It’s no secret that teenagers are often the victims of bullying, and those who are outside the mainstream — those who look different, act different, etc. — can often be targets for malicious behavior. Unfortunately, that can put teen Pagans in a direct path for many bullies, and because school administrators are not typically educated about modern Pagan religions, they may not have a clue about what to do.
If you’re a teen Pagan, or the parent of one, and you’ve been the victim of bullying behavior, here are some tips on what to do.
Know Your Rights
It’s important that you educate yourself about what rights you have as a Pagan or Wiccan student at school. The bottom line is that you have the same rights as anyone else – regardless of religion — and that means that no one is allowed to harass you and disrupt your learning experience. If someone is verbally or physically bullying you because of your religious beliefs, you’re entitled to protection.
Get Your Parents Involved
Despite the fact that you might not always see eye to eye with them, your parents are there to help you and protect you when you need it.
If you’re being bullied, your parents are going to be your strongest advocates and allies. Make sure they are aware of what is happening — and they won’t know unless you tell them. You’ll have far better luck talking to school administrators and teachers if you’ve got parents standing beside you.
Keep in mind that it’s important to understand what constitutes bullying. Someone telling you “I hate you” isn’t bullying.
However, a constant stream of targeted harassment does. Studies show that while boys often enact bullying behavior physically, girls tend to engage in social bullying. Obviously there are exceptions to both of these, but it’s important to recognize the signs of either. As more and more kids have access to social media, bullying can often take on a life of its own, via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
Talk to Teachers
If bullying is taking place at school, in a particular classroom, you need to let teachers know what’s happening (here’s where parents come in handy). In overcrowded classrooms, it’s entirely possible that your teacher has no idea what’s being said or done.
Bring the situation to his or her attention, and specifically ask for help. It’s okay to say, “I know you’re busy, but Todd has been really verbally abusive towards me. I need you to keep an eye on things and help me out when it starts up.” If your teacher isn’t receptive, or turns a blind eye, move up the chain of command to administrators.
Talking to Administrators
Most school districts these days claim to have a zero-tolerance policy against bullying. Get a copy of your school’s student code of conduct, and use it when you talk to administrators. It’s okay to say, “You know, Todd verbally and physically harasses me every day, and according to Section 5 of our school handbook, that’s grounds for suspension. What can you do to protect me from being a victim?”
Another thing you may wish to keep in mind is that using “I” and “me” statements may get you further. Instead of saying, “Todd picks on me,” try saying, “I’m afraid for my own safety” or “I feel victimized.” This sends the message that you are a real person with very real concerns, because you, and not the bully, are the subject of the sentence.
If you’re being targeted because of your religious beliefs, it’s important to remind administrators that Pagans are entitled to equal protection under the law, just like students of every other religion. If your principal or other administrator doesn’t really understand what Pagans and Wiccans believe, now’s your chance to help educate them (again, parents can come in handy here, to show that they support you and your religious choices).
If You’re a Parent
If your child is being bullied, it’s important for you to be your kid’s advocate. Don’t assume your child is being victimized because of something he or she may have done (“Well, what did you do to provoke Todd?”). Encourage your child to tell you about what has happened, and stand by her when she meets with principals or teachers.
Education.com recommends that you teach your child safety strategies even if you don’t agree with his or her belief system. If you’re not sure what he or she believes, ask about it. Your child will probably be happy to explain to you what his or her spirituality entails, and educating yourself about these beliefs will help you when you go in to talk to teachers and administrators.
If you don’t feel like you’re making progress by working with school officials — or if a teacher or other staff member is part of the problem — work your way up the ladder. Go up as far as the superintendent of your school district if necessary. You may even wish to contact an attorney if you feel child is in danger and that the school is not doing what they should to protect him.
A Few Other Things to Keep In Mind
Document everything. If you receive threatening or harassing text messages, emails, and so forth, keep copies and give them to your parents and teachers. If you receive abusive phone calls, be sure to document the date and time, as well as what was said. This can be as simple as keeping a journal and writing, “Monday, June 4, 4:52 pm: Todd called and said [whatever].” If threats or other bullying behavior are coming in via social media, screen cap everything. Don’t know how to take screen shots? Ask your kid – they know.
Remember that non-physical bullying is still bullying. While boys are more likely to use physical aggression, girls tend to bully socially. Ostracizing (“we’re having a party, and you’re totally not invited”), the spreading of rumors (“we heard all about you and the football team”), and name-calling (“slut/whore/skank/bitch”) are the weapons of choice for the Mean Girls group. Just because they’re not hitting or punching doesn’t make them any less bullies.
Tamra, a Wiccan high school senior, says, “I got picked on a lot when I was a freshman, because I was fat and had acne and I was really shy. Finally, I figured out that for me, the best defense was to let people know I wasn’t going to take their abuse. I said, “I’m a person with feelings, and you are NOT going to make me feel bad about myself.” Eventually they lost interest and left me alone.”
Many people recommend ignoring people who bully you, but in a real-world scenario that’s not always possible. Some people will continue to harass you, no matter what you do — which is why you need to get adults involved.
Significant amounts of bullying take place because bystanders refuse to get involved. If you’re aware of someone else being bullied, step in. If you’re afraid for your own safety, help by making school officials aware of the situation.