As a family physician, I’ve seen it many times. A mother brings in her once happy preteen daughter, now suffering from depression. The cause could be abuse or drugs, but most often it is bullying.
Some classmate, who may or may not be a popular girl, has found something about her that is different – how she dresses, her hair style or colour, her weight, her race or her culture – and used it to ostracize and alienate her from their peers.
Teachers and principals are usually on top of these issues and work with the kids and parents. Sometimes there is no resolution. Some kids end up enduring alienation until they move to another school, make new friends in high school or resign themselves to home schooling.
We all know that teasing, name-calling and exclusion don’t end in secondary school. At a time when adolescents just want to fit in, some of their classmates conspire to make them feel odd, awkward and left out.
In her book, “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and other Realities of Adolescence”, Rosalind Wiseman describes how girls can aggressively attack one another socially.
Though we say that “kids can be so cruel”, adults can be far worse. Bullying and other forms of social aggression continue in workplaces, on the street, on public transit and in community centres. It happens in many homes. Here there are no teachers, principals and school counsellors to straighten things out.
At a community centre I frequent, a disabled young man had a fight with a seemingly normal patron. Those who had come to know the young man over many years knew that he rarely caused any trouble. Others, however, continued to talk about him in disparaging and alienating ways and continued their own conspiracy of teasing and even hitting him when they thought no one was looking.
What makes adults behaving badly so much worse is that we all should know better. Each of us has struggled to fit in and find our place in society. Everyone has felt picked on at some time. Not one of us is perfect. We each have our challenges and quirks. Let he who is without flaw and has never felt like the odd man out take a step forward. He’ll be standing alone, and then he’ll feel left out too.
Next: How we’re all different.