Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mini-geek gets bullied, goes viral

When I was a little kid, I was a nerd.

Those of you who know me in real life know that not much has changed, but let's ignore that for the time being.

In fifth grade, I had glasses and crooked teeth. I laughed too loud, and I spilled my milk almost every day when we had our class snack break. Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my sister and cousins. I was into books that were ahead of my reading level and I got along better with boys than with girls.

So, like any kid who deserves it, I had a bully.

Most of the time, my bully said things that I didn't even understand: she made pop-culture references that I didn't get, and then she would laugh derisively at me. Sometimes she insulted me in ways that I figured just didn't apply to me. Occasionally, I could shrug her off. But her jabs and her soul-crushing laugh worked enough times that I can still remember the sting of it. I can remember her face when she laughed at me.

I had had another bully a couple of years before that - she was much older than me, probably 11 or 12. She constantly called me alternately fat or stupid. I was seven and I believed her.

No matter what I accomplish in my life, the voices and "advice" of those bullies can be conjured up in an instant. More often than I'd care to admit, I remember what they said and wonder if they were right.

It's cold comfort - OK, not even comfort, really - that both of them are fairly miserable people now. That doesn't make things any better.

So my reaction at a nerdy, be-spectacled 7-year-old girl being bullied by boys at her school for carrying a Star Wars water bottle was manifold: I logged on and left a comment of support for the kid, like almost 2,000 other people have already done, but I also found myself wondering if it's even possible to keep something like this from happening.

Kids are such jerks, man. And they're the worst to each other.

Aside from sequestering kids from each other, I don't know how to keep that sort of thing from happening. In the case of my experiences with bullies, there was never an adult within earshot - bullies know what they're doing is wrong, so they do it on the sly. And it's not like more supervision is the solution - kids need some space to learn and develop as social creatures. Katie's mom was savvy enough (and Katie is enough of a Star Wars fan) to pick up on something being off, but that's seriously a lot to ask of most parents. I was the third child and was already weird enough: how could my mom have picked up on some subtle change in behavior due to bullying? Did my behavior even change?

All's I know is, may the force be with Katie. And may I never get a hold of the kids who bullied her.

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