When I was a teenager my family had little to spare. My parents were working hard to put food on the table and keep the roof over the heads of their four children, which meant there was rarely enough for extras such as new clothes or whatever trendy accessory that anyone who was anyone had to have. I made do with what I was given, which often wasn’t a lot. As a consequence, I was bullied and disdained by those who always had more.
At the time, I owned three pairs of pants, one of which was too short and I had to compensate for that by wearing them so low on my hips that if anyone had lifted my shirt they would’ve seen my backside. But seeing as there are five days in a school week, inevitably, I would run out of clothes to wear, so I would stay home. Yes, I would feign sickness as to avoid being ridiculed for being too poor to own more than three pairs of pants. Looking back on those days, I laugh because my all-consuming worry was ridiculous. However, when I was in high school, the thought of my true financial status being “found out” struck fear in my young heart. We qualified for free lunches but I never ate because the kids who received free lunches were ridiculed and snickered at by those who had the luxury of lunch money. I would avoid the lunch area so as not to torture myself with the smell of food and I flitted from friend to friend during the lunch hour, timing my arrival in the circle of friends to avoid watching them eat. Frankly, I was starving. I spent my entire sophomore year in the library at lunch. It was easier to bury my nose in a book than deal with the exhausting charade I’d created. I used to wish our school required a uniform. The thought of not worrying about my wardrobe and simply focusing on school was a welcome one.
Here’s the rub: I was well-liked. I was blessed with many friends. I was fairly popular. And yet, likely no one knew what I was going through. Not even my parents.
Now, even though I’m older and wiser, and a parent myself, I haven’t changed my opinion about the dress code.
School shouldn’t be fashion week. Kids need to express themselves but they can find less stigmatic ways than with their wardrobe. A uniform takes away the social disgrace of poverty because everyone is the same. Gone are the Miss Me jeans at a $100 a pop, or Affliction sweatshirts at $80 each. If they want to wear expensive clothes, let them prance around their living rooms in their pricey duds. No student needs to be ridiculed over their humble wardrobe. The teenage years are hard enough without adding wardrobe pressure.
As the parent of a child who was bullied for reasons other than his wardrobe, I have little tolerance for any bullying and we all need to take a stand to create change.
We’ve become a society of “Mean Girls” and “Guidos” who care little for their peers or how their words or actions affect others. This isn’t something to be proud of but rather ashamed. Why is it okay for our daughters to devalue themselves for the sake of entertainment? Why is it acceptable for our sons to demean women? When did this downward spiral of social graces become the norm? Parents aren’t aware of what their children are posting on Facebook and are then shocked to learn that little Johnny has a foul mouth or sweet Sally has sexually suggestive photos in her online album. Wake up, people. Get involved. I have the passwords for my children’s’ Facebook accounts and I am their friend. I tell my kids, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read or see because she’s your friend, too. It’s called accountability.
Kids are always going to test boundaries, but for crying out loud, give them some.
At football homecoming I was appalled and disgusted by the lack of manners exhibited by some of the students in the stands. Littering, dropping curse words as if they’d declared war on the English language, and rudely blocking the view of everyone else by standing at the railing in spite of repeated attempts to get them to move — it made me wonder one thing: where are these kids’ parents so I can slap them for raising their children like wolves.
Oakdale has recently suffered a tragedy in the loss of one of our high school seniors. You can’t tell me that there was no one out there who could see that this girl was hurting inside. Shame on us for not reaching out to this child, for caring less about her feelings, than whoever “The Situation” was sleeping with on Jersey Shore.
Something has to change. Our children — our future — require it. We talk a big game about needing to end bullying, but what is being done to actually make it happen?
For one young lady — a star who never learned just how brightly she could really shine — life was too much to bear.
The bottom line is this: if you aren’t bowed by the tragedy of one lost girl, then you are part of the problem, not the solution.
And for that, I have one thing to say: shame on you.
Better behavior is demanded of and required by all of us. Let’s make change happen before it’s too late.
Somewhere out there, is another star whose light has begun to dim; don’t let it wink out for each star is someone else’s universe.
Kim Van Meter is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.