I'm late to this, as usual.
I was a weird kid. I say this with pride, but if you try to tell my mom I was weird, she'll insist, "No! You were DIFFERENT."
It's easy to look back now and be glad I was different; glad my mom always let me pick out my own clothes, that I rocked a snowsuit that was neon pink from head to toe, that I read "The Old Man and the Sea" when I was ten, that I pretended I was Mary from "Little House on the Prairie" on my walks home from school. But at the time, it was hell.
An old friend of mine and I recently got together for coffee and talked about the bullying we experienced during elementary school. We live near each other and we used to walk home together. He was an only child, too, so I think we bonded because of that. His reaction to being mercilessly picked on was to turn inward and become extremely angry. To this day, he feels angry. To this day, I feel insecure when I walk into a room. The longterm consequences of bullying are devastating.
I'm not innocent. The few times in my childhood when I was on the side of the aggressors, I was just as gleeful about excluding some other unfortunate soul as the next kid. It's one of my biggest regrets in life, that I cared more about taking the heat off myself for a while than trying to be compassionate.
I've often wondered why bullying is so often viewed by adults and authority figures as just a natural part of life, survival of the fittest on the playground. It's beyond sad that so many children have had to take their own lives for the issue of bullying to come to the forefront of our social conscience.
For my part, I don't believe in settling for "it gets better." Every child deserves to feel safe and loved and accepted by their peers. Adulthood is hard enough.