Thursday, February 3, 2011


     I stumble three steps back as the second kick hits squarely on my chest.  The oxygen leaves my body with an audible heave as I gasp for air that isn’t there.  I feel shocked, surprised and helpless.  Keith grins preparing, Bruce Lee style, for another blow.  I manage to squeak out a wispy, “Why,” as the third kick, which I never see lands on my temple and I hit the ground, scared at what might happen next.  Keith stands over my helpless, prone body and calmly says, “I’m going to do this to you everyday.  Goodbye.”  Keith walks calmly into our sixth grade classroom and I begin to cry. 
     Keith is in my class but I don’t really know him.  We never talk and have never had a problem with each other—until this day.  I cannot recall one negative interaction with this boy prior to this rainy, spring day that changed my life forever.  I’ve become the victim of a bully.
     A fifth grade girl is crying on the bench at the school where I work.  I sit next to her and ask what is wrong?  She tearfully says, “Someone is going to kill me.”  I comfort her as we walk to my office in search of privacy.  Once in my office I ask her to explain.  She calms slightly while pulling a cell phone from her pocket.  Without talking, she searches the phone for a text, finds it and hands me the phone.  The text reads, “You stinky ####, everyone at school hates you, I asked them, and we all wish you were dead.”   I ask, “Did you show this to your mom?”  The scared little girl responds, “No, if I do, mom will take away my phone.”
    Bullying comes in many forms including physical assault, intimidation, Internet, cell phone and texting harassment (cyberbullying), unrelentless teasing and threats.  The victim of a bully might lose their integrity, feel unsafe, question their life’s purpose and often become withdrawn and anxious.    
     Dan Olweus, provides this commonly accepted definition for bullying in his book, Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do.  “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions and has difficulty defending oneself." This definition includes three important components.
  • Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
  • Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
  • Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.
     If a child gets into a fight or is teased by another child, this does not necessarily constitute bullying.  If the child being teased can look the other child in the eyes and tell the child to stop and the child stops, the problem is resolved.  Teasing becomes bullying when a victim stands up for himself or herself, asks the aggressor to stop and the aggressor continues or increases the teasing, violence or threats.  A child who is larger or holds power over another child and makes that child do something they do not what to do can be considered bullying too. 
     Bullying comes in two forms, physical or technological.  The National Crime Prevention Council offers the following information to educate parents and children on the dangers of technological bullying (cyberbullying). 
     Being a victim of cyberbullying can be a common and painful experience. Some youth who cyberbully pretend they are other people online, spread lies and rumors about victims, trick people into revealing personal information, send or forward mean text messages and post pictures of victims without their consent.
     When teens are asked why they think others cyberbully, 81 percent say cyberbullies think it’s funny. Other teens believe youth who cyberbully don’t think it’s a big deal, don’t think about the consequences, are encouraged by friends, think everybody cyberbullies and think they won’t get caught.
     Contrary to what cyberbullies may believe, cyberbullying is a big deal, and can cause a variety of reactions.  Some children react in positive ways by blocking communication with the cyberbully, deleting messages without reading them, talking to a friend about the bullying and reporting the problem to an Internet service provider or website moderator.
     Youth who are cyberbullied report feeling angry, hurt, embarrassed or scared. These emotions can cause victims to react in ways such as seeking revenge on the bully, avoiding friends and activities, skipping school and cyberbullying back.
     Some kids feel threatened because they may not know who is cyberbullying them. Although cyberbullies may think they are anonymous, they can be found. If you are cyberbullied or harassed and need help, save all communication with the cyberbully and talk to a parent, teacher, law enforcement officer or other adult you trust. 
  • Never post or share your personal information online (this includes your full name, address, telephone number, school name, parents’ names, credit card number, or Social Security number) or your friends’ personal information.
  • Never share your Internet passwords with anyone, except your parents.
  • Never meet anyone face-to-face whom you only know online.
  • Talk to your parents about what you do online.
     All parents must know what their children do on the Internet and must routinely check their child’s cell phone texts and messages.  If your child shows changes in his/her personality, talk with him/her.  If your child won’t talk, call your child’s principal, counselor or teacher and ask if they have noticed a change in your child’s actions.  Know your child’s friends.  Talk with them about changes in your child’s personality and about your child’s safety.  
     Being bullied has changed my life.  Three weeks after my initial attack by Keith, we meet face to face in the cafeteria at school.  I immediately pale and begin to sweat.  He calmly says while passing, “I’m not after you anymore.”  I feel relief but still victimized.  Every time I see Keith for the next seven years of school, anxiety floods my body as I wonder if I will become the random victim of this boy again. 
     I offer one last story.  If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online.  I have personally sent two e-mails in my past that I regret.  Both e-mails personally attack the receiver and cause me to look like a fool.  After penning my rant I chose to press send instead of delete.  I immediately feel a euphoric, “There you go.  Take that!” An hour later, I feel stupid, out of control, embarrassed and ashamed.      
    I make my living talking with people and twice I chose to be mean and intimidate via e-mail instead of talking face-to-face to resolve my frustration.  I can’t take my e-mails back and the receivers of my attack have physical proof of my stupidity—embarrassing.
     I’m embarrassed by the words I’ve written in anger and saying, “I’m sorry,” does not fix my wrongs.  I now think of the receiver’s feelings prior to pressing send on all e-mails I write.  Words are powerful and I hope the words written here give parents power to protect their children.  Bullying hurts everyone.       

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