I was bullied in school. I’ve always felt different in comparison to my friends and family, but this difference was exacerbated during my middle school years. I grew up in West Philadelphia and went to a public school down the street from my house. The surrounding community was predominantly Black and upheld a standard of what they believed Black should look, sound, and feel like. I did not meet that standard.
According to them, Black people were supposed to wear the latest fashion with Jordans or Nike shoes. Black people were supposed to wear cool basics and graphic hoodies, stay on top of cultural slang, and debate the sound engineering of hip-hop albums. I listened to Japanese rock and Bollywood music. I often dressed in vivid colors with varying patterns on them. I loved polka-dots, Sailor Moon, reading, wore off-brand K-mart shoes, and was very sheltered. My mom prioritized my education and innocence from the harsh realities of the world. I was therefore not allowed to hang out with friends or have a cell phone until I was in my first year of highschool.
People would always say, “You talk strange”, or “You talk white” and call me names because of how I spoke and dressed. There was one bully in my middle school that everyone was afraid of. She was known for picking fights with everyone in school and beating them to a bloody pulp. She was also in a few of my classes. She would tease me about how I dressed, called me “oreo” (an offensive term meant to invalidate someone’s blackness), and pressured me to do assignments for her in class.
One day, I was playing soccer with a friend of mine. I kicked the ball, but my aim was off. The ball ended up hitting the school bully in the back. At that moment, my stomach sank to my feet. The bully stood up tall and asked who kicked the ball at her. She grabbed students by the shirt demanding that they tell her who kicked the ball toward her. She grabbed my friend’s shirt and asked her the same thing. My friend pointed toward me with no hesitation.
In an instant the bully pushed me hard on the ground. I thought I was going to die. “Wait!” I yelled as I tried to get up as she continued to push me to the ground with force that knocked the wind out of me. I wondered where the school staff were to separate us. “It was an accident! I didn’t mean to hit you. I’m sorry! It was an accident!” I yelled as desperately as I could. Finally hearing my words, she looked down at me with an indecipherable look and turned on her heels, leaving me to get to my feet.
“All right, all right. That’s enough. Everyone line up” a staff member yelled toward students as I dusted my pants off.
I wondered if the staff simply watched as I was continuously pushed to the ground. Would they have continued to watch had the bully punched me, kicked me? The bully had walked off toward the other end of the school yard to rest, ignoring the requests for students to line up. She behaved as if the school, its students, and staff were all in the palm of her hand.
When I think back on that day, I really believe I could have died that day. What shakes me to my core is that kids these days have it much worse. With the advent of smartphones, social media, and life itself being compressed into the varying screens we look at in a day, it is difficult to escape harassment and bullying. So much so, that cyberbullying has become a serious problem for our youth.
- Nearly 14% of public schools report that bullying is a discipline problem occurring daily or at least once a week.
- Reports of bullying are highest in middle schools (28%) followed by high schools (16%), combined schools (12%), and primary schools (9%).
- Reports of cyberbullying are highest in middle schools (33%) followed by high schools (30%), combined schools (20%), and primary schools (5%).
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in kids and teens using digital platforms, not just for personal use, but for education purposes as well […] there has been a 70% increase in cyberbullying in just a few months.”
Other factors contributing to the increase in cyberbullying are:
- Increased stress: The pandemic has been highly stressful and confusing for everyone. Oftentimes when kids feel stressed or confused, it leads to acting or lashing out at others, arguing among friends and risk-taking behaviors in response.
- Isolation: Mandatory stay-at-home orders can cause feelings of loneliness, which can lead to fragmented relationships. Some kids may have limited access to the internet, which can make them feel further isolated. In return, they may make mean or cruel comments in frustration, especially if they feel like they are out of the loop within their friend groups.
- Decreased supervision online: With many parents trying to balance working from home, helping with schoolwork and managing this new world, they aren’t available to pay close attention to what their kids are doing online.
- Boredom: Kids sometimes engage in cyberbullying because they are bored, lonely or want attention. Because the pandemic worsens these issues, it can lead to mean behavior online. Some kids bully to relieve stress, but also because they are bored.
Oftentimes, bullies suffer from the same issues their victims suffer as a result of being bullied. As advocates for mindfulness and wellness Inner Strength works to act proactively, encouraging self awareness, intentional communication, and meditation in order to mitigate bully behavior and other maladaptive behaviors and thoughts.
Although our reach does not yet extend beyond the classroom, we are working to provide students with safe spaces, afterschool programs and the skills to combat the anxiety and stressors of youth. I know I wished I could have had support while being bullied – a place to share my concerns and have them be heard. I wished there was someone there to remind my bully of the humanity of people. Maybe she would have been kinder to others and kinder to herself.