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“What if the kid you bullied at school, grew up, and turned out to be the only surgeon who could save your life?” Lynette Mather

My student moved from Zimbabwe to America two years ago; a smart, likable dark-skinned 15-year-old with a positive attitude and a low self-esteem. As he walked into class I over-heard one of his outspoken 17-year-old peers sarcastically comment, “Hey, Zimbabwe! What’s up?” …as he went to slap him a high-five and pulled his hand away just as they were about to make contact. The 15-year-old chuckled as the other students laughed under their breath but little did he know that his peers were laughing at him and not with him. Immediately I pulled my 15-year-old student aside and asked him if he was okay with his peers calling him Zimbabwe? These kids were all the same ethnicity so I wasn’t sure if it was a nickname or an insult. Sometimes it’s hard to tell with teenagers. But I thought I would ask just to be sure. In his sweet pre-pubescent voice he responded, “well…not really, but so many people do it now that I’ve kind of gotten used to it…”

Immediately I spent the entire class period wrestling with the words that I wanted to say to these particular students who I just knew were bullies. I didn’t want to humiliate my 15-year-old even more in front of class so I formulated a plan to talk to these students privately afterwards.

bullying (1)In my most choleric and serious tone I glared into their eyes with tears and anger as I told them about my friend in high school who committed suicide because of bullying, my brother who was humiliated and ridiculed in middle school and needed a restraining order against his bully (who today the guy is now dead from drug overdose) while my brother is a successful business owner and musician. I told them that people can get kicked out of school, get fired from jobs and go to prison for bullying and harassment.  I told them, “I don’t care if you think it’s a joke, if you think it’s funny or if you think it’s harmless…….because it’s not a joke, it’s not funny and it’s hurtful.” I told them I have NO TOLERANCE for bullying at any level and I would do everything in my power to stop it from continuing. Needless to say I have not seen or heard anything since.

BULLYPIC2This topic has and always will hit close to home for me. Not only have I seen and witnessed the effects of bullying and harassment in people who I care deeply about, I have personally dealt with it in my own life. Subtle comments that are remembered from my past: the tall girl, the tom boy, the girl with man hands, ghetto booty, the shy girl who doesn’t talk… probably the most hurtful was in high school people liked to ‘joke’ because I dressed in athletic clothes, played sports and rarely had time for a boyfriend that I was the single girl with a big question mark above my head. Stereotypes that were completely UNTRUE began as a joke which escalated to rumors all because one person wanted to be funny. In fact some of those comments were what led to my years of battling an eating disorder because of low self-confidence, insecurity, low self-esteem and poor self-image. I wanted to believe that I was strong and I could ‘handle’ their jokes but my heart was hurt as I began to get angry, depressed and isolated. One thing that is important to remember is that bullying doesn’t always look like bullying. We recognize that when we hear stories of parents verbally abusing their kids, friends teasing and spreading rumors about other friends, rampant gossip or inappropriate texts, e mails or social media messages about another person. It sometimes looks harmless but rarely is it actually harmless!

Bullying is a serious topic that needs more awareness and that is why I am posting this article. Just look at the statistics:

  • Over 3.8 million students are victims of bullying each year.
  • Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of bullying.
  • 90% of 4th through 8th grade students report being victims of bullying.
  • Almost 60% of those bullied early in life are also bullied in high school.
  • Approximately 30% of young people ADMIT to bullying others.
  • 70.6% of young people admit to seeing bullying in their schools.
  • 62% admitted to seeing bullying three or more times in the last month and 41% admit to seeing it at least once a week or more.
  • The MOST common types of bullying are verbal and social
  • According to one large study, the following percentages of middle schools students had experienced these various types of bullying: name calling (44.2 %); teasing (43.3 %); spreading rumors or lies (36.3%); pushing or shoving (32.4%); hitting, slapping, or kicking (29.2%); leaving out (28.5%); threatening (27.4%); stealing belongings (27.3%); sexual comments or gestures (23.7%); e-mail or blogging (9.9%).
  • Out of 100 – LESS THAN 20% of students who are bullied ever notify an adult about the bullying!

Don’t be mistaken, young people are not the only one’s who are targets for bullying. Many adults face similar challenges in the form of harassment, verbal and emotional abuse and physical harm. None of this should be taken lightly and if you see it and it doesn’t seem normal – it probably isn’t. It’s not okay to be a bystander or walk away!

Check out this video that is both disturbing and encouraging…but mostly disturbing:

 

Leadership is doing what’s right regardless of the consequences. If there were more people with a hunger for leadership we could not only stop bullying while it was happening but more importantly prevent it from starting.

I believe LIFE Leadership provides the best information to develop adults and young people into strong leaders who would not only recognize an inappropriate situation but sacrifice their own comfort and safety to help someone else. The Edge series was designed specifically for young people to develop their confidence, self-esteem, leadership and thinking. George Guzzardo stated recently in his article, Everything I Always Wanted for Christmas how important it is that we get the right information into people’s hands this holiday season and it starts with the Edge series for teens.

I truly believe it will be leaders who get the right information into the hands of the right people who will make a difference in their schools, communities, churches and professions. It will be leaders who sacrifice the comfort of their own lives in order to change someone else’s life and it will be leaders who spread the message of bullying prevention across the nation and the world.

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18

God Bless,

Kristen

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