Once upon a time two sisters moved to a new city. They were twelve and fourteen. Their new city was a land of foreign prairies and sprawling freeways, wide and open spaces. Being Mormon, they attended their new red brick church house, hoping to make friends. They were met with kindness from many, but from two girls in particular, nothing but contempt.
Over the course of weeks and months, ugliness overrode everything else. The sisters got the message.
Eww, you’re from Utah? Gross.
Just leave. Get out of here. Go away.
You wear the same clothes all the time. Don’t you have any clothes?
I don’t like you. I just don’t like you.
Do you even have friends?
These are some of the very texts and words they received from bullies. I know because the two sisters are my daughters.
As a result, my girls don’t feel welcome at church. Some of their bright light has dimmed. Sure they have friends, just not church friends, the very place friendship should flourish.
Bullying. Why does it happen? And why my girls? Because they were new? My girls are thoughtful and fun to be around. They have smarts, sass, and style. They are honors students who play the piano and violin, win art competitions, kayak and ride four-wheelers, hike and love sushi. Why can’t the bullies see this?
Not long ago a girl in Texas killed herself because of cyber bullies. Brandy Vela is more than a statistic, she was someone’s daughter. But bullying is not going away. Each year countless teens take their own lives due to bullying.
As kids become more wired, social media is just another playground for trolls. What can parents do? For starters we can initiate discussions and advocate for stricter anti-bully rules and laws. We can model healthy friendships, online and off. We can discuss social media in our families and help our kids balance that with real life goodness.
“I didn’t want to use the wrong words…I waited. I’m still not sure that it was the wrong move or the right move, that is, whether to choose language or silence.”
The weight of words can linger, cut quicker than we can know. If you’re being bullied, Speak. But if you’re a bully, consider silence as a Great Alternative.
They can be like a sun, words.
They can do for the heart
what light can
for a field.
–St. John of the Cross
We know this, words can make or break someone. We can ask ourselves, Is it kind? Is it necessary? The challenge is to be the sun, bring the light. Always.
“When we are young, the words are scattered all around us. As they are assembled by experience, so also are we, sentence by sentence, until the story takes shape.”
–Louise Erdrich, The Plague of Doves
When it comes to bullying, it is often about power. And words scattered all around us. Bullies control the narrative, overwrite the story. This infuriates me. Who gave bullies the permission to write my daughters stories for them? To create a false narrative? To so shape their lives? And then, as the fall out occurs, step away in mock modesty, spinning the scenario, “What’s wrong with your girls? They are So Shy.”
No, that’s not it at all.
My daughters have been made, repeatedly, to feel unwelcome. Their clothing, their actions, their personalities have been ridiculed.
A friend suggested we move. We’re working on it, except that bullies exist everywhere, in different forms. So we are learning to bring it: to be the change we want to see. Talk about it. Address the issue with the bullies and their parents. Avoid cringing. Write this. Smile. Persevere. Forgive. Breathe. I don’t know if bullying is truly solvable because we can’t change people. But we can change ourselves, we can choose our reactions to any given situation.
“The greatest form of charity may be to withhold judgment.”
Both girls who bullied my daughters have families with their own challenges. It can’t be easy for either of them. But my hope is that they learn to change: to pause, to think before bullying, to stop.
Time helps us make sense of challenges, helps us realize if an experience is a nick, bruise, or scar worth wearing or better let go. Hopefully we’ll heal OK, better educated, better equipped for next time.
For the past year our wounds have been closing but they are still festering at the edges. Because when your kids are bullied, invariably you are, too. Because I’m a mama-bear, deeply concerned not just for the hearts, resiliency, and strength of my own daughters but for that of all daughters, everywhere.
Instead of focusing on the differences and perceived flaws of those around us, we can see others as God does: extraordinary, even whole.