By Rick Birt | President & CEO
Some memories last a lifetime, and I hope everyone reading has good ones that do. However, the moments where we feel othered, left out, alone, humiliated, unwanted often have staying power. Ask any adult, and odds are they will have vivid nightmares of when they were bullied.
For me, it was middle school gym class. I’ve always been self-conscious about my weight and my physical appearance. Middle school locker rooms are unforgiving places, the perfect backdrop for a bully to shine. One classmate always had to make me feel like trash with comments and jokes and literal pokes.
I was lucky to have support, friends who stood -up for me and supported me. Not everyone is so lucky. In time, I developed defense mechanisms, mostly in the form of humor, that poked figuratively back at my bully. Not everyone is so lucky. In time, we grew up and went separate ways. Not everyone is so lucky.
The Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report found that 22% of US students ages 12-18 reported being bullied at least once an academic year. That means that almost 1 in 4 students walking our hallways are caring the weight of feeling unwanted. These facts help us understand the mental health and safety crises plaguing our schools.
Google defines a bully as “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable.” Let’s break that down:
“A Person.” Bullies live among us in all shapes and sizes, all backgrounds, and identities. A friend once told me that hurt people, hurt people. I think that is especially true when it comes to those who chose to tear someone down for their own enjoyment. It comes from a pursuit of power; a desire to make-up for their own lacking in some way. This never excuses their behavior, but as student leaders, we must remember that everyone hurts, even those who bully.
“Who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate.” Constant fear of not knowing what harm or humiliation or pain will be pushed on you that day or in that moment hurts. However, today’s young people cannot escape it, even when they go home at the end of the school day. A new dark web has brought to life new cyberbullying nightmares that were unthinkable even a few years ago. Bullies creating fake accounts to phish and constantly harass their victim. Those virtual assaults often continue in-person with verbal, social, and physical bullying. It may feel like you cannot escape it. You cannot face it alone. Know that in SADD and our partners, in your school Guidance Counselor, and other adult allies, there is help and support.
“Those who they perceive as vulnerable.” True leaders understand that protecting the most vulnerable is our duty. There has never been a more important time for us to speak-up and support one another.
Parents, talk with your student every day. Talk about bullying, what they would do if they were bullied, and how they could support someone, a friend or stranger, who they saw might be in danger. We need empowered bystanders to stop and report bullying.
During this Bullying Prevention Month (and all year along), we all have a role to play. Together, we can stop the pain and create a world where we all feel loved.
Our partners at the US Department of Health & Human Services have created some powerful resources that SADD chapters across the country are using today. For more information and to find additional resources, check-out the Personal Health & Safety section in MySADD or visit www.stopbullying.gov.