They say we can be hurt the most by those we care about the most. I have vivid memories from my childhood of the times my friends excluded me from a sleep over or refused to sit with me at lunch. This particularly insidious form of bullying, called ostracism, seems to be more practiced by girls, especially in the middle school years. It has been over 30 years since I was in middle school and those memories still cause my stomach to hurt; I remember clearly the devastation of being purposely excluded by my friends.
As a parent, I tend to associate bullying with verbal taunting or physical incidents and would not consider someone who bullies my child to be my child’s friend. Ostracism causes a special kind of injury because it is inflicted by friends. I can remember many times when my older daughters came home from school crying because their friends were refusing to talk to them or having a birthday party and telling them they weren’t invited.
At the McMillen Center we provide bullying education to thousands of youth every year. In Indiana, it’s the law; schools are required to train staff and educate students on how to identify and prevent bullying. The law defines bullying as “overt, unwanted, repeated acts or gestures.” Ostracism is a “non-behavior” so it is harder to address in school settings. Purdue University psychologist Kip Williams is one of the nation’s leading researchers on ostracism. Williams has found that children who are ostracized can feel depressed and feel worthless. Often, these youth either resign themselves to being lonely or become desperate for attention. In extreme cases, they can become suicidal or homicidal. Williams states, “Some people will say, ‘I’d rather be bullied. Then at least I could show my bruises to the police.’”
A new documentary movie, REJECT. explores the profound impact that social rejection has on human life. The director, Ruth Thomas-Suh, states that REJECT is for, “parents, doctors, teachers, coaches, school administrators, organizations that train teachers, mental health professionals, clergy, counselors (camp, after-school, academic, etc.), juvenile judges, and many others—in other words, anyone who holds power over others, and holds the power to model acceptance or inflict rejection.”
There is an urgent need to address ostracism: the McMillen Center for Health Education, Great Kids Make Great Communities, and IPFW are collaborating to bring renowned researcher Kip Williams to Fort Wayne on June 19 for a day-long conference on ostracism, which will include a screening of REJECT. We invite anyone who works with youth to join us in addressing this critical issue. More information can be found at www.mcmillencenter.org or by calling (260) 456-4511.
Holli Seabury, CEO and Mom of 7