Related to bullying are themes like coming of age, loneliness, isolation and fear – particularly in regard to the difficulties of ‘fitting in’ within the complicated social environment that exists within schools.
BULLYING IN SCHOOLS
My children’s eBook ‘The Tree Hugger’ shares these themes.
In the story, the main character, Debbie, watches what happens when a new girl, Shalmalah, comes to her school.
DARE TO BE DIFFERENT
Debbie witnesses Shalmalah being quickly isolated and bullied by other girls because she doesn’t follow fashion, or do her hair the way the other girls do. Shalmalah dares to be different.
Debbie understands the need to fit in and therefore also understands why Shalmalah is bullied. Although Debbie knows the bullying is wrong she wants Shalmalah, not the bullies, to change.
Debbie doesn’t want to confront the bullies herself, she prefers to avoid them. So she wants Shalmalah to do the same thing – to make an effort to fit in and avoid trouble just like she does.
Debbie is simply expressing the idea that many people hold towards those who are bullied – that it is the bullied who must change, not the bully. This is an idea commonly expressed in stories about bullying.
As a writer and as a human being I feel strongly that it is bullies that need to change, by learning to understand the insecurities that stop them accepting other people as they are. In my opinion, telling a child that is being bullied that they must change – is like telling them they are to blame.
FEAR, COURAGE AND SHAME
Fear, courage and shame figure hugely in bullying stories. As ‘The Tree Hugger‘ story progresses we see that Debbie knows full well that what is going on with Shalmalah is wrong. She feels guilty, yet she is afraid to stand up for her because knows she will be bullied as well. This fear leads to feelings of shame at not being able to defend Shalmalah.
This theme of fear runs throughout, and each of the characters experience it, albeit in different ways. Debbie fears having to cope with loneliness and isolation like Shalmalah and she also fears the physical pain that the bullies might inflict on her.
Shalmalah is living Debbie’s fears – she is isolated and bullied but she is actually coping with fear very well. Despite the bullying, she displays strength and determination by refusing to change herself in any way. She knows she has the right to ‘just be’ whoever she is and displays great courage in her response.
The theme of shame is introduced when Debbie meets Shalmalah in the presence of her mother and realizes that Shalmalah is protecting her widowed mother from worry by lying to her about her experiences in her school.
Debbie experiences shame at her own lack of courage and it is this shame, combined with her admiration of Shalmalah’s courage that begins to bring about changes in Debbie’s character.
Many parents have found that approaching the subject of bullying indirectly, through sharing a story, is an easier way to open up this sensitive subject with their children.
I hope that reading ‘The Tree Hugger’ can help parents support children who are being targeted by bullies.