How We Treat Others

Last month, A’s school sponsored an assembly called Rachel’s Challenge. There were two session types, the K-4 grades had a discussion about kindness, how you should treat others, and how they can start their own chain reaction. The 5th & 6th graders saw a more graphic (if that is the right word) presentation that also talked about Columbine.

There was also a parent’s presentation that explained more about what our kids saw that day, and how we can support them to do the right thing. My understanding is what we saw was alike to the 5th/6th graders. I can see why it is tailored to grade levels. They showed video footage. We heard first-hand accounts of what happened that day, how now adults, then teenagers, were personally impacted, fearful and shocked by what happened in their community.

The story was much more about how Rachel lived her life before Columbine. How she cared and reached out to all people around her. You know the one, that kid that always invited the new student to their table at lunch. The kid that stuck up for everyone regardless of why they were being bullied, teased and picked on. The kid that was so sunshiny positive, my cynical pessimistic would fake gagging on the floor.

I was obviously not the Rachel in my high school.

Well, not sunshiny positive. There were times I stuck up for others. When I was a Senior (was it Senior year? I can’t honestly remember) David Toma came and talked to us about the danger of drugs. How that one decision could lead to a life of failure and despair. His stories were horrifying. The one that sticks in my mind were the new parents so high and paranoid, they literally put their baby in the microwave and turned it on. I can still remember where I was on the bleachers and the disturbingly graphic account he gave showing up on the scene as a police officer. Those kinds of stories don’t leave so easily.

Anyway – the school had counselors and all sorts of support options around the rest of the week. I remember being on the bus home and some kids started picking on this one particular boy. Because this boy went and talked to a counselor. They were poking fun at him and asking what was so important to talk to a counselor. I yelled at them, something along the lines You have no idea why he went, and it’s none of your business. You have no idea what is going on in his life that he needs to talk to someone. And you should leave him alone. This kid, we weren’t friends. We were friendly, but definitely didn’t travel in the same circles. The boys shut up, more mumbling under their breath probably saying things about me. But who cares.

Somewhere between 6th and 9th grade I grew a really thick skin. When I was in 6th grade I went into a brace for scoliosis. Just like Joan Cusack in 16 Candles.

I kid you not – I wore a Milwaukee brace and I kinda sorta related to Joan’s character in the movie. Except the part of hooking up with the exchange student. I had no hooking up when I wore the brace. I don’t think boys noticed me.

But the Mean Girls did.

There was one crowd of girls, I think 3 of them, maybe 2. I remember the Leader that would get up in my face. Super close. Uncomfortably close. She would say really awful things to me. About how ugly I was, how my brace made me a freak, how I would lose all my friends and no boy would ever want to date me. I would go home and cry. Every day. It was horrible.

After a few weeks, my parents found out. We had a family meeting and I remember my Dad being so angry. He wanted to call the principal. Get this girl, and her parents, into a room and Tell Her What’s Right and make her see what a horrible person she was and make her apologize. That made me cry even harder. I begged him to not call. I told him it would only get worse. I promised him it would only get worse. I don’t remember what else, if I said I would stay in during lunch or hang out with my friends somewhere else. I really don’t remember. The bullying continued. It even got worse. And then the school year was over.

So why am I going on this ugly trip down memory lane?

I recently finished reading Thirteen Reasons Why. The book was haunting. From the back cover:

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

I could barely put this book down which says something, I’m such a slow reader. To hear the voice of a teen contemplating, and following through on suicide was too close to home. Not the suicide part, not at all. The torment and psychological drama. Too close to my own childhood dealing with Mean Girls, too close to what I see my 9-yr old, my 4th grader, dealing with already.

I kept thinking back to what I saw in the Rachel’s Challenge presentation. How those words can hit a teenager so hard. How that simple act of kindness, that to some doesn’t even feel like kindness, but how they live their life. To find the best in everyone. To see the positive intent. and believe the world could be a better place by creating a chain reaction.

My teen years are way behind me. To revisit them is only a lesson in how I survived and became stronger for any adversity I faced.

My kid is another story.

What sort of lesson I can teach her now, as a 9-yr old. Dealing with Mean Girls. In the 4th Grade. So much earlier than I ever dreamed of dealing with when I was in 6th, 7th or 8th grade. Junior High is the worst. I want her to have enough thick skin that this Mean Girl thing can blow over. That she can find her true friends that will stand by her, and stick up for her.

It is truly frightening to be a parent when there is so little we can actually control, or protect.

The best I can do now is prepare her for what lies ahead. To lead by example. Talk to her every day about how she is feeling and what she struggles with socially. To instill belief and faith that I’ll be there for her to listen and help her through the rough times. And celebrate the resulting success and happiness.

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