I’ve never openly talked about being bullied as a kid. I think part of the reason is because, at the time, I maybe didn’t see it as that. I don’t think we had that language when I was growing up. At least not in relation to the people in our day-to-day lives. It was more something that we saw on television. Nelson Muntz was a bully, for example. Not the kid who made fun of me at the bus stop.
I dreaded the bus as a kid. And all the way through to high school. When I think about being bullied growing up, I relate it almost exclusively to my experiences either at a bus stop or traveling on a bus to or from school. And honestly, just thinking about it makes my hands clammy. I always felt like an outsider at the bus stop. I wasn’t confident enough to strike up conversations at the beginning of the school year (you know, to establish important bus stop hierarchical relationships that would last for the remainder of the school year) and the kids who lived in my neighbourhood all their lives saw that as a weakness and pounced.
Not literally. The kind of bullying I experienced was never physical. And maybe that’s also why I never viewed it as bullying at the time. Nobody was stealing my lunch money or hitting me on the back of the head. I thought if it wasn't physical, it wasn't bullying. But it was... It was verbal. And it was awful.
Now that I've brought him up, Nelson Muntz wasn’t simply a bully character, he was a bully character who was meant to be funny. And that's dangerous. There may have been a storyline or two here and there where he learned his lesson or we found out that he had a heart, but for the most part, he went back to his default bullying behaviour and his antics were always designed to make people laugh.
What is that teaching kids about being mean? It hurts my heart just thinking about it.
(Disclaimer – I’m using the past tense here because it has been ages since I’ve watched The Simpsons and I am basing these statements on pure memory, not any sort of extensive research on Nelson’s character... Also, maybe, just maybe, Nelson Muntz has changed;).
I feel like the only show that addressed bullying in a meaningful way when I was growing up – and that I was watching – was the original Degrassi series (the one with Spike, Lucy and the Zit Remedy). That show was ahead of its time in addressing issues and I bet if I were to watch it today, it would still ring true. (Maybe it’s time to pull out those DVD box sets my friend Sara gifted me in university;).
But as much as I’m talking about being bullied in school, make no mistake – dealing with bullies doesn’t end there. I think this was another misconception of mine growing up. Bullies exist as adults too... It’s sad, but very true.
And that’s why it’s so important to have these conversations with kids. So they don’t carry this bullying behaviour into adulthood – into their workplaces, their personal lives, their homes. That’s why we wrote Hank’s T-Shirt. To add to the anti-bullying conversations that parents are (hopefully) having with their kids – the bullies, the bullied, and the ones who don’t even know what bullying is yet.
Because we live in a world where there is so much happening behind the scenes in people’s lives that we know nothing about, why wouldn’t we all choose to be kind? 🖤