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stronger than you think

Supporting all those affected by bullying

The note

IMG_1545I have already written something about the event that inspired the creation of this website. (You can find it on the About page).

* * * * *

The moments after discovering that my daughter and her friend were gone are hard to describe. I mindlessly ran from room to room in the hope of finding them somewhere in the house. I ran outside and looked up and down the street. But I knew, in my gut, that it was in vain.

I called the police, my husband and Holly’s mother. I sent messages to my adult children. Hysteria was bubbling beneath the surface, kept at bay only by pacing, pacing, pacing.

I must have gone in and out of Emma’s empty room a dozen times, but it was only while I was talking to my husband on the phone when I noticed the piece of paper on her desk.

It was a note. It read:

Dear our loving family.

There’s nothing much to say but we have found that we don’t belong here and that we aren’t happy. It’s our time to go, has been for a while now. We want you to know that we love you heaps, with all our hearts but this life has become too hard to handle. We’ll miss you all so very much and we hope when you look up and see the shiny, sparkly stars, you’ll think of us. Your names have all been in graved in our hearts
~ love Emma and Holly ❤

Emma’s hand-writing, but not her words. The strangeness of it accentuated the initial shock of reading it.

At some point during my reading the note out loud, my husband broke down and we lost the connection. The police arrived and I ran out to their car with the note in my hand. I was a complete wreck. The girls were dead, I thought. We are going to find them, dead.

How does one describe that feeling? There are no words…

I found comfort in the calm, reasoned way in which the police dealt with the matter. As they prompted me to remember what was taken from Emma’s room, it started dawning on me that kids intent on killing themselves simply wouldn’t take so much stuff. As the day progressed the list got longer and longer. Most of Emma’s clothes, her make-up, nail polish, photos, ornaments, and jewellery had been taken. She packed like someone who was moving, not someone who was planning suicide.

It became clear to me that they had either been picked up by someone, or they couldn’t possibly be too far away.

The search began…

Hopes and Dreams

IMG_1781A young lady, who wishes to remain anonymous, submitted a poem for us to share. We would like to thank her for her contribution.

She has experienced bullying from her high school peers over an extended period of time. Her poem reflects the emotional pain and feeling of helplessness that is so often associated with prolonged harassment.

We feel that it will resonate with people both young and old as bullying is not a new thing and the harm can be permanent.

It is about the loss of self, of worth, of hopes and dreams…

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If you are being bullied, or know someone who is, please reach out to someone – an adult who will listen and who can help.

Please go to our Find Help page for helplines and websites. You can also go to our Know Your Rights for more information.

If you would like to contribute to the site, please contact us at elsahowarth@gmail.com

Strain (Anti-Bullying Silent Short Film)

I came across the film, Strain, on YouTube. It has a powerful and important message. It tells the story of a young girl who is subjected to bullying. As the violence escalates, she finds herself abandoned by her best friend and she slips deeper and deeper into depression. It is a very good production and well worth the time to watch – and share.

While I was watching it I thought how common it is for bullies to isolate their victim. Once there is no-one willing to stand up to them they are free to do almost anything without consequences.

It may take courage, but it is important not to be a passive bystander. Befriend the isolated child. Defend the victim. Speak up against the bullies.

If my sharing this here inspires just one person to act, it would have been worth it. That may well be one life changed, or one life saved.

If your are the victim of bullying, reach out to someone today. Go to our Find Help page here

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”

IMG_1783This old adage served many children well over the ages. For children, like me, name-calling in the school yard and in the streets were laughed off, and eventually died away. I was never physically assaulted by another child, so have suffered no ill effect from the few nasty incidents that are only vaguely recalled.

I can therefore understand, to a certain extent, why some people put forward the claim that the children of today just needs to harden up and stop whinging about their feelings being hurt. They cannot see how much technology has changed the world.

Traditional forms of school-yard bullying are, unfortunately, still very much alive and well.  However, unlike the pre-internet era when a child could escape it after school, at weekends and during holidays, the children of today are quite often in constant contact with one another via social media. They are connected to their friends, and also to their tormentors, and unlike the nasty note that was passed to you in class that read “you stink”, internet posts are permanent, and the scale of exposure limitless.

One also has to consider the effect of the physical separation that the internet provides. A face-to-face confrontation holds risks that simply aren’t there online. And then there is the problem of anonymity. The bully can attack you using a fake Facebook account, or they can set up a hate-page on Instagram, or simply send you abusive text messages from a private number. And others can join in freely, creating a pack mentality which can continue for years.

All too often we see a news item that informs us of another young life that had been lost due to bullying.

Society as a whole and our children in particular are harmed by the peanut gallery who boo and hiss whenever the topic of bullying in the modern era comes up. It is time to start (at least try) to understand how the world has changed and how the internet-era is changing the way we interact with one another. No matter how much some people think of their own childhoods as being some sort of ‘ideal’, there is no going back.

Unfortunately I have no advice to give, other than:

  • Listen to your children and try to see things from their point of view
  • Encourage them to not engage in bullying behaviour themselves
  • Support them by taking them seriously
  • Be active by engaging with the school and other persons affected
  • Work together with other members of the community to find solutions and support

The questions we need to answer are:

  • How can we best support our children when they are being bullied?
  • How can we best deal with the bullies to help them become productive members of society?
  • How can we, as first generation social media parents, pave the way for a better and more prepared future?

These are not easy questions and maybe there are no clear answers, but I believe that we can make things better/more bearable/easier for our peers and for future generations.

If you would like to participate in the conversation, please comment below, or email us at elsa@strongerthanyouthink.me

Interview with Miss Kitty

Little Miss Kitty is a hero of ours.

Miss Kitty is 9-years old and in primary school. She has personally experienced harassment and has witnessed others being bullied. Her beautiful nature is demonstrated in the way she has responded.

A few weeks ago she started a colouring-in club at her school. It provides her and other children at the school a place to gather, engage in activities, meet new friends, and most importantly a safe place away from their tormentors.

Miss Kitty’s mum was kind enough to conduct an interview with her. We would like to thank them both for their contribution.

If you would like to contribute to this site, please email us at elsa@strongerthanyouthink.me

Because

IMG_1710I have always loved poetry.  Over the years I have drawn inspiration from, found comfort in, and identified with so many poems, but never so much as when I was a teenager. I had a scrap-book filled with my favourites.

There is one that is haunting me at the moment. It is not about bullying, but I think every bullied or lonely child will be able to identify with it.  It is a poem about friendship and the enormous difference it can make to an isolated child.

The poem is in Afrikaans, so I have translated it into English.  I hope that I have done it justice. I have included the Afrikaans version below for those who wish to read it in the original.

The poem is called Omdat and it is by Antjie Krog.

BECAUSE

My skinny hands light a candle for you, because you became my friend when, after a term, I was still sitting sombre, alone, among the others.

Because you fetch me from the library at break time to sing along to songs in the hall.

Because you remain my friend, in spite of my tattered shirt and nylon jersey.

Because you came to love me, and even hold be to your chest, in spite of my cellulite and the crust of ripe pimples across my cheeks.

My candle burns.

Because you walk barefoot with me through town and wait when I buy something at the supermarket.

Because you give me bread at lunchtime, teach me mathematics in the afternoon and sometimes run your hand over my clean hair.

Because you are my friend, and are resigned therein, even though everyone gossips about you being a boy and me being a girl.

Because you understand when I circle away from you and hide behind the curtains when you sing operetta.

Look now, how my candle quakes.

He says thank you, and he prays for you.

Listen here –

IMG_0686Find books by Antjie Krog here : http://www.amazon.com/Antjie-Krog/e/B001JS06SI

It could have been worse

pictureFor many years I pushed away feelings of sadness, rejection and pain by telling myself that things could have been worse.

Sure, things weren’t great, but hey, I was never tortured, I was never deprived of food or made to stand in the rain all night like that orphan in that movie I once saw.

Sure he called me useless, lazy, a bitch, a slut, but he never threatened me with violence.

Sure he threatened me with violence, but he never actually beat me.

At least I was never raped. At least I was never homeless. At least I never lived in a war zone. At least I was never a refugee.

The problem with this is that you end up carrying your pain, past and present, with you.

I am reminded of a story I once read of a hunter who lost the love of his life. Unable to face the reality of her death, he carried her corpse with him wherever he went, even when there was nothing left of her but a skeleton.

As time passed, the skeleton got heavier and heavier. The burden became so great that, eventually, he could no longer run – he could no longer hunt. He realised that he would die if he did not let her go. His pain and his sorrow had become too much to bear.

As we continue to deny ourselves our pain, it, like the skeleton in the story, becomes heavy, cumbersome, more and more a burden, eventually impeding our progress, draining our energy. Stripping us of our potential happiness and preventing us from making the necessary changes that would set us free.

It took me a long time to realise this and even longer to not feel ashamed and self-indulgent, but when I finally dropped the shield of denial that held back the tears, they came in floods.

And it was okay. I did not die, the world did not stop and no-one was harmed.

Today I feel that I learned a valuable lesson.  Now, when my children are sad I hold them and tell them to let it all out and that it will be okay, I promise. And I believe it. Who knows what I would have said to them had I continued dragging the skeleton around? How much pain they would have had to carry while saying to themselves, it could have been worse?

I don’t know how useful telling my story is, if at all. But I will never know if I don’t tell it. Maybe out there somewhere there is someone who can identify with it and who may be nodding along and, who knows, shedding a tear.


Recommended reading: Women who run with the wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés http://www.amazon.com/Women-Wolves-Clarissa-Pinkola-Est%C3%A9s/dp/0345409876

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