{Mom, don’t read this one.}

The issue of bullying has reached a new pinnacle of importance with the recent news story of Karen Klein, the elderly bus monitor from Greece, N.Y., who was verbally tormented and even physically assaulted on video by several middle school boys on her school bus.

Bullying is never okay. NEVER. But there is something particularly sinister about a grandmother being on the receiving end of such merciless disrespect.

If you haven’t watched the video yet, I’m going to warn you, it will turn your stomach. I’d rather watch a live kitten be dissected than watch someone get bullied.

But maybe that’s because I was a teenage bully and seeing it from the eyes of a much older and wiser adult fills me with a deep sense of shame and regret.

Photo of Leslie in 7th grade wearing a Members Only jacket and sporting a mullet.

I may have looked like Kristy McNichol, but I was a sad little girl (with a mullet and a Members Only jacket.)

The first time I remember bullying someone was in 5th grade in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My friends and I were walking home from school and I decided to show off by verbally harassing a younger girl who was walking ahead of us alone. She had a funny last name and I specifically remember teasing her about it and shouting derogatory names at her the whole way home.

It was despicable. I wish I could go back in time and throttle ten-year-old me.  

Why do children bully?

I did it to be accepted by my peers. And my peers at the time didn’t do anything to dissuade me. In fact, if anything, they egged me on the whole time, and I reveled in their approval. That little girl never told on me, or if she did, her parents never called my mom. I’m fairly certain that my mom had no idea I was being so mean. She never would have tolerated that kind of behavior.

A couple of years later, I verbally tormented another girl in my dad’s neighborhood in Tempe, Arizona. I was even physically abusive. But the difference was that my friends at the time were very disapproving of my behavior. They rallied around the girl I was bullying and let me know in no uncertain terms that I was being an asshole and was no longer welcome in their circle.

Tearfully, I retreated home with my tail between my legs and told my dad the whole story. And you know what he did? He agreed with my friends, picked up the phone, and pretended to call the police to report me for assault and battery.

I was mortified.

Then he sat me down for a long heart-to-heart about The Golden Rule and the importance of being kind and compassionate toward others.

This disapproval from my peers and my father had a profound impact on me.

That was the last time I ever bullied anyone (with the possible exception of a heavily alcohol-influenced prankster period toward my suitemates my freshman year of college).

Today, I am the mother of three children and work very hard to teach them to always be kind and respectful, and to always defend children who are being bullied by others.

I once caught my oldest son (who was 6-years-old at the time) watching another child get bullied and to this day he still vividly remembers my disapproval and the very passionate discussion it inspired about our duty to care for one another.

As a reformed bully, I would like to offer several tips about dealing with bullies:

tips for dealing with bullies by the bearded iris

1. Parents, teach your children to always tell an adult when they are being bullied. And adults, do something about it. Start with a phone call to the parents of the bully. They may not always be as helpful as my father was, but if they don’t know how their kids are treating others, they can’t help to resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work, seek help from the authorities. School systems take bullying very seriously these days.

2. Kids should always use the buddy system. Bullies are much less likely to target someone who has backup.

3. Know in your heart that the hideous things bullies say and do are merely a symptom of their own self-loathing. Do not internalize their hatefulness. It’s not about you.

4. In fact, if you can summon the courage to stand your ground and verbally call your bully on their own weakness, it will probably stop them cold in their tracks. Bullies tend to target people they perceive as weak and defenseless so they can feel more powerful.

5. Then again, you never know how mentally unstable someone is or if they have access to weapons at home, so on second thought, it’s probably best to teach your child to not cower, but ignore, avoid, and get help if they are being bullied.

6. And if you are a bully or the parent of a bully who doesn’t think this is a big deal, cut that shit out, you punk ass bitch, or I’m going to sick my friend Jen on you and she will eat your face for lunch, no bath salts necessary.

The tides are turning. When I was a child, bullying was just something people tolerated, like a “kids will be kids” hazing ritual. The fact that the public is so outraged by Karen Klein’s horrific experience (to the tune of over $644,000 raised for her vacation fund so far) tells me that people are not willing to turn the other cheek anymore. Amen!

If I could apologize to the girls I bullied when I was a child, I would want to tell them how truly sorry I am and assure them that I am making amends by doing everything in my power to raise mentally healthy and compassionate children who I hope would never do such a thing. If you know my children, you know I take this vow very seriously.

Let’s keep the conversation going. Please join me on Facebook and/or Twitter to tell me your bully story or what you’re doing to put an end to bullying.