Someone told me a story this week about a teenager who had just started work at a Winnipeg cinema that had re-opened for business. The teen had already been bullied by people who didn’t want to follow the mask regulations dictated by the province. They became rude and angry when the teen requested they put on a mask before entering the theater. That brought to mind a conversation I once had with a group of my high school students about bullying.
Some told me they had been bullied because of their race. Some had been teased about their accent because English wasn’t their first language. Others had been harassed about their clothing or hairstyle or had their sexual orientation questioned sarcastically. There were students whose family background had been ridiculed and others had been the butt of jokes because of their unique physical characteristics.
But…….. the most common kind of unfair treatment surprisingly had come from adults who bullied them or treated them unfairly because of their age.
One boy said he’d been browsing in a store when the business owner approached him and asked if he had stolen something. The young man said he hadn’t and turned to leave. The owner refused to let him go until he had searched him for stolen merchandise. “He didn’t even apologize for falsely accusing me”, said the student.
Other kids had seen people cross the road rather than walk by a group of teenagers. Teens had been the recipients of dirty looks for no apparent reason other than their age. Some felt discriminated against in the workplace where they believed employers felt freer to get angry with teenage workers.
Like the situation, I mentioned at the beginning of this post, customers sometimes feel they can treat teen employees less respectfully too. They feel freer to vent their anger at a teen thinking perhaps they won’t face the same repercussions because the teen isn’t as likely to retaliate or stand up for themselves. I know I experienced some of that kind of bullying treatment when I was a teenager and worked as a waitress.
As we slowly begin to enter post-pandemic life and start engaging with each other again in all kinds of settings we may need to remind ourselves of just how important it is for adults to be good role models when it comes to bullying or angry behavior. We need to accord everyone, including young people a full measure of respect.