I remember the first time I was bullied. It’s imprinted in my memory and most likely won’t fade away. She came to our primary school in Year Five and broke our friendship group apart. I lost two of my closest friends because of her. The worst part was she tried to be my ‘friend’ and then as soon as I let her in she’d turn on me and make me feel vulnerable. I invited her to my birthday parties, gave her a best friend chain and included her as much as I could. I wanted her to like me. I didn’t understand why she didn’t when I kept giving her things. On New Years Eve when I was eleven or twelve she called my dad’s house phone (no mobile’s in those days) and said these very powerful words to me. They are powerful because I still remember them clearly and the way she said them slowly and with conviction:
“No matter what you say or what you do, I don’t want to be your friend anymore”
Those words might sound a bit lame to an adult but this girl wrecked havoc with my self esteem. I wasn’t even a teenager yet. I felt helpless. I cried for hours as my dad cuddled me and tried to convince me things would get better. Of course they did but at the time I was already planning how I could make her my friend again by the time school went back. I felt like I was a nobody if I didn’t have her friendship. This was a girl who stole all my friends and made me so scared that I hid in the library during lunch time. Probably the only good thing that came of that was my love of books.
Melbourne schoolgirl, Sheniz Erkan, 14, took her own life last Monday after being bullied online and in the schoolyard. The devastated family of the teenager have pleaded with parents to keep a closer eye on their children’s internet use. Her older brother Aykut said Sheniz had appeared to be a “bundle of joy”, and her few friends who knew something was wrong did not speak out.
“Parents need to keep more track of Facebook and the internet,” he said on talk station 3AW. “There are problems they might not know about that are being kept online.
“These days there is so much technology and cyber stuff going on it’s like a whole other world.
“Kids can just hide behind their keyboards, write whatever they want without worrying about the repercussions.”
I guess the message is to ask your kids questions – even if it bugs them – about their friends and what is the right and wrong way to treat them. I doubt if I owned a mobile phone during the time I was bullied that I would have confided in my parents. I would’ve been ashamed to admit that someone didn’t like me; I didn’t want to be a burden to them. But because my dad saw me take the call, crying to him all those years ago made me feel protected. Both my parents could monitor who was calling through on our house phone. My mum was always my biggest ally – being a school teacher she is far savvier than most parents when it comes to typical teen behaviour. She sent me to a high school where I knew no one and it was the best thing that she could’ve done for me. I needed a fresh start.
Perhaps that’s what Sheniz needed? If she just spoke up or her friends approached an adult about what they witnessed things could’ve been different. But we could play the ‘what if’ game all night it doesn’t change what happened to that poor girl. And now her family have to live with it for the rest of their lives.
Sheniz’s story haunts me and takes me back to nearly 12 years ago when my cousin, Mathew, took his own life at just 13 because of… bullies. I’ve never forgotten his soft, angelic face and mischievous nature. I miss him like you wouldn’t believe. When I found out about his death it was like the world beneath me just started sinking. I thought I’d never be able to breathe again. It shook me because I was not even sixteen yet but I had contemplated suicide; I think most of us forget how hard life is as a teenager. His death made me see just how raw a mother’s grief at the loss of her son can be. I never wanted to inflict that pain on anybody but it shouldn’t take a tragedy like this to stop these thoughts. It shouldn’t take the senseless death of my cousin and Sheniz to make us remember bullying is evil.
While there might not be anything we can personally do to lessen the grief of Sheniz’s family we can all look closer in our own lives. It’s presumptuous to assume at some time we haven’t been the bully as much as we’d like to believe we haven’t. I’m ashamed that I have been a bully more than once. I’m not proud of it. The best we can do is look at the way we treat others and be more mindful of our own behaviour. You might be a bully without even realising it. It’s time to stop. Bullying is not cool it just shows lack of empathy for others. It shows weakness.
Were you bullied as a teenager (or even adult)? What helped you overcome it?
If this brings up any unresolved issues with you please call the Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline 131 114.
Rose Russo is a freelance writer, blogger and self confessed chocoholic. You can follow her blog here