I had to put the book down. For five months it sat unread. Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes, a fictional tale of a school shooting, was just too much for me. Oddly it wasn’t the shooting portion that got to me, it was the set-up, the five-year-old constantly being picked on to the point where he didn’t want to go to school.
It was too much. At that age they should love school, want to go, compose crazy creations for teachers who are more popular than parents and want to stay and play with peers.
At Canadiansafeschools.com they outline four types of bullying – name-calling, exclusion, physical and threatening. I’ve experienced the first one, both as the bully and the bullied.
In elementary school my physical differences set me apart from my peers. A genetic disorder called Ehlers Danlos syndrome causes me to bruise easily and my skin to tear. Even though my parents and teachers limited me to contact-free sports and activities, it meant a significant amount of time spent in the nurse’s room waiting for my parents to take me to the ER for stitches. The scars and rules set me apart from my peers, leaving an opening for merciless teasing and name calling.
While some might call it teasing rather than bullying, it left me unhappy.
By Grade 7 my peers and I were all on fairly equal footing as I found my place and voice.
In high school it was my clothing or brand of sneakers that set me apart. So in Grade 8, the start of high school, I made a decision. I’m guessing because I don’t remember consciously doing it, but I figured if there was a pecking order, I better get in line. So I picked a girl, and picked on her.
By Grade 9 we were great friends, which continued throughout high school.
By Grade 12 most of us had grown up enough that the hurtful teasing, at least among the girls, had eased.
I don’t know about the boys. I fear boys face more of the physical bullying than I did.
Statistics support my personal experiences. Stats at Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence (prevnet.ca) show the highest reports of those being bullied come in Grade 1 and 2 with another spike in Grade 9.
The website brings together a network of more than 60 researchers and 70 graduate students from 21 universities and 50 national partner organizations committed to advancing research in hopes of creating a world without bullying.
The statistics also show that in Canadian schools, bullying happens every 7.5 minutes on playgrounds and every 25 minutes in the classroom. In 2010 the World Health Organization ranked Canada in the bottom third of the 40 developed nations studied, according to their most recent survey on Health Behaviours of School-Aged Children. The survey was based on children’s reports of bullying and victimization.
On Feb. 29, kids in schools everywhere will embrace anti-bullying for Pink Shirt Day (www.pinkshirtday.ca). In advance of the day, I interviewed a few students participating in a T-shirt project put on by the Youth in Action teams at each of the three middle schools in the Saanich school district. I was dismayed when two middle school students admitted to me they’d been bullied – when they were younger. Grade 1, one of them said. It hurt and reminded me of that book I’d almost left unfinished.
I did eventually pick up Nineteen Minutes again to finish the story. Predictably it didn’t have a happy ending. No spoilers here, but it did make me rethink what someone who’s feeling pressure from others looks like. Even now it could be me. Or you.
Christine van Reeuwyk is a reporter with the Peninsula News Review.