No More Bullying!

Following the recent wave of horrific bullying stories, including that of a gay teenager who killed himself because of harassment, we're bringing back this story of childhood trauma and the damage it causes.
- Jennifer Lubell, BettyConfidential.com

When I was 11 years old, someone held me hostage and bullied me. And the memory of that ordeal has made me all the more determined that it won't happen to my son.

The saddest part about this story is that my tormentor was someone my own age, a girl in my 5th grade class, someone I considered to a friend.

Jasmin (not her real name) had been the new kid at school. I remember the scared look in her deep brown eyes when she walked into my 4th grade classroom. I could tell she was shy. When she spoke her long and complicated last name, some of the kids laughed, and she began to cry. We became friends later that day.

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As the year passed, Jasmin, myself and another childhood pal became inseparable, an all-girl version of the Three Musketeers. We played at each other's houses, hugged each other at the beginning of play dates, and walked to school together.

As these stories involving young girls too often seem to go, one of us became the odd man out. And that person was me. Maybe it was because I was smaller than my other two friends and they felt some sort of strange power over me. Or was it because my mother cut off all my hair after a bad bout of chicken pox? That left me with a frizzy roof of curls, ripe for teasing. Maybe there was no reason at all.

Whatever the case, I felt something negative developing between Jasmin and myself, and as a child, I didn't have the insight to figure out what was going on. One sunny weekend day I propped my bike in the driveway of Jasmin's house. After she greeted me at the door, her mother appeared and announced that she and Jasmin's father were taking an afternoon nap and that we should entertain ourselves.

Within minutes of their bedroom door closing, Jasmin started shoving me. Then she began ordering me around, asking me to do crazy things, like jumping jacks and other calisthenics. I got scared and tried to leave, but Jasmin, a bigger and stronger girl, locked the front door.

Afterward, she sat me down on the floor of her living room and tied me up-but not before pulling off my shirt. By now, I was shrieking and crying. I looked imploringly at Jasmin's younger sister, who was surveying this whole event with a bizarre detachment, begging her to help me.

Jasmin's parents never came out of the bedroom.

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I remember being in that living room, my bare chest exposed, tears dripping down my face. I can't remember how long I was kept hostage in her home. An hour? Maybe two?

At some point, she gave me my shirt, untied me and let me go home-but not before she pulled on the end of my bike a few times as I tried to flee down her driveway, like a cat toying with a mouse. Her expression was one of hatred and anger.

I shook on my bike the entire way home. While some children keep such incidents to themselves, I told my mother, who ended up yelling at Jasmin's parents on the phone. I have no idea if Jasmin was ever punished for her behavior.

Schools should be notified in these instances, but 30 years ago parents had a more laissez-faire attitude toward these situations, and as far as I know, my mother never contacted the school to alert them about Jasmin and what happened to me.

Years later, I saw Jasmin at a birthday party. We were teenagers and I had long moved out of her neighborhood. She was as sweet as I first remembered her, and even gave me a kiss before we said good-bye. I never mentioned the incident to her.

I more or less forgot about it myself, until I gave birth to my son several years ago. And then the memory came back into my life-perhaps out of a secret fear for my own child. Alex is about to turn four years old. I see how happy he is, how idyllic his life has been so far.

I think about the scars I carry with me today, the frequent bursts of anger I sometimes feel for no apparent reason. I know for a fact that the ordeal with Jasmin along with other incidents of bullying during my childhood, play a role in that anger.

Jasmin was a troubled girl, and the mother in me feels for the child she once was. But to protect my own child, I plan on channeling some of that anger into good use, to be a warrior for my son if anyone ever tries to bully him. To pay attention, stay alert, keep an eye on the friends he makes, and the parents of those friends.

No one is ever going to treat my son the way I was treated.

To protect your own kids, find out how bullying is handled at your child's school, and don't be afraid to take on a leadership role in promoting anti-bullying policies at the school. To learn more, visit the website: http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids/.

Jennifer Lubell is a healthcare reporter and mom to a four-year-old son.

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