Saturday, April 30, 2016

Letter to a 10-year-old girl

Dear You,

Hi, sweetheart. Let's talk about your life for a minute.

You're in fifth grade now, which is a hard time to be alive if you're small and smart and a gentle-hearted dreamer. Everything is changing, both around you and inside you. You're expected to put away your daydreams and start acting more mature, but you're not ready yet. You don't have control over a lot of things going on in your life, and daydreams are still your safe place. You often don't know what's going on, or who to trust. It's a lot for someone your age to bear.

This is also the time where kids start being actively cruel to each other, and they make it a point to pick on people just like you. They don't do this because there is something wrong with you; they just do it because they can. And believe it or not, the people who are most miserable at home are often the ones who pick on others the most at school.

I know how often you want to hide -- from bullies at school, from the mean things kids say about your writing and drawings, from the family member who should be protecting you and is hurting you instead. I know how often you've wished you could run away and live in the wild, or shrink to the size of a mouse and hide under the floorboards so that no one could hurt you any more. But those kinds of dreams, while they help in the short run, are not going to make things better at home or at school. Instead, I'd like to offer you some practical advice.

Your parents may have told you to ignore the bullies. I'm sorry to have to speak against your parents, but this doesn't work. Bullies notice it when you ignore them, and they just get even meaner. The best way to handle bullies is to beat them. Yes, I mean literally beat them up. Bullies are usually cowards at heart, and they'll be afraid to pick on you once they know you can and will fight back. Don't just try to fight them unprepared, though. You'll need someone who can teach you how to fight properly. Ask your parents if you can take a class after school (tell them it will be good exercise), and take the time to learn what to do. Fighting a bully may get you sent to the principal's office, but it will be worth it if it means you don't have to get picked on ever again.

Every time they have those assemblies in school where they talk about what to do if you're suffering from abuse -- and there are many kinds of abuse, including the kind where the person who's hurting you makes you believe that what's happening to you is your fault -- you think they're talking to other kids, not to you. You think your circumstances are different. You think that if you ever told someone what was happening to you, they wouldn't believe you -- or worse, they would and you'd get in terrible trouble. Look: you are not to blame for what is happening to you. You are not a bad kid, and you are not "asking for it," and you can't fix this all by yourself. Don't tell a friend your own age; he or she can't help you. Don't tell a family member; since the person who's hurting you is a member of your extended family, this won't help. Tell a teacher, or a counselor, or a religious leader, or a police officer. And if the first person you tell won't do anything about it, keep on telling until someone helps you.

The person who's hurting you probably says things like: "If anyone finds out it will be in all the newspapers, and then everyone will know what you've done." He is lying. He tells you that to keep you quiet, because he's scared of getting caught. He knows that he, not you, will be in trouble if you ever tell anyone what he's done. So don't believe that lie. Don't keep secrets for him. And if you don't have the strength to speak up for yourself, do it for someone else -- because if you don't do something to stop him, he will probably go on to hurt more people.

Life is hard now, and it will be hard in the next 10 years, but I promise you that things will get better. As you grow, you'll get greater control over your life. Your intelligence and personality will fit much more comfortably into your adult self. You'll learn as much as you can from every source you can find. You'll find friends who are similarly curious about the world, who love to share ideas, who are drawn to a creative life. You'll get to visit marvelous places and see things you've only dreamed about. You'll feel safe and protected. You'll have love. And though life will never be completely perfect, the nightmares you live with now will go away.

Whenever you're afraid, when you feel alone, I want you to imagine me standing and walking beside you with a hand on your shoulder, keeping an eye on you, sheltering you, giving you courage. I can't actually be there now -- we're separated by more than physical distance -- but I'm closer than you think, just a little bit further ahead, waiting for you to get here.

You can make it.

Much love,

-- Sooz

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