Column: The ideal time for a talk about bullying

The first day of another school year is nearly upon us  — a day that will meet with mixed reviews from returning students.

For some, early September is an exciting time, signaling the opportunity to reconnect with friends, to find out which teachers will be guiding you toward your future for the next 10 months and the chance to return to a routine.

For others, it’s a time of year that’s accompanied mainly by a sense of overwhelming dread.

For a few years in my early teens,  I was among the latter group.

A happy, go-lucky kid through elementary school, I was a voracious reader, and  if the words, “Brenda talks a lot” — which appeared with alarming regularity on my report cards — are any indication, fairly social.

Then, for a time, everything changed.

Grades 8 and 9 were memorable mostly for how lonely they were — characterized by lunch breaks usually spent eating alone in the gymnasium bleachers.

With a change of schools came a bus ride, which was its own special form of torture.

A prominent set of buck teeth, followed by two years of braces and what felt at the time like an endless period of bad skin provided my tormentors — however unimaginative — with plenty of material to fill the hour-long ride.

Life from Monday to Friday became something to be endured until I transferred from junior high to high school about a week into my Grade 10 year.

Any introvert will tell you that making friends is a challenge. Try doing it during that time of life when the pecking order is being established among a group of peers for whom the slightest sniff of weakness is the social equivalent of  tossing a bucket of chum into a pool of sharks.

Some years back, I wrote a bit about my own experiences on both sides of the bullying equation.

At the time, I was chastised — and rightly so — by a reader who felt that by providing too many details about a classmate I had bullied I was, in effect, re-victimizing her.

I confess, hadn’t thought of it that way. I was just trying to apologize and explain that my own cruelty had been a response to the treatment I had received at the hands of classmates who, in retrospect, were probably suffering, too.

The truth is, that nastiness can come from any number of places. It can be an attempt to fit in with a particular crowd or a means of lashing out when we are hurting.

No parent wants to hear that their child is being bullied at school.

Similarly, for most, it’s tough to think of one’s own offspring deliberately doing or saying hurtful things to others.

So this might be the ideal time to talk with your kids about how they treat others before you send them back to school.

Beyond a simple admonition to refrain from engaging in bullying, the discussion might also include encouraging them to be kind to someone who’s on the receiving end of a bully’s taunts or threats.

The message won’t resonate with every teenager, but trust me when I say that a few words of kindness or a hand extended in friendship can make all the difference for kids who are having a tough time adjusting.

It will depend, to a great extent, on how students expect to be treated by their peers whether the new school year’s arrival is something to be met with anticipation or apprehension.