Is bullying part of your present life? Your child’s? If so, you are not alone. About half of all students in grades 4 – 12, according to one major study, say that have been bullied at least once in a four-week period. That’s a lot of young people! Some are bullied because they do well in school; others because they don’t do well. Some are bullied because they are beautiful; others because they have average looks. Bullies don’t need a good reason—they seem to like scaring others…..just for the fun of it.
You won’t be surprised to learn that bullied people feel depressed. But…you probably haven’t thought about the people who bully. They are often depressed, too. When people are unhappy, when they experience pain in one form or another, they frequently try to make themselves feel better by bullying, by exerting control over those, including animals, who are vulnerable.
HUGO HELPED THE OUTCASTS
Being bullied because you are not part of the “in” crowd is a common occurrence, so common that Victor Hugo’s book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, led to a Disney movie with a song asking God to “Help the Outcasts.” The fiction became fact recently, not far from my own home town. A high school theatre group in Ithaca, New York, was preparing to perform the Victor Hugo musical. Their casting of the lead character evoked so much controversy that the school had to cancel the production. The decision made national news, primarily because the bullying went beyond the school and the students who attend it. It even went to their families who began receiving hate-filled messages with references to lynchings.
MEAN GIRLS, MEAN BOYS, MEAN PEOPLE
Mean girls and mean boys often grow up to be mean people. Bullying goes far beyond the schoolyard. Unfortunately, it often occurs in the workplace. In fact, more than 35 million Americans report having been treated in a threatening manner by their coworkers and their bosses. Working adults can turn to Human Resources Departments for help. Once the bullying behavior stops, the depression that encircles the bullied person usually stops as well.
THE IMPOSSIBLE IS OFTEN THE UNTRIED
Students, of course, don’t have a Human Resources Department to which they can turn. But, there are other places, other people, including you and your own resources. Solutions to the bullying problem and the depression that surrounds it may simply be solutions that haven’t yet been implemented. Given the reasons why people are bullied, young people in particular, it’s more important than ever that we seek new answers. Those resources and others are explored in the following recommendations.
SHRUG IT OFF
Sometimes bullies find targets in those who don’t fit into a certain group. That group may be average individuals. Then, when someone comes along who is not average, that person becomes a target. When Cindy Crawford, for example, received a modeling contract while still in high school, her classmates began a vicious campaign to embarrass her. She learned to shrug off their attempts. “I had made $150,” she recalls, a sum that “sure beat working in the cornfields” of her small town.
It may seem difficult to ignore the nasty efforts of bullies, but remember this: you might easily live to be 100—given the medical advances that keep centenarians alive and relatively well. Using that number, the four years you spend in high school represent only 4% of your lifespan. Your future may not include a net worth of $250 million, like Cindy’s, but there are wondrous happenings awaiting you in the future. Try a prolonged period in which you actively try to shrug off the nasty remarks others may direct at you.
KNOW YOU ARE PART OF AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB
Just look at some of the other people who were bullied as children: Taylor Swift (her classmates actually stopped talking to her); Lady Gaga; Rihanna (who refuses to be considered victimized); Barack Obama; Megan Fox; Bill Clinton; Mila Kunis; Emma Watson; Sandra Bullock; Zendaya (whose parents taught her to love herself); Justin Timberlake (who believes that being different is a good thing); Rob Pattinson; Jennifer Lawrence; Mila Kuni (who admits that at the time, bullying seemed like the worst thing in the world); and Demi Lovato (who had to live through her classmates signing hate petitions about her).
Let’s be clear: we are not saying being bullied as a young person will result in your being rich and famous in the future. Rather, you should know that bullying is survivable; it’s a temporary thing. Not only will you survive it, given your determination to do so, but you will go on to lead, in all likelihood, a wonderful life.
BEWARE THE BRILLIANCE OF TRANSIENT EVENTS
Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz warned us not to let the “brilliance” of certain events blind us to the world that awaits us once the brilliance has disappeared. Keep in mind that the depression caused by bullying need not ruin your life. You may need to remind yourself on a daily basis that you will get through this difficult time. Or, you may need to enlist the help of others, but here are a few audacious ideas that can help you put depression in its place.
Talk to your parents. As a family team, you may decide to switch schools, or to
explore home schooling with another family in your neighborhood.
Talk to other parents. When I was in fifth grade, I loved school. The kids
who didn’t, regarded me as the teacher’s pet. One in particular would
throw snowballs formed around rocks at me…with perfect aim. One especially
bad day, I came home crying. Within hours, my father and I were at the
home of the bully, talking to him and his parents. The snowballs stopped.
Draw attention. I know a woman who, when she cannot find help in the
grocery store, suddenly starts singing, loudly, her favorite opera. Crowds
begin to gather and within minutes, a store manager is running over. When
he or she asks what’s wrong, the woman calmly replies, “I need to know what
aisle the canned peas are on.”
If you are being bullied in school, consider wearing a loud whistle around
your neck. Ask your friends to do the same. Then, when the bullying starts,
all of you can start shouting and blowing your whistles. Teachers are bound to
come running to learn what the commotion is all about.
Ask for a meeting. This is a long shot, but you might consider asking your
tormentor if you can meet with him or her. If the bully agrees, be ready to
explain how you are feeling and how you would actually like to be friends
with him or her. Admittedly, the bully is more likely to ignore your request than to
grant it, but remember that the impossible is often the untried.
Mount a shelf-esteem. Reminding yourself as often as you can of the worth you
possess, the talent you have, the goodness that’s inside you–these are small
measures but ones that will help you overcome the sadness that may accompany
the feeling of being an outcast. Put up a small shelf in your room and fill it with all the
reminders of your worth, your talent, your goodness. Study the items for a moment or two
at the beginning of the day and at the end.
Write. You don’t have to keep a diary or a journal, but you will probably
find solace in writing about your feelings. Sometimes, the very act of
writing about a problem leads to a potential solution. If nothing else,
your musings can be returned to in the future to demonstrate to you
and perhaps others just how far you have come.
Contact someone with clout. Ava Olsen is an eight-year-old student who lost
her best friend in a school shooting in 2016. Ava wrote to the president asking
what he could do to prevent such occurrences in the future. Even though the president
replied to Ava’s letter, he was unable to prevent another shooting in Parkland, Florida,
just a few months later. However, the publicity that attended Ava’s efforts and the concern
she may have aroused in the president probably contributed to the strong stance he is
taking on gun-reform measures.
You needn’t write a letter to the White House, but you can probably contact a local official
to express your concerns about bullying. Ideally, your attempts will effect some changes in school policy.
Invite a star. This is another long shot, but you just might be able to
convince a really popular athlete, entertainer, or celebrity to come to
your school to talk about the bullying problem. Even if you don’t succeed,
you will have lost little more than a 49-cent stamp and an hour of your time.
Make the BMOC your protector. Police officers have “rabbis” they can turn
to for advice. Employees have mentors. Successful people have role
models. Ideally, you can find a protector within your school walls. If you
don’t want to turn to the Big Man (or Woman) on Campus yourself,
speak to your principal. Perhaps he or she can offer community service
credit to the football players, cheerleaders, and other typically popular
students willing to be protectors of those who are bullied.
Such collaboration may seem impossible to you. If so, do a little reading
about the success of Rachel’s Challenge, named in honor of Rachel Scott,
who was killed in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
Perhaps your principal can include your school population in the 25 million
who have been reached by this foundation committed to reducing harassment
and bullying in American schools. To be sure, a more positive,
compassionate school environment is bound to make you (and others
who suffer from bullying-induced depression) feel better. And remember that
those who do the bullying may be suffering as well.
THIS, TOO, SHALL PASS
Depression can debilitate. But it can also be defeated. It need not be permanent, nor should you seek a permanent, drastic solution to what may be a temporary problem. There are small steps you can take to deal with the depression caused by bullies in particular. Know that help is available from many sources. Know, too, that many of those sources lie within you. You are stronger than you realize.