I've been reading these discussions about bullying teens and kids killing themselves and senators wanting to pass laws they can't enforce because it hits a nerve. I was one of those kids who got more than my share of awfulness in those years.
Middle school was bad enough, and I remember thinking that high school would be better. I was a nerdy freshman at an all-girls Catholic school who didn't know anyone, and was there on a full scholarship rather than my parents' incomes. I had thought I would thrive there taking Latin and all that, but it was a year of hell. Girls are mean and cliquish and smell blood so easily. Since there were no boys to be an outlet for that energy, it was turned inward.
This was at the height of the boy band era and I was utterly unattracted to any of those teen idols with the frosted hair and the corny music. I've never really been attracted to 'beautiful people' anyway because I usually assume they're arrogant or mean, and found myself drawn more to the misunderstood musician types like Kurt Cobain.
But freshman year, this meant that if I didn't have a crush on Justin Timberlake or Nick Carter, I couldn't possibly be straight, and this being at an all-girls school, meant social suicide of the highest degree and everything that goes with that, the rumors, the eating lunch alone, threats in the locker room, and the way that girls could be so cruel.
I am so thankful that the dynamics of web 2.0 that's so pervasive now didn't exist then, because I can't even imagine how much worse that would make things. I wanted to drop out after one semester but the way my course schedule was set up, it would have messed up everything else.
This was also the year that Columbine happened so there was all sorts of paranoia regarding lonely outsiders with a love of doomy rock music and I was sent to the guidance counselor because of the bruises on my knees and the scars on my arms and wrists from the cat. The only time teachers intervened was when they feared that I would do something violent and vindictive. "You've got to watch those quiet ones..."
My dad let me cut class a lot and that helped me survive, and we'd spend Wednesday afternoons going to the art museum and driving around listening to Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Led Zeppelin on the radio so I wouldn't have to go back.
I transferred out at the end of that year, did a correspondence homeschool sophomore year to catch up and then transferred into a large public high school where I had no history with anyone. There were so many people that I blended in easily, was almost invisible being neither at the top or bottom of the pecking order, and slowly found a group of people that I got along ok with.
I don't know what the answer is. Kids are mean and cruel and they probably always have been. I never sought help from teachers because it got old to hear "well you've got to stand up for yourself" knowing that at that time I didn't have the toughness to do that without looking even more lame, knowing that if I protested too much it wouldn't do any good. I don't know if you can legislate this kind of thing either. It's like declaring a war on drugs or terror, you can't win. Thankfully, I had parents who loved me and found some support in other areas and I guess got through by the grace of God if nothing else in those times I'm so glad I never have to relive.
And it does get better. That doesn't mean that grown adults don't act like schoolchildren or that things don't still happen, but generally it's not so bad. All the drama that happened made me stronger and more sure of myself and gave me more empathy for others than I maybe would have had otherwise. If I ever have kids, I want to be sure to tell them to treat others the way they want to be treated, even if the way other kids treat them is terrible, because it seems so often that the ones who hurt are so often hurt by others.