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Thursday, September 27, 2012

This MUST stop!

When is enough, enough? Does another child have to die because a serious lack of action?
What am I talking about? Bullying. 
In the last two days, I have seen two major headlines online regarding bullying.  Bullying has become a tidal wave of epic proportions. Although bullying was once considered a rite of passage, parents, educators, and community leaders now see bullying as a devastating form of abuse that can have long-term effects on youth victims, robbing them of self-esteem, isolating them from their peers, causing them to drop out of school, and even prompting health problems and suicide.
A recent study by the Family and Work Institute reported that one-third of youth are bullied at least once a month, while others say six out of 10 American teens witness bullying at least once a day. Witnessing bullying can be harmful, too, as it may make the witness feel helpless - or that he or she is the next target.  Children who are bullied are often singled out because of a perceived difference between them and others, whether because of appearance (size, weight, or clothes), intellect, or, increasingly, ethnic or religious affiliation and sexual orientation.
And bullying can be a gateway behavior, teaching the perpetrator that threats and aggression are acceptable even in adulthood.  In one study by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, nearly 60 percent of boys whom researchers classified as bullies in grades six to nine were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 24, while 40 percent had three or more convictions.

The first article I read today about bullying was about a young teen named Whitney Kropp.  Whitney is a sophmore at a Michigan high school in a small farming town.  She was nominated for the homecoming court at her high school.  Incredibly excited, that all changed when she learned that she was nominated as a joke.  The "popular" kids at school felt the need to humiliate her in a backhanded way - let's nominate her, then make fun of her and totally ridicule her during homecoming. 
What they didn’t realize is that Whitney is quite resilient and these bullies have learned that she isn't going to let them ruin homecoming for her.  As news of this story gained national attention, the small town in Michigan is rallying behind Whitney.  Donations from local business have poured in and a local salon owner will be cutting, coloring and styling Whitney's hair for free for her big day.  Others have paid for her dress, shoes and even a limo! Good for Whitney for standing up to bullies! Whitney will be going to homecoming with her boyfriend, who does not attend the same school, but has been quiet yet supportive of her. 
You can also see the Facebook page created by a her neighbor: Support Whitney Kropp
The second story is about Katie Uffens, a high school cheerleader in San Diego, Ca.  Katie may not appear to be the likely target of bullying but her bullies have been quoted as saying that she was not popular and they didn't mean any real harm when they started the "KKK - Kill Katie Klub." 
Really? The Kill Katie Klub? No harm? Bullshit. As Katie's mom learned of this, she spoke to school administrators and even the bullies parents. “I asked him straight up can your son really hurt my daughter, do you think it's a joke and he paused and he hesitated and it scared me” said Giselle Uffen, Katie's mother. 
The hesitation would have scared me as well, because at that moment, the parent of the bully couldn't with any certainty say that his son wouldn't really hurt Katie. He had to think about it. And that chance is one most parents would not be willing to take.  Katie's mom pulled her daughter out of the school the bullying was occurring at and she is now being home schooled.  Quite unfortunate as I'm sure Katie, like most other young teens, looked forward to the many social events and aspects of high school.  And even though this was a measure to help stop the situation, the bullying has continued online through social media, ie: cyber bullying. Her mother has pressed charges, two of the bullies have been arrested and are sobbing their side of the story on the news, claiming to be victims of humiliation.  Ha! Isn’t that the biggest load of crap ever? Katie’s mother has also hired an attorney and will be pursuing charges against those who have caused her daughter so much pain.  Good for Katie's mom!
As a parent, it is our responsibility to protect our children.  Bullying is a HUGE problem, and not just amongst homosexual teens who in recent news have taken their own lives in outrageous numbers as a desperate means of dealing with their sorrow, pain and desperation. 
I am going to make the assumption that in Katie's case, these bullies came from upper-middle class families living in affluent areas of San Diego.  I'm also going to make the assumption that they are probably a bunch of snot-nosed brats who get what they want, when they want.  There is probably no accountability.  And the parents likely let their spoiled teens get away with quite a bit, including the disrespectful attitudes I bet they have toward their parents and anyone who isn't as cool and popular as them. 

I was a victim of bullying, once.  During my sophomore year at Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, Ca., I learned that two girls (one a sophomore also and one a senior) absolutely hated me and wanted to beat my ass. I didn’t know them. I didn’t even know their names.  I couldn’t figure out why they hated me so much.  I remember hearing about it in the halls, I remember ducking and dodging and feeling scared that I would bump into them.  I had never been in a fight, I was a pretty straight-edged teen, for the most part.  I didn’t know how to handle this.  It didn’t help when you hear people talking about it and saying things like “their coming, their right over there” scaring you even more.  The only time I really would see them was during PE class.  The sophomore bully had PE at the same time as I did, but wasn’t in my class – the senior also had PE at the same time I did. I hated PE because of them.  Because I was scared.  While running track or playing basketball, they would say things to me, purposely bump into me, hard.  I tried to “ignore it” as my friends and classmates kept saying. I know they were trying to be helpful, and I kept trying to ignore it.  I didn’t tell my teachers, my parents or any school official fearful I would get labeled as a “snitch” or a pansy or a bitch.  I didn’t want that.  So I just kept ignoring it, dodging them and trying to just stay out of their way.  Then one day, that all changed.  Two classes were in the weight room at the same time – mine and the other sophomore bully's.  I stayed with my friends and group of classmates trying to stay far away from her.  She was bigger and appeared stronger than me. And I was scared of her.  I noticed the teachers left the weight room and went outside somewhere.  Right at that moment, I turned around and bammmmm… there she was, we were nose to nose.  “I heard you were talking shit about me and my girl!” Of course I wasn’t, but earlier conversations with class mates about not understanding why they hated me so much were enough of an excuse for her to come up to me and want to beat my ass.  This was her opportunity – no teacher in sight. She pushed me and I fell into the mirrored wall.  She grabbed me again and threw me to the ground, got on top of me and started punching me, mostly on my body not my face.  Something snapped. I snapped.  This hugely abundant adrenaline rush came over me. It was fight or flight. I chose to fight. I pushed her off of me, with every ounce of energy in me.  I got on top of her and started punching her.  I truly felt I snapped.  I even grabbed a weight off the nearby weight tree and started beating her with it.  The teacher was called in the room by classmates and pulled me off of her, while I looked dead in the eye of my bully and said “you will NEVER intimidate me again!” She didn’t. She was expelled. I was suspended. Her friend was warned to stay away from me or she would also be expelled. 

Granted, I don’t think the answer is for Whitney or Katie to fight their bullies. Each situation, each child is different. But for me, at that moment, my instinct told me to fight. Fight to defend myself, not just against this one bully, but because I in general did not deserve to be treated this way. So I chose to fight.  My parents were very proud of me.  I know that some parents would not have been proud of their children for fighting back. My mom was called into the principal’s office where she continued to say she was proud of me and was glad I stood up for myself and that my parents supported my decision to do so. That event changed the course of how I handled intimidation from that day forward. I vowed I would never let anyone intimidate me like that again - because they were bigger than me, a different race, age, etc.  And to this day, I have kept that promise to myself.

As I mentioned earlier, the study by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, stated that nearly 60% of boys whom researchers classified as bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 24, and 40% had three or more convictions. I'm not sure what the criminal records of the bullies I encountered were, but I do know that I saw them the summer after my incident occurred.  They were at the California State Fair - the sophmore was pushing a stroller and was also pregnant. 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) states that bullying is a common experience for many children and adolescents.  Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis.  AACAP's helpful information for families regarding bullying.
According to the AACAP, bullying behavior can be physical or verbal. Boys tend to use physical intimidation or threats, regardless of the gender of their victims.  Bullying by girls is more often verbal, usually with another girl as the target. Bullying has even been reported in online chat rooms, through e-mail and on social networking sites.  Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. Some victims of bullying have even attempted suicide rather than continue to endure such harassment and punishment.

I strongly feel bullying has something to do with parenting, or the lack thereof.Our children learn from example.They learn about the world and how to treat others by what we teach them, and if we don't bother to teach them anything, they will learn this behavior from someone else.THESE ARE OUR CHILDREN! We must, as parents, make sure that we raise them by example, teaching them the importance of respecting themselves and others.

I’m curious. How would other parents handle a bully bullying their child(ren)?  Personally, we have agreed to teach Elijah to defend himself.  And with all the recent stories of bullying become so incredibly common, and in many cases the teens being bullied commit suicide, my stance on teaching my son to stand up for himself is even more firm.  Elijah will be enrolled in some form of martial arts at a very young age.  We will teach him to not throw the first punch, but if you are punched, you punch back. Many parents won’t agree, and that’s fine.  I’m curious what you would do…


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