I recently read this article from Standard Issue and it really hit a nerve. Actually, it didn't so much hit a nerve as it pulled on said nerve, twisted it around a bit and left it exposed for some time afterwards.
For many people, it's almost impossible to imagine that a child of just eleven years old could be driven to suicide by bullies on a school bus. But for me, it's a stark reminder of what was and what could have been. For me, it wasn't shoe laces. It was my school tie. I was twelve, not eleven. And to my eternal relief, I'm still here to tell the story. I thought that ending things was the only way out and my heart shatters anew every time I hear of another child who thought the same thing.
The article mentions that 67.4% of drivers have witnessed bullying on the bus, whilst 78% said they had never been advised on how to deal with the problem, should it arise. To my mind, that's a massive part of the problem. With bullying so rife, surely the only adult in the situation - the bus driver - should have received some kind of training on what to do? As a child being picked on, you look to that adult for help and when it doesn't come, you feel more isolated than ever. I can vividly recall staring pitifully in the driver's direction - sometimes catching her eye when she glanced in her rear-view mirror - desperately praying that she'd stop the bus and do something Anything. But she never did.
Let's get one thing straight: bullying is horrific, no matter where it takes place. From jeering idiots in the classroom, to cowardly trolls on the Internet, I have no time for any kind of bully, in any place, whatsoever. But bullying on a school bus is so terribly common and so seemingly inescapable, that the mere memory of my own experience still fills me with fear and sadness. What I wouldn't give to borrow the Doctor's TARDIS and just sit beside twelve year old me on that journey, to and from school. What I wouldn't give just to silently slip a protective arm around her trembling shoulders.
When you're bullied in a classroom, if the teacher hears, they'll usually say something. If you're being bullied online, you can at least switch off your computer, or put your phone down and try to escape it for a while. But on a bus, there is no escape. And believe me, I sat on many a journey, wondering what would happen if I pressed the emergency button beside the doors and just jumped out. Sometimes I was scared I'd be killed. Sometimes, I was scared I wouldn't be.
In reality, there's nowhere to go. You're trapped inside a tin can, miles away from home. You can put earphones in and try to shut out the words being screamed at you, but it doesn't make you any less aware that it's happening. You can stare, rigidly out of the window, but it doesn't stop someone spitting at you, or throwing food at you. You're essentially a sitting duck, at the mercy of those who've decided to attack you, be it verbally or physically. All you can do is sit there and count the stops until you're home.
I was picked on at school. I was laughed at in class. Of course I was; I was short, shy and had ridiculously curly hair and a nose the whole school could have taken shelter under on rainy days. But it was on the school bus that it was always worst. There, away from the watchful eye of the teachers, it went unchecked. "You're so disgusting that nobody will ever love you; why don't you do the world a favour and kill yourself?" If someone said that loudly enough in a classroom, something might have been done to stop it. But every day on the school bus, it was seemingly fair game. I was fair game. And it was inevitable that one day, I would go home and try to do the very thing that I was being viciously told to.
More than twenty years on, I'm still here and I'm grateful for that every single day. But I won't get on a bus, unless I absolutely have to and I'm still not entirely convinced that I'll ever be able to look in a mirror and see someone pretty (or even someone average), as opposed to the "ugly freak" I was reminded of being, day in, day out. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can scar forever.
We need to demand that changes are made. One child even attempting suicide as a result of bullying on the school bus is one too many. Just one succeeding is a tragedy that shames us as a society. We need to arm school bus drivers with knowledge of how to deal with bullying. We must insist that, if drivers themselves don't feel able or equipped to deal with bullying on the bus, that a trained adult travels with them to do so.
It's time to take back control and make the daily journey to and from school a safe place for children and not a time of dread. I don't want to think of another child sitting there, frozen in terror, trying to blink away the tears, whilst bullies yell insults, or whisper threats into that child's ears. I don't want to think of another driver, seemingly ignoring what's happening to some poor kid, just a few feet behind them.
It's time for bullying on the bus to stop.