How to Deal with Bullies in Middle School
I was bullied in middle school. It’s not a story I tell many people, but around seventh grade, I was at an all time low. I was being beat up relentlessly in my classes. Kids teased me about my clothes, the way I talked and even how I walked. I felt constantly watched and always seemed to fall short of what everyone expected of me. I tried in classes so that I wouldn’t be called stupid, but not so hard that I would be seen as a teacher’s pet. My mother noticed her once happy kid descending into depression and sent me to see the school counselor. When the rest of kids found out, the teasing just got worse. I refused to go back, but with each school day my loneliness and isolation just got worse.
Finding Friends in all the Wrong Places
To combat my daily torment, I sought out acceptance wherever I could find it. Eventually I found a group of kids that took me in. They seemed like cool kids. They didn’t get bullied or cared what people thought. Actually, they didn’t care much about anything: classes, teachers, parents, rules. They also didn’t care about me.
My new friends didn’t ask questions about me or get to know me. They were ambivalent, but at least they weren’t mean and I settled for this lack of attention. I started skipping class to hang out with them. My grades dropped as my depression increased. I stopped smiling entirely. Just like them, I stopped caring.
Then I met Eddie. Eddie was a retired friend of my parents who lived a couple houses down from us. His kids had all moved away so he had a lot of time on his hands. He would come over to visit my parents, but whenever he saw me sitting around looking sullen, he would reach out to to me. Looking back, I am sure this was orchestrated by my parents, but at the time it just felt like an adult taking an interest in me. He would ask me questions–not about school, but what I liked to do. He would tell me jokes and get me to laugh. Eddie liked chess and baseball and taught me about them. Later, when he got a Nintendo, he asked me to show him how to use it. He became a mentor and a friend, one with whom I could be myself around.
Slowly I began to share stories about school with him. He never responded with alarm or judgement. Instead, he listened and offered alternatives on how to handle situations. Eddie helped me build my confidence and gave me the encouragement to stand on my own,. It was so effective that when one of my new “friends” offered a flask of alcohol one day, I felt strong enough to tell them no and walk away.
The idea of a positive adult influence in an adolescent’s life is not a novel one. Big Brother Big Sisters of America has been doing it for more than 100 years. In recent years, mentoring has become a regular part of many school communities. Schools like Arthur Morgan School believe mentoring is an essential tool in helping students figure out this confusing time in their life. They use staff advisers as a tool to help their students out.
At AMS, students are matched with a staff member and at least one other student to be their social advising group. Staff and students are matched according to their interests and ability to help one another. Time is set aside each week for this group to meet. They do fun activities together and talk; they might talk about school or their friendships. Mostly, they just get to know one another.
Creating a Safe Space
A student’s adviser is an advocate for them in times of trouble and a voice of experience when they have questions. Because of the strong relationships that form, the groups have the potential to delve into some of the really difficult topics adolescents face: fitting in and feeling bullied, depression, relationships and sex, and simply how to survive middle school. The social adviser-advisee relationship is one of the strongest bonds built in our community. It can last for years, even after a student leaves the school. Rey, a ninth grader at AMS this year, describes social advising as “something everyone looks forward to, a safe space with people you can tell anything to.” She say states that social advising has made her “more confident.”
I was lucky to have found Eddie. He got me through one of the most challenging and destructive times in my childhood. I often look back at that moment and wonder what would have happened if Eddie hadn’t been an influence on my life, where I might have ended up. Of course, if my school had provided social advising, it would not have been luck to find a caring adult mentor at all.
-by Nicholas Maldonado