Monday, April 30, 2012

The Year Of The Bully

My oldest boy starts secondary school in September.

He seems well reconciled to it, helped by the fact he has been allocated a place at the school they he himself favoured above all others.

Weirdly, the school is built on the site of my old secondary school which was demolished and then redeveloped around 10 years ago, so when we attended the open evening at the end of last year it presented a strange kind of memory shock. I found myself looking out of the windows of classrooms that did not exist when I was last on this site to take in views that haven’t changed since I was a teenager.

That, coupled with apprehension for how my boy will cope with his first year at secondary school brought a lot of things back to me. Most of them not pleasant.

Because the first year at secondary school is always the worst.

It’s a big emotional peer-group jump from junior school to secondary school.

I know I struggled for the entire duration. I was emotionally immature and it took me until I was 17 to get to the same emotional and hormonal level as others who reached the same point by the time they were 13 or 14. It meant I was considered one of the weaker boys. I could never join the cool groups as we literally did not speak the same language or dream of the same things. While others were getting into The Smiths or whatever indie group was popular at the time I was unaware of the existence of anything outside of the BBC charts. While other boys talked lasciviously of what you were meant to do to make a girl come I was still too painfully shy to even say hello to a girl let alone ask one out on a date. While others talked of the kind of car they’d buy once they were old enough to drive I was still poring over the latest Lego catalogue to choose the set I wanted for Christmas.

Some might say nothing has changed.

I was never really what I would call “full on” bullied.

I was never done over for my lunch money. Never had my head flushed down the toilet or de-bagged in front of my classmates.

But I was very aware of the pecking order and how near to the bottom of it I was.

I got shoved. I got pushed. I got made fun of. I got talked over. Ignored. Laughed at. Sneered at.

A common misconception was that I came from a rich family.

I didn’t. We were totally working class. The reason my books and clothes were in such pristine condition was because I’d been brought up to look after things.

Because there was no replacing them if they got damaged.

We just didn’t have the money.

By the end of my time at secondary school I had made my peace with my enforced low social standing. It even gave me some bravado. I could talk back to the bullies without fear of being hurt because, as I pointed out, how would they look cool beating me up? They’d laugh and agree.

Respect of a kind.

I survived.

But you know what? Survival isn’t enough.

It took me years to get out of that “weaker than everybody else, bottom of the pile” mindset.

Even now, I have to shake it off on occasion when it sneaks up on me and attempts to take me over again.

I regret not standing up for myself more. I regret taking it on the chin and then offering my cheek too. I regret accepting without question the place my peers had consigned me to.

There are times now when I still get angry about it.

Our school days are with us for a very long time.

And now my boy is going to a school where reports of bullying have already caused concern. It is a harsher world now in some respects compared to when I was a boy. Violence these days seems to have more scope, seems to be more subsumed in how we operate as a society; in how we entertain ourselves.

I wonder how he will cope. How Karen and I as parents will help him through.

I wonder which side of the peer divide he will be allowed to sit upon.

Because sometimes that is the only difference between the bullies and the bullied.


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33 comments:

MOTHER OF MANY said...

So sad to read this about your school days Steve and I am glad that you were able to get through it.I hated school for many similar reasons.I remember my eldest being bullied and going to the school and telling them that it had to be dealt with that day or I would be straight to the police.It was dealt with straight away but I think they were more afraid of me than the threat of the police! I think it was the red hair that scared them :) My girls were totally aware that they could talk to me about anything and when situations arose at school we dealt with it and so they never got out of hand. From what I have read about you and your family,I think you are the same kind of person and will be aware if something is not right and be there to support your son so I am convinced everything will go well.I am sure he will have a great time :)
Ally

Steve said...

Ally: I hope so. History doesn't have to repeat itself and in many respects he is different to me and has had a different upbringing. Foolishly I never spoke about any of my experiences to my parents so they had little scope to do anything about it. Back then I'm not sure much would have been done anyway... bullying was seen as part and parcel of normal school life.

Hannah Denski said...

Oh Steve! How very similar your story is to mine! I have had a hard time at my ‘primary’ school (I say primary, but school system’s slightly different in Slovakia). Couldn’t blend in. Was continuously singled out by group of ‘favourite’ girls. What made matters worse, that my Mum didn’t seem to understand my unhappiness at all!

I, luckily, had lucky escape – when they’ve opened a new catholic school in my area I have not hesitated and have in person (me by myself) gone to see a priest and put my name down (don’t think this is possible in UK). My Mum, couldn’t understand why I would want to change school for only few more years!? I knew I needed to get out if I ever was become something… I had to start afresh…

I haven’t got kids of my own – yet. But I guess all you can do is stand behind you son, support him and guide him in a best way possible. Maybe share this story with him? So if ever needed he will not be afraid to come and talk to you…?

This is why the parenting is soooo scary!:)

PS: Sorry for the Novel!

vegemitevix said...

Horrible feeling. I was bullied at school for being 'different' from the crowd, and when my son first started school I agonised over how he would cope. He did cope and was ok, though I suspect there was still bullying. All you can do is do your very best to prepare him, and try to recognise the signs that suggest he is suffering at the hand of the bullies. Vix x

Expat mum said...

Oh dear. What a worry. I must admit, although there isn't any bullying at my kids' school, there are definitely "the popular kids", and I was shocked to learn that neither of my high schoolers considered themselves in those groups.
However, they both have a really good group of friends and they're fine with not being "the popular group". In fact, they spend a lot of time rolling their eyes at what those popular kids do and say.
If you can help him develop a nice group of friends, (perhaps by encouraging him to ask them over) then he'll at least be comfortable in his own skin.

Gappy said...

My eldest is now in year 8 of secondary - going up to year 9 in September. I shared a lot of your feelings in his first year. I worried how he'd manage the transition from small primary to huge secondary school. I worried how he'd fit in and whether he'd make new friends.

His first year wasn't without its ups and downs - it's a massive step after all. But I do believe that sometimes as parents we can over empathise with our children, and make a lot of assumptions that because we feel or felt something, they will too.

He has found his way, as they all do in the end. Made some new friends, learned who to avoid, and occasionally got himself into scrapes. I'm there for him if anything terrible happens, but at the same time have learned to take a step back. Some stuff they've just got to learn for themselves I think.

Be prepared for a massive change in him though, once he starts secondary. They seem to move from being children to teenagers in one fell swoop! Scary.

Adam said...

Iwas abouth the same in high school

Wanderlust said...

Wow, Steve. Powerful. You may have been behind the curve in maturity (I was too) but I doubt it was emotional maturity. Social, perhaps (does that category exist? I don't know).

I hear the truth in what you write, how long it can take to reject those early judgments we accept without question. We all do that. How do we teach our children not to do that? That you're mindful of it at all gives your son an advantage.

The other day my 7-yr-old son asked me how does one become popular? Ooph. I told him that if you liked yourself enough, then others would like you too.

Admit it, you still pore over Lego catalogs.

Martin Lower said...

A very touching post, and one that a lot of people (including myself), can relate to.
I ended up at a large comprehensive when I was eleven, and experienced much the same as you. Luckily for me, I happened to be friendly with the tallest boy in our year, and everybody knew that he could handle himself if provoked. Seems that no-one was too keen to pick on me, and risk Alan wreaking vengeance on my behalf!
He left for Australia when we were fourteen, and we met up last year for the first time in 37 years! And guess what; I'm as tall as him now!
Your son will be fine. Mostly because you're both aware of the situation....

Steve said...

Hannah: thanks. It's an eyeopener to realize just how many people underwent similar experiences. I guess a bad time at school is pretty universal.

Vix: yep... and learning to read the signs in a burgeoning teen is an art in itself!

Expat Mum: I guess some things never change. There will always be those that are "in" and those that are "out". I'm sure the "out's" have more fulfilling lives once they leave school and make their own way in the world.

Gappy: he's already showing signs of morphing into a teen! Scary! Next year might be tough on us all!

Adam: like me I'm sure you were glad to put school behind you.

Wanderlust: you know you got me on the Lego! And you're right about liking yourself. It's the key to it all. Accept yourself and the detractors lose all power over you. It's hard to do that when you're young though. It's the one lesson they don't teach you at school!

Steve said...

Martin: it's amazing what having the right kind of friend can do! I was lucky in that, although I never infiltrated any of the "groups" I had a good core base of solid friends. Good friends can see you through most things. As true now as it was then.

Gorilla Bananas said...

What became of those bullies and cool kids? is the question you should ponder. I doubt many of them are top of the pile now. It's better to be a riser than a faller.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: damned right. A riser is the thing to be. In every sense of the word.

John Gray said...

kids do survive
and often it is the haunted memories of children that visit adult relationships
I was bullied in school
and I met one of those that bullied me a year or so ago "on line" so to speak....(via going gently)
it was a bitter sweet catch up. and turned out very painful on both sides

Steve said...

John: I'd be lying if I said that there's not a small part of me that hopes all the bullies have had miserable lives... guess I'm slightly embittered.

John Gray said...

I would like you to know my story but not on this forum

Steve said...

John: do feel free to email me in confidence via my profile page.

Very Bored in Catalunya said...

This is one of my absolute worst fears for my son, already at just 5 he has suffered physical bullying and being excluded and ignored by his peers.

I guess we can only watch and wait and hope for the best, whilst encouraging our kids to be confident in their own skins and find their own paths.

Scary times. This parenting lark, it's not easy!

Steve said...

Very Bored in Catalunya: kids can be so cruel if left unchecked... bullying alas is natural to them. It is up to the teachers and parents to be on the look out for it and intervene. Bullying ultimately damages both parties.

John Gray said...

steve
I have done
thank you

the fly in the web said...

You're aware of the possibility of bullying, of exclusion, so you'll be able to catch on fast if your son has any problems.

Being Me said...

The big bullies have grown up and, surprise-surprise, raised bullies. Like super-bugs that are immune to every type of antibiotic currently available.

This post has left me feeling flat somewhat (no pun intended). I feel for you. I was you, the female version. I was punched in the stomach, I was sneered at. I have a class photo from Yr 10 (we were all 14-15) and I distinctly recall the girl standing next to me making the most horrible loud bitchy comments about me, my looks, my demeanour... and them all laughing except my bestie who's standing on the other side. Far out. You just brought back a memory I'd rather just forget.

So I'll blog about it! Your boy will be fine. Because he is decent. And decent wins out, even with deep long-lasting scars. I just wish with everything in me that those sorts of hurts never had to happen.

Steve said...

John: thank you. Will reply ASAP.

The fly in the web: I hope so... but teens tend not to be the most comminicative of beasties. Lord knows I wasn't.

Being Me: I sometimes think that school is a cruel punishment that we all insanely think will do our kids good and turn them all into well rounded individuals. Sometimes I think it is merely a zoo where the peer lessons are nothing short of barbaric. If could afford it I'd have my kids taught at home.

I'm sorry you had such a crap time at school. Sorry for us both. Neither of us deserved it.

Marginalia said...

"While other boys talked lasciviously of what you were meant to do to make a girl come."

Obviously made a huge impact on your immature mind.

What we don't have is the story from the bully's point of view.

Steve said...

Marginalia: and who would admit to being a bully in order to tell their tale?

Nota Bene said...

It's amazing how our status gets set for life in our school days. I've seen idiots who were considered top of their tree by some to sail through life simply because of the boost they got at school. And vice versa. I'm most pleased though to see that some of the downtrodden have finally found their way later in life...and enjoy themselves all the more because of this unexpected and new found place in the world. I'm sure your lad will do well...he has a cool dad

Steve said...

Nota Bene: I love you.

Katriina said...

School is a tough place. I avoided "proper" bullying only by being reasonably good at sport, which gave me points I would otherwise have sorely lacked. My oldest child is about to start primary school, and I'm already worried about bullying. I'm hoping that you and I both are worrying for nothing, and that our kids will either have the smarts to avoid bullying, or will have the self-confidence to let it run off their backs.

Steve said...

Katriina: hear hear to the nth power.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

One of my main reasons for not having children - I could never put them through everything I went through. I hated the whole childhood thing from start to finish and was furnished with no coping mechanisms or survival tactics whatsoever. The bizarre thing was one of my biggest bullies chose to be as nice as pie to me on our joint final day there! I still couldn't face going to Uni though and left education as soon as I could.
Weird how they knock schools down and build new ones, yet next minute they are saying they don't have enough school equipment to go around. Half the schools that are demolished seem to have nothing wrong with them. Or rather, nothing that can't be easily fixed.

Steve said...

Laura: it is sad indeed when childhood becomes a trial or a game of survival. I think we British have a very sentimental view of childhood and tend to blind ourselves to the darker truth of the matter.

Livi said...

I was bullied in high school, emotionally not physically, but to the point that I moved schools because I had become suicidal from it. I still haven't really got over it and it was one of the catalysts for my mental illnesses.

I do hope that your son is neither bully nor bullied and finds the middle ground somehow.

Steve said...

Livi: you know, I think school should come with a Government health warning... it is worse than prison for educating kids the wrong way!