Published April 9, 2009
Bullies can make life
pretty darn miserable
Sixth grade was a tough year
I arrived directly from fourth
grade and immediately became “the kid who skipped a
grade.” Even though I had lost my pigtails over the
summer and felt very chic with my new shoulder-length
hairdo, my classmates decided I was much too young to
I survived several months of
teasing before the poundings began. I distinctly
remember being shoved so hard on the playground that my
back hurt for days. My birthday that year is
particularly memorable, as Jim H. threw mud in my face.
And the day of my fight with Denise M. is legendary — at
least in my mind. (I’ve deleted their last names partly
to protect their privacy and mostly so I won’t be sued
The bullying stopped the day
after the big fight. Mrs. Novak, our teacher, said if I
was punched one more time, our class would not be
allowed to go on our three-day outdoor education field
trip to White Pines Ranch in Oregon, Ill. No one punched
me ever again.
I told my story to Barb
Barrett, health educator at the
Robert Crown Center for Health
Education, and asked her if what happened to me
constitutes bullying. It does.
Bullying, she explained,
occurs when someone (me) is picked on over and over
again by a certain group (everyone else in Mrs. Novak’s
“People will say the worst
part about bullying is it’s relentless,” Barrett said.
Although I felt very alone,
bullying is more common than you might think. Half of us
have been bullied at some point in our lives, and one
out of four people are being bullied currently. One
hundred sixty thousand children miss school every day
trying to avoid bullies, Barrett said.
“It’s huge. It’s really a
significant issue,” she said.
Bullies are self-absorbed and
can be insecure or think they’re “hot stuff,” Barrett
said. Many are victims of some kind of abuse themselves.
They can be outgoing or aggressive or reserved and
manipulative, she said. Girls — other than Denise M. —
most often fit the latter description.
“Girls do it in subtle ways
that are more damaging,” she said. “Guys get it out with
Victims of bullying typically
are weaker — or perceived to be weaker. They might be
quiet kids who spend time alone. Or they might be
different somehow — not heterosexual, not athletic, not
Kids who are being bullied
often have a hard time talking about it. They’re afraid
to tell their parents, Barrett said, because they don’t
want to be told to fight back and they don’t want their
parents to think less of them.
The best way to deal with
bullies is simple, Barrett said. Ignore them.
“Bullies want a reaction. If
you can walk away, ignore the e-mails or the IMs, you’re
telling them that you don’t care and they will get bored
and move on,” she said.
Technology has made it even
easier for bullies to operate. I was able to escape my
mean classmates by going home, but today bullies can
harass you anywhere with e-mails or instant messages.
And technology can embolden a bully.
“It’s easier to do anything to
anybody if you don’t have to face them,” Barrett said.
Younger kids should always
tell their parents if they’re being bullied. Older kids
should get mom and dad or a school counselor involved if
there is physical violence or the threat of it.
“Kids have to understand, when
it gets real serious like physical danger, they need to
let someone know,” Barrett said.
Robert Crown tries to help
kids learn how to handle bullies in sixth- and
seventh-grade programs. Although the focus is on
victims, we should be concerned about the bullies, too.
They tend to do worse in school and be more violent when
they grow up.
“One out of four elementary
school bullies will have a criminal record by the time
they’re 30,” Barrett said.
Hmmm. I wonder where Jim H.
and Denise M. are today.
Making a Difference is a yearlong
partnership between The Hinsdalean
and the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, which
to teach and motivate youth to lead healthy, happy and