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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published April 9, 2009                                                         

Bullies can make life pretty darn miserable

  By Pam Lannom

   Sixth grade was a tough year for me.
   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 fit in.
   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 for libel.)
   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 class). \
   “People will say the worst part about bullying is it’s relentless,” Barrett said.
   I agree.
   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 aggression.”
   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 good looking.
   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 works
to teach and motivate youth to lead healthy, happy and safe lives.



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