I am officially Not Young Anymore, which I think means I get to indulge in memories sometimes. I’ve been finding myself thinking about how important it is for adults to protect and take care of the children/teenagers in their care, which comes with a lot of memories of how the adults around me did not do that when I was young. Here are a few of them.
Actually, I want to start with one that did, in fact, involve an adult standing up for me. I was a teenager at the time, and it was the first time it had ever happened. It was in a church youth group bible study, and somehow it came up that another teen boy had a crush on me of some sort. This was, of course, astonishing to everyone and the general reaction by everyone else was absolute disgust. Other teens started loudly making fun of the boy with the crush – he had a crush on ME? EW! I was, you see, disgusting and horrible and overall hated by everyone my age. I simply looked at the table and stayed silent. I was pretty beaten down at that point in my life.
The teacher, however, was astonished and upset by the cruelty of the other teens. What are they doing? Why are they talking like that? They’re being so mean! The teens reacted with surprise at the idea that what they were doing was mean. What? But it’s ME they’re talking about! It isn’t as if they’re being mean to someone who matters. I agreed with them. The teacher did not.
At some point the conversation moved on, but this memory really sticks with me. The teen’s casual cruelty, the teacher’s astonishment, my own astonishment at this bizarre experience of an adult standing up for me against the cruelty of other people. I had actually tried to reassure him that it was ok – I mean, it is just me, and it’s not like I matter. My heart breaks for the child I was, truly believing that.
Of course, I truly believed it because that’s what I had been taught, directly or indirectly, by every other adult in my life.
Another memory. Also of me as a teenager. It was towards the end of a class, the teacher had finished his lesson and the students were mostly just quietly chatting with each other, waiting for the bell to ring. Except, of course, for some of the boys behind me. They were throwing chewed gum into my hair. I, being completely beaten down, depressed, and fully believing in my own worthlessness, did nothing. As it turns out, the teacher was witnessing everything, but chose not to intervene. Instead he chose to pull me aside after the bell rang and scold me for failing to stand up for myself. It may surprise you to learn that the scolding did nothing at all to improve my self-esteem!
It also wasn’t the first time I had gotten scolded by a teacher for the apparent crime of being bullied.
A previous time was in middle school after my first forced psychiatric stay. I was returning to my classes, and in one class apparently a student had claimed the desk I used to be at. So I sat in what I thought was my desk (because before I had been hospitalized, it was) when the other student demanded I move. I wasn’t quite as beaten down at that point, so I actually tried to stand up for myself. I refused to move. It was my desk.
So the other student physically shoved me out of the desk and I went sprawling, along with my books. At which point the teacher pulls me out of the room to scold me. I learned some important lessons that day around the need for me to be silent, let myself be pushed around, and NOT standing up for myself.
I went back into the classroom, managed to find an empty seat, and (unless it was absolutely required) never spoke in that class again.
I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to get at here except – adults, please please PLEASE support the children and teens in your care. I needed support and didn’t get it, which meant an already incredibly difficult time in my life was even worse than it needed to be.