Hello! Been away for a while, but I have tons of things in the works that will be making their way to this little corner of the internet soon. First off, I want to share a letter I recently submitted to CNN as part of their Girl Rising initiative. Girl Rising is a documentary following 9 remarkable girls in 9 countries as they seek an education. CNN placed an open call for letters telling girls around the world about education. Mine focuses on a bit of a first world problem (bullying) but the general sentiment is transferrable. Enjoy! – A
Dear young ladies of the world,
School is rough. Doesn’t matter if it’s public or private, K-12 or college, getting your education is a difficult, arduous task. Many adults seem to forget this as the years grow between their school days & their daily lives, but as a woman who spent two-thirds of her life in some form of academic process, I know full well how hard it can be. I also know that sometimes the things that get in the way of your learning & make it so difficult have nothing to do with your academic ability & everything to do with forces outside of your control. In this letter I am going to focus on one of those forces that, I feel, can be the most damaging to you just being able to get your basic K-12 education: Bullying.
To give you some background about why I’m compelled to address this particular issue out of the many that you ladies face at school every day, it’s important to know some basic things about me. I am a mental health counselor who works with children & adolescents age 5-18 on an outpatient basis. Out of the young people I work with, I’d say 80-90% of them are seeing me for some issue that is related to bullying. I hear horror stories about the cruelty these kids experience on a daily basis, so I know how much of an educational issue this has become.
I also know how significant of an issue this can be because I was bullied growing up. From 5th – 9th grade, my academic life was mildly hellish thanks to the treatment I received from some of my peers (I qualify my experiences with mildly because I know that compared to what some of you girls go through, I got off easy). I could count on being teased at least twice a day by older kids on the school bus. During the most painfully shy & awkward period of my life, I got called ugly, stuck up, & stupid on a daily basis. On more than one occasion, I got off the bus with gum stuck in my hair that some acne riddled high school jerk-face from the back of the bus had thrown at me. Once I got to school, the popular kids in my grade called me a skank because I didn’t wear Tommy Hilfiger jeans & a nerd because I kept to myself, read a lot, & was in the school band. I got shoved into lockers by the alpha females at my school more times than I can count. And as the cherry on top, in 6th grade my locker was beside a girl who had bullied me since kindergarten, which meant I got threatened & called names a few times a day at a minimum. On a bad day, I got smacked in the head or kicked in the back a couple times as I was kneeling down to get my stuff. The combination of these things led to me crying, begging my parents to pull me out of school, & generally wishing I was dead every single day for the majority of my middle school years. And these are just the things I can remember, a lot of my memories from that time are fuzzy because I think my brain completely blocked them out.
I tell you all this because I know how utterly alone it feels to go to school every day dreading life & thinking everyone in the world hates you. I know that far too many of you young ladies have to deal with some monstrous mean girl at your school who spreads rumors about you, threatens to beat you up, actually DOES beat you up, calls you names, teases you about how you look, gives you grief about your sexuality, & generally goes out of their way to make your life as miserable as possible. For some of you, you not only have to deal with mean girls, but mean boys & older kids too (as I did). I know how having to deal with these awful people can make just getting up for school in the morning hard, so it obviously makes focusing & doing your best in class every day next to impossible. Even if you love to learn, if you dread going to school every day, the only thing you want is to never have to see the place again. Forget getting an education if it means dealing with this garbage every day, right?
No, not right. I’ll tell you why. Prepare yourselves, because I’m about to give you a message from THE FUTURE.
Things do not stay this horrible forever. Once you hit around 11th grade, people get too caught up in trying to figure out what they’re going to do with themselves after graduation to spare the energy constantly harassing someone requires. In the meantime, here is some truth from the future I can share with you about the people who are giving you hell right now: They’re weak & they’re wrong. When someone is a bully, they act that way because they don’t know how else to control people. They feel bad about themselves for one reason or another & they don’t know how to make themselves feel better, so they pick on people to pass their bad feelings on to someone else. Everything they say about you & do to you comes from the fact that they’re too weak right now to figure out why they don’t like themselves. Since everything they say comes from how they feel about themselves, that means their behavior has little to nothing to do with you. What they say about you isn’t true, because it’s all a reflection of their own self hatred. So don’t believe their lies; you are not stupid & you are not ugly. You’re you & you are a wonderful thing.
I tell you this in hopes that even one of you will read this & feel just better enough about things to go back to class in the fall with your head held a little higher. At the end of the day, you’re not going to school so these other little beasts can take their psychic negativity out on you & make you hate yourself. You’re going there to learn more things & the more things you learn, the more awesome you become. At the end of the day, it isn’t the prettiest girl or the most popular girl who wins, it’s the smartest girl because she’s the one who doesn’t peak in high school. She’s the one who gets to take everything she’s learned to college & have a fabulous time meeting people who like to learn as much as she does. She’s the one who treats everyone she meets with kindness because she knows just how mean people can be sometimes. She’s the one who goes on to get a good job & change the world for the better. I know that sounds hard to believe, but I promise you it’s true.
So at the end day girls, do you & just go learn! Be kind, be yourself, & be the best student you can be. Don’t let someone who won’t matter in 10 years take your education away from you or your potential for greatness away from the world. We need all of you. We’re going to need some smart ladies to take care of business around here when the rest of us get old. You are each a gift & you each have a role to play in the world. Never believe someone who tells you otherwise.