Childhood Teasing, Taunting Too Often Overlooked

by Al Stefanelli

Twenty-five years ago, I was 12 years old. I was a little overweight, seriously into electronics, played piano, and acted in school plays. There were few of us who fit this mold and those who did took nonstop ribbing from the bullies. We got picked on, chastised, and even beat on.

Like many children who, for whatever reason, do not fit into the "cool" mode at school, I've some not-so-fond memories of my adolescence. I can't tell you how many pairs of glasses my parents had to purchase because the bullies broke mine. I lost count of the number of notebooks, pens, textbooks and other supplies that went out the school bus window or were thrown into puddles or tossed down sewer grates. I've had homework destroyed, clothes ruined, and my ego trampled with intense regularity. There were plenty of times I wished either I or those who were making it their life's goal to make mine miserable would disappear.

Some children, God love them, can be cruel, horrible, and mean little urchins. This I can tell you not from a book I read or a course I took, but from personal experience throughout my elementary school years and early teens. There are several theories behind this type of behavior, some plausible, some ridiculous, but none really seems to matter when it's you bearing the brunt of it. To a 12-year-old, childhood is going to last forever, growing up is light years away, and whatever they might be going through now -- good, bad or indifferent -- doesn't feel like it's going to end any time soon.

To a child who's not in the "cool" pack, there's no end in sight to the relentless chastising. It can consume every waking moment and some of the sleeping ones, too. I remember clearly, after all these years, dreading the arrival of the bus, recess and P.E. I recall walking down the hallways hoping no one would notice me before I got to my next class and that the teacher was already in the room.

As early as the first grade, I'd come home and tell my parents what happened. They visited teachers and principals to complain something should be done. They were told administrators had spoken to the bullies but found no evidence of behavior not normal for an adolescent, or advised I should avoid the bullies, which was a goal of mine on a daily basis. One teacher told my parents to teach me how to fight.

Much of that advice does no good when the bullies come after you. It's like trying to avoid a freight train while walking on the tracks. Sometimes, parental involvement makes matters worse. Cries of "momma's boy" only exacerbated the situation. All my parents could do was reinforce their feelings toward me, build up my self-esteem, tell me what a great kid I was, how smart I was, that I should not change, and if the bullies didn't change, they'd end up miserable and alone. It was hard, but my parents were also relentless.

True enough, my troubles only lasted until the seventh grade. The summer between elementary school and junior high, I grew almost seven inches and gained what I can only explain as a healthy dose of testosterone. I left the elementary school a short, chubby kid and entered junior high a 6-foot-2 student with a peach-fuzz beard and mustache.

I remained active in AV, school plays, music programs and all that interested me. Needless to say, kids generally don't mess with one of the biggest kids in school. The bullies just avoided me, as I now towered over them. I even stole a few of their girlfriends.

Twenty-five years later, I still hear about the bullies. Many are in jail or have spent their adult lives in and out of trouble with the law. Many never learned how to be kind, compassionate, understanding and caring, so they left behind a trail of failed relationships.

Things have not changed much in schools these days. There are still bullies who make life miserable for kids who excel in class, have interests that are not "macho", are overweight, shorter than average, or have some other differentiating factor that sets them apart. Still, kids who are picked on feel it will never end, get threatened daily with beatings, and have their possessions destroyed or stolen.

There are still adults who will never understand what it's like.

Goodbye, Christopher Joyner. I never knew you or any of your family. I do not know what your particular situation was or the severity of it. I can empathize with how you might have felt, having been in your shoes. I wish you'd made a different choice. My heart goes out to your family and friends, who miss you dearly.

The world suffers a great loss when a child dies, because a piece of our future dies as well. You are in a better place now, Christopher, but the world is worse off with you gone. Think about it.

© 2000 by the Zebulon Record. Reprinted here with the Record's kind permission. There have been [an error occurred while processing this directive] visitors to this page since April 17, 2001.