Every day I wake up grateful that through the accident of my birth, I am not an adolescent in the age of social media.
I turned 13 in late 1991, well before computers were in every house, much less the Internet. It was the land of Vanilla Ice, permed hair, frosted lipstick and headgear.
When I was 13, I was the mousy kid. Maybe it had something to do with my mom and stepfather both being on staff at school. Maybe it was that I was bad at sports (active I am, athletic I am not) in a school where being good at basketball ensured a special sort of status.
Maybe it was that I was a daydreamer, someone who got lost in books and liked to do well in school. Maybe it had something to do with how sensitive I was and how all of the slings and arrows would find their way to my epicenter and there was nothing I could do about it.
At any rate, the popular kids didn’t really like me past fourth grade.
I remember one of the Mikes (there were so many Michaels in my grade that we always called them Mike plus the first initial of their last name) surrounding me with his friends one day in Mr Walsh’s class.
“How come you never say words that are less than three syllables?” he sneered.
“But—but I do.” I said, flustered, not knowing what the right answer was. The kids just laughed.
Then there was K, who (again, in front of his friends) asked me to do a simple math problem out loud.
“Watch this.” he said.
“Five plus five?”
“Five plus five? 10!” I said, relieved that I had got the right answer.
“15 minus three.”
“15 minus three? 12!” I said.
They laughed again, and I was so confused, until I realized that they were making fun of the way I was parroting the questions, making sure I had them right.
I was also hand selected to be in a fist fight with another girl who was almost as unpopular as I was. A group of kids surrounded us in the junior playground, shouting out encouragement, taking bets on who would win.
When I “won”, and went home to proudly tell my mother that I had won, I couldn’t figure out why she sent me to my room.
As rough as it was for me, other kids in my school had it much worse than I did.
I can’t stop thinking about A, a hugely tall girl with a puff of brown hair, who was mercilessly teased for being very quiet. Or there was I, a boy who lost his temper in a frightening outburst each time he was pushed too far, so it became a baiting game for his tormentors. One day in music class he let out a blood curdling scream and plunged a spike holder into one of his tormentors’ hands.
I remember those times, those people, and how they shaped the person I would become, (for instance, applying to an arts school across the city so I could break free from them) and I cannot fathom what my experience would be like if it was magnified by the lenses of so many different types of social media.
I think with the advent of social media, the monster of bullying went nuclear, as ways to humiliate, instigate and capture those moments we would rather forget multiplied like mushrooms.
Statistics on bullying are worrisome.
According to Pacer, 27.8 percent of children (that’s a ratio of one out of three) report being bullied in the school year, but 64 percent of people who were bullied didn’t report it.
People reported the main reasons for being bullied were physical appearance, weight, and ethnicity.
Children with developmental or physical disabilities were two times more likely to be bullied than their able-bodied peers.
Out of the children who identified as LGBTQ, 82 percent reported being bullied on account of their sexuality.
There is an obvious link between bullying and depression and anxiety disorders, and people who are bullied are at a higher risk for suicide ideation.
People who are bullied are singled out only for their differences and how they stand out.
I dream of a world where difference wouldn’t scare or shock people, where differences and everybody’s own, unique freak flag could fly and be celebrated.
I want to live in a world where everyone’s intrinsic value is worshiped.
April ninth marks the “International Day of Pink”, a day to remember and bring awareness to anti-bullying.
While I don’t think wearing a particular colour of shirt is going to do much in the grand scheme of things, I do think meditating on the ways that we can celebrate each other might be extremely helpful.
This beautiful short by Salazar Films, about a small group of children who band together after being bullied, is a magical and heart-stopping look at the effects of bullying, and how differences and our uniqueness are things to be learned from and supported. Just a quick note: it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s well worth the watch.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
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