or their friends or something. When I got bullied I got angry. It would have been better if I knew how to express that I was anxious and hurt not just angry.”
If you have been staying up to date with our blog you know that earlier this month we sat down with world-renowned special education expert; Rick Lavoie to discuss how learning disabilities impact far more than the classroom. While we had Lavoie on the phone we wanted to hear his insight on bullying and see if he had any advice for parents regarding the topic. "If you don't have a child who is being bullied it is almost impossible to completely understand how painful it is for those parents. To go to work every day and be in those offices, or at home, and know that at that moment your child is probably being bullied. It's an indescribable pain to know that they are being bullied and you feel so helpless. You can go to the school and talk to them about it but in some cases that same child still comes off the school bus upset every day. You look at the clock at work and see that it's 12:30 and you know that's recess time and your child may be getting bullied. Teachers need to understand how painful that is and try and put themselves in the parent's shoes." said Lavoie.
"Hurt people hurt people and of course no one likes a bully but generally what we know is; bully at home, victim at school, victim at school, bully at home. A kid who is a bully is generally being victimized somewhere else in their lives. For example, a kid may spend his life at home with older siblings who constantly bully him and now he goes to school and that's the way he looks at the world. We have to stop looking at the bully as this evil devil-like creature. Generally, the bully is in pain themselves. We need to change the paradigm of how we look at the 3 people involved in a bullying situation; the bully, the victim, and the bystander. All three of them suffer in different ways." said, Lavoie.
As always we look to get real-life tangible tips that our parents can put into practice. When asked what the parent of a child who is getting bullied can do Lavoie did offer one piece of advice; "We can teach them retorts and phrases that help them take control back of the situation. Like if a child is getting bullied frequently by the same person that bullied child can say; 'Okay, what don't you like about me today? Is it my hair again? My shoes?' That kind of takes the wind out of the sails of the bully." We know that every instance of bullying varies greatly so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
If you have a child who is being bullied reach out to one of our FREE and CONFIDENTIAL Family Support Partners here. They will be able to help you with 100% personalized troubleshooting on how you can help your child, or how you can get your school district to take further action on the issue.