Stranger Things bullying scene triggering for us ’90s kids Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content

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An epic tale of fantasy, the plot of the cult Netflix TV show Stranger Things is usually hard to believe. But for me, the roller rink bullying scene in the most recent season was an all-too-real replay of my own experience in high school.

Spoiler alert – I’m talking about the distressing moment where Eleven – trying to fit in as a regular teenage girl named Jane – is ganged up on at the roller rink by a group of bullies who encircle her, call her names, and throw a milkshake in her face without a single adult coming to intervene.

Eleven (centre) in the latest season of Stranger Things.

Eleven (centre) in the latest season of Stranger Things.Credit:Netflix

Watching the episode curled up on the couch, my husband turns to me in disbelief, exclaiming “This stuff never happens!” Apparently, parallel dimensions and psychic monsters are fine, but teenage bullying is too far!

I wish it never happened, but the sad reality is that I was a victim of a very similar experience at a roller rink. Only it was a decade after the fictional Stranger Things Rink-o-Mania incident of 1986 and I was on the receiving end of a hip and shoulder rather than a milkshake.

I was on a class excursion to the local skate centre when a bunch of girls from my class lined up, one after another, to try to knock me off my rollerblades – in full view of my classmates and a teacher.

I could see them coming, so I just braced myself and willed myself not to fall flat on my bum. One at a time, the bullies shoved past. But I stood my ground and they just bounced off me.

Little did I know that experience was my introduction to the sport of roller derby where, 15 years later, I would become a fairly immovable force on the track as a blocker. I thought about that incident often, skating as my tough derby girl persona “Bleeder of the Pack”. In hindsight, I could laugh about it. “I wish those girls could see me now,” I thought.

Mel Buttigieg competing in roller derby in her 30s.

Mel Buttigieg competing in roller derby in her 30s.

Like Eleven’s alter ego Jane, I was called names and taunted without adult intervention. It was a different time back then, when people turned away when it came to kids and anti-social behaviour. Bullying policies weren’t yet a thing and my teachers didn’t appear adequately trained to handle conflict resolution.

Although, rather than retaliating with violence as Eleven/Jane did on the show, it was me who copped a blood nose from a schoolyard bully who called me a weirdo. I was actually voted “Weirdest Girl” from my graduating class of 1999. I even received a certificate, which I have kept all these years as a badge of honour. That just wouldn’t fly today.

Fast-forward to last week, watching the work of fiction play out on my TV screen was somewhat triggering.

But I have my teenage resilience to thank for helping me become the confident and successful weirdo I am today.

I am grateful for today’s woke generation where schools and workplaces have adopted zero-tolerance policies against bullying.

Young people, and adults alike, are becoming more empowered to call out aggressors for their sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist and general nasty “othering” behaviour.

It’s about time.

I imagine my former school bullies watching that episode of Stranger Things with their own kids, feeling a pang of regret for being one of those who dampened another child’s sparkle. I only hope that anti-social behaviour is an ’80s (or ’90s) throwback that doesn’t make a modern-day revival.

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