I confess. I was a bully myself

Bullying — Kids Creativity, Kids Art, Social Emotional Skills

We hear about a child being bullied by his/her friends at school. I’ve even heard of a case of my friend’s 15-year-old girl’s suicide attempt due to pretty severe online bullying. You wonder how the bad behaviors of a bully start. There are so many causes that can turn a child into a bully but sometimes it could be purely because of lack of guidance.

I confess. I was a bully myself when I was in 5th grade. This was almost 40 years ago but I still vividly remember the experience and I feel awful about it. I was an academically strong student and even the leader of the class. “Leadership” to me, the 10-year-old child, meant “being the controller of the class when our teacher wasn’t around”. This also meant I had to follow the rules myself better than anyone else. One of those rules was “do not lie”. I am sure I did lie at times, but I tried not to do that to keep my dignity as the president of the class.

Among those almost 60 students (yup, we had so many kids in each class back then growing up in Korea) in my class, there was this girl who I was good friends with at the beginning of the school year. I clearly remember her face and even her outfits from that time. After some months of the school year, I heard the rumor that her family was so rich that they even had elevators inside their house. Most kids knew it wasn’t true but the rumor became very popular and everyone started talking about it. To make matters worse, the rumor came from herself. I was furious. I thought it was so wrong of her to tell such an obvious, big lie. I knew she lived with just her mom in a small room sharing some areas with other families. Her family was very poor. Why did she tell such a stupid lie? That was “breaking rules”! I thought I needed to put justice in this situation. I decided to go to her house and confront her. A bunch of girls followed me. I called her out. She came out and stared at me with really mad eyes. She and I started yelling at each other. I said it was so wrong of her to lie. She said I was mean and I should mind my own business. The tension escalated. Then I slapped her face and she grabbed my hair. It became a mess very quickly. Soon, our friends stopped us and most of them yelled at her, calling her a liar. I felt like I was winning this fight and again was putting justice in the situation in front of our friends. I don’t remember how we resolved this situation but we later became good friends again. Still today, every time I think of her, my heart aches. I wish I knew where she lived now. I wish I could tell her I am still so sorry. I must have made a scar in her heart.

As a young child, I didn’t understand the complexity of her family situation. Later, I found out that she was born as a result of an affair and her mom raised her all alone. My friend must have been in such a wishful dream of living with her mom and dad in a very fancy place. The wish only made her tell more exaggerated stories. No adult knew about the rumor and no adult was aware of the fight we had over her lie. We were not guided. Back then, most families had several children and moms didn’t have enough bandwidth to get involved in every matter that was happening with each of their kids. Even her mom who only had her couldn’t pay attention to what was happening to her at school. Her mom had to work and make money. She had no time. She was a vendor selling sweet pancakes on the street. If my mom ever had known what I did to her, she would have been very upset and scolded me for being mean to my friend. She had 4 children though and she had no idea what I was doing to my friend.

I still wonder how I would have behaved if I had been guided by an adult. If an adult had taken me out on a walk and got me ice cream and explained how people could have such complex conditions in their lives which could affect their behaviors. If I had been told that being honest was great but if it had accompanied being mean and harsh, it wouldn’t do justice for anyone, I might have thought and behaved differently.

I am not advocating for bullies, but you must not bully bullies. All kids deserve to be guided to important values in life. Speak with the bully kids around you and find out what they might not understand. Share perspectives from various angles. Don’t assume that things get clearer just because they are over 13. Kids need conversations and consistent guidance. More importantly, they need to see us, grownups, follow the values we are teaching. When we all allow the world around us to be colorful — not black and white, we will invite more empathy, compassion, and loving kindness.

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