Brian-Paul Welsh | Message from a bullied child
Reading the story published in The Sunday Gleaner of September 17 about the young lady who attempted suicide to escape the daily torment of unkind children at her school, brought back so many bad memories of my own time as a student in high school.
Like that young lady, for a long time I was ruthlessly harassed, labelled, teased, and even physically assaulted by a group of boys who seemingly took pleasure in making my every waking moment a horror story. The emotional trauma of that period in my life is only now beginning to dissipate almost two decades later, and the hurt and feelings of betrayal caused by some school administrators and their lack of foresight and empathy have left deep emotional scars that are still painful, even as an adult.
Every year when the new term begins, we read stories of children (and even young adults) who are terrified to return to their institutions of learning because they feel unsafe. Mental, emotional and physical abuse are not just things that take place within the home environment, and very often they transcend those spaces and find refuge in educational institutions, the place where we spend most of our waking hours anyway. These cycles of hostility often escalate because for some reason, we believe our culture of violence is endemic, and a rough school environment is par for the course to surviving adulthood in Jamaica.
As a nation, we have habitually turned a blind eye to the serious abuses taking place in our school system, and because so many administrators lack the emotional intelligence or the moral fortitude to intervene, they sit back comforted by the attitude that 'boys will be boys', or 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger'.
Because of this, so many of our youth struggle with post-traumatic stress well into adulthood, making them maladjusted, angry or withdrawn. As one of the young people who was targeted and endured years of daily torture, I am here to definitively state that more must be done, starting with a recognition that teasing, bullying, abuse, and intolerance of difference is not permissible.
Must end bullying
We scorn and ridicule those who are honest enough with themselves to say they cannot manage the torment, and we then dismiss those who find a way out of hell as weaklings because they weren't strong enough to endure the pain.
The hurt that so many of our children face at school, whether from unkind and unbalanced peers, or callous and emotionally obtuse administrators, must end. Collectively as a society, we must recognise the damage we are doing to ourselves by allowing it to continue unabated.
This change in our attitude towards all forms of interpersonal violence in the school environment must come not merely with the annual lip service we hear from the school principals, who themselves are often complicit with the creation and maintenance of the culture of intolerance in their schools; not from the education ministry and its empty soliloquies decrying activities in schools that it regularly perpetuates within its own walls; and not even from pastors and guidance counsellors, who often behave as though the torment of teenagers is just recompense for their iniquitous inclinations; but sincerely, because Jamaica can never become the place of choice to live, work and raise families if our children do not want to go to school for fear that they will not make it out alive.
As a child who was mercilessly teased, tormented, laughed at, pushed, shoved, gossiped about, labelled and mistreated by peers, and even some of the authority figures I went to for protection, I can say, without hesitation, that as a country, we misunderstand the importance of creating safe and wholesome environments in which all of us can thrive.
We have become so accustomed to living in a war zone that we feel our schools are there to prepare us for life in our own battlefield and not to prepare us for the world in which Jamaica is but a (very) small part.
Those with the means to insulate their children from these hostile environments needn't fret that their offspring might be kicked, stabbed, or psychologically damaged, while administrators giggle among themselves.
To all the children struggling with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, don't let them prevail. Find your inner strength and persevere. Find someone trustworthy to talk to, write poems, play music, dance, sing, act silly, do the things you enjoy and that make you happy.
Years from now, you will see those who torment you for what they really are: weak, insecure, and jealous of your strength, which is why they try so hard to bury it.