Kids can be mean. Sometimes unkind words come out of ignorance and aren't meant to be hurtful, other times it's simple teasing. But then there's bullying. Bullying is the systematic tearing down of a person. Bullying feels relentless, and those who experience it feel isolated. It can cause mental health issues including depression and anxiety.
Suicide is the number two cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 24, with bullying — and the depression that is incident to it — cited as major contributors. It is a serious issue, and we can't ignore the reality those who are facing it experience.
With school back in session, some kids have been reunited with certain people they have gotten a reprieve from all summer. Or, they might come back and find that people who they once viewed as a friend no longer feel the same way.
Whatever the case may be, here are 8 steps that kids who are being bullied need to remember:
1. Understand that it's really not about you.
People typically bully others when they are lashing out against unhappiness in their own lives. If bullies were truly happy, they wouldn't dedicate such a large amount of their time bringing misery to others. Even if you are the one being bullied, the heart of the matter really has nothing to do with you.
2. Don't try to get back at them.
When someone is mean to you, it is very natural to want to retaliate. Don't do it. It won't make you feel better like you may think, and all it does is perpetuate the cycle of hatred and ugliness. Offer kindness when you can. There just may come a time when they take you up on it.
Taking the high road is incredibly hard when it seems like everyone else is taking cheap shots, but it's a worthwhile trip.
3. Don't skip class because of bullies.
If you are on a first name basis with the school nurse because you have faked so many stomachaches to get out of certain classes, this one is for you. It's very understandable to want to avoid bullies when you can, but going to class is one of those times when you really shouldn't. Your grades will suffer, and it isn't worth it. If certain people are making it hard for you to learn while you are in class, speak to your teacher about a new seating assignment, or talk to a counselor about switching classes. Your education is much too important to let unkind people steal it away from you.
4. Let someone know.
There is no need to try to shoulder this burden alone. Tell a trusted adult like a parent, teacher, or counselor about the problem. Even if the problem is small, get it on their radar as soon as possible.
Telling someone does not make you weak; it means that you are trying to be strong, but need a bit of help.
Threats of physical violence need to be reported immediately.
5. The pain doesn't last forever.
This one gets said so much that it almost feels cliche, but could not be more true. Once you get away from bullies by going to a new school or graduating, it's amazing how quickly you'll forget about them. Years from now, you may get curious and want to look them up on Facebook to see how they turned out, but ultimately you'll decide that there are better ways to waste a few minutes than looking up people who don't matter.
6. Find a healthy outlet for your hurt feelings.
It's easy to get trapped in the lonely, desperate feeling that comes with being bullied, but find something else to do to occupy your mind instead. Exercise, paint, write poetry. Or, you can go the Taylor Swift route and write a song about them and win a Grammy for it, which isn't a bad way to go.
Fill your time with things you do enjoy, and don't let bullies rob you of happiness.
7. Block unkind people on social networks.
Cyberbullying is easier than bullying someone in person, because there's no face-to-face contact. It also means that bullying doesn't just end when school's over, like it did for the previous generation. While it might seem impersonal for the person spewing the hate, it's very damaging to the person reading it. You don't have to read their words. Turn your privacy settings on and block bullies who send you threatening messages.
8. If you feel like causing harm to yourself or others, call for help immediately.
Enduring bullying is extremely difficult, especially when you have to see those same mean people day after day in school. It can be too easy to be wrong and think the torment will never end, but bullies do eventually go away. Far too many children and teenagers are turning to suicide and creating a permanent end to a temporary problem.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1 (800) 273-8255. If you need it, call it.
Those bullies may not see what's wonderful inside of you, but we do. We absolutely need you here and look forward to seeing the amazing things you will do with your life.
[Header image via: iStockphoto]