I am proud this article was published in TRADITIONS MAGAZINE www.TraditionsMagazineOnline.com.
When Esme, the overweight teen-ager in my award-winning young adult book, The Midnight Diet Club, is relentlessly hounded by bullies, it not only echoes what really happens to victims every day today, but is my flashback to when I was tormented more than fifty years ago. Those years of constant torture, as well as my parent’s being Holocaust survivors, influenced my entire life, both as a teacher, and as a human being. Perhaps the best depiction of the enduring scars of being bullied I’ve ever come across, is a simple demonstration: take a sheet of paper and crumple it up, then try to flatten it out again. Just like that sheet of paper, the scars of being bullied never completely heal. It left me with a need to help those who were victims in my classes, and in my books. It also left me with a determination that no child should ever feel as alone as I felt during that traumatic time.
And that, to me, is the key. What I remember most about being bullied, was how desperately alone I felt. I felt as if I had to face my threats by myself. I was fortunate, I had teachers who were caring and I liked them, but they seemed powerless to stop it, and I was ashamed to seek their help. The truth is, that even as a former victim, as a teacher who wanted to help, there were times that stopping a bully was one of my most difficult challenges. As a victim, I was afraid I might get punished, since the rule was, and still is, that when a fight does occur, both combatants are held responsible. While we might like to blame the bully, and it may seem obvious to outsiders, who the bully is, when you are the judge and jury, and you have parents on both sides accusing each other’s child of being the cause of the conflict, the innocent may be punished as well as the guilty. It doesn’t help that as the victim, we are filled with a sense of worthlessness that makes it easy to feel we are somehow responsible for what is happening. I remember teachers, well-meaning, advising me to try and think about what there was about me that was different, what there was about me that was provoking my bullies. Isn’t that like implying it is my fault?
The sense of being alone in this is exacerbated by the common advice, “fight him back.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say, as if it is a truism, that if you fight him back, show him you’re not afraid, he will back down and you will be free of your tormentor. In other words, all the weight is again placed on the victim, and all the terror too. “Take a beating”, and it will be finished. The bully will be sated and you will never have to fight him again. To the victim, this seems like a pretty high price for obtaining the modicum of peace and security that he sees other children enjoying. The constant fear, the evasion tactics, knowing you are going to have to face your brutal enemy at some time, make all other dreams shatter…and yes, you have nightmares about what will happen when your bully, and his gang, finally do catch up to you. And in those horrible nightmares, you are totally alone. It is no wonder that children suffering all these feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, and being on their own, sometimes take their own lives, or, seeking some end to all their desperation, take the lives of others. I believe, in most cases, it is a preventable tragedy to which we must all commit.