How Bullying Changed My Outlook

Writing at Essence, Janelle Harris chronicles her childhood struggles and explains how being targeted by classmates provided her with a sense of empathy.

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Writing at Essence, Janelle Harris chronicles her childhood struggles and explains how being targeted by classmates provided her with a sense of empathy.

I got it from all sides. I was chunky and wore glasses. In the fifth grade, some boys in my class got wind of how much I weighed and invested their creative energy into composing an entire song in honor of my chubbiness, which they sang all year, every single time that number came up. I had an overbite that was likened regularly to horse teeth, and eventually got fitted with braces, which didn't make matters much better ...

My experience has, however, honed a deep affinity for underdogs (yay underdogs!) and made me empathetic to the similar struggles of other people. My heart aches whenever I hear a story about a young person who has been verbally or physically pulverized by their peers. Sometimes they act out. Maybe they pull a gun and go ballistic at their school, maybe they internalize their pain and end their own life ...

I don't have a revelation about how to stop bullying. I sure wish I did. But I do implore parents to keep an eye on their kids, not just to prevent them from being bullied but to prevent them from becoming a bully, too. Everybody wants to think highly of their children—I know because I do, too—but I would put my daughter in an eternal chokehold if I ever found out that she was making it her business to rock some other child's self-worth and force them to wake up every morning wondering what misadventure in misery awaited them that day. Peer pressure can make otherwise nice, home-trained children act like they don't have the good sense their mamas and daddies instilled in them. And that, spoken from firsthand experience, can affect somebody for a lifetime.

Read Janelle Harris' entire piece at Essence.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

Writer and editor Janelle Harris resides in Washington, D.C., frequents Twitter and lives on Facebook.

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