Thanks to anti-bullying legislation signed into law yesterday by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, schools may soon be safer for kids. Parents and law makers are lauding the new bill. But how do kids feel about bullying and the recent attention the issue is receiving? Do they believe bullies (and responsible third parties) deserve harsher penalties? According to Thea Hickey, a 13 year old from Southborough, MA, yes.
Here, she writes about the trials and tribulations of middle school, and what it’s really like to be bullied.
Picture yourself as a teenager again. It’s that tender and delicate time in our lives when we’re most vulnerable to criticism, when we’re trying to figure out who we are and what we’d like to become as adults. You’re walking down the halls to your next period with your books tightly clutched to your body. What do you see? Friends getting along and students coming together as a happy community? If you do, I’d really love to go to your middle school.
Most middle schools split along two basic categories – the losers and the popular people. The popular clique is usually made up of the first kids to have a boy/girl party, or start a relationship, and for some reason are thought of as the more mature when in fact they’re the complete opposite. They tease, taunt and judge friends and enemies alike. While adults like teachers and guidance counselors think they do a good job of keeping the peace between students, they have no idea or control over what happens outside of school.
This is especially true when it comes to the Internet, which has become a powerful tool for bullying. When you’re feeling down, what better thing to do than past a Facebook status trash talking about the president of the math team and make yourself feel better at someone else’s expense? It’s so easy to say things to someone over the computer rather than to someone’s face, which is why cyberbullying has seen such a rise in popularity. Once those words are out there, even if you clear your history or delete your account, those threats and hurtful words stay on the Internet forever.
From my experience, I can tell you that bullying doesn’t necessarily stop just because you get older. I used to have an account on AIM. In 5th grade, all the people on my buddy list treated me like an equal, a friend, but as soon as we moved on to middle school, things changed. The people I used to talk to all the time ignored my messages. Then they started taking an interest in me again, but not in the way I had hoped. The conversations started with one girl who told me that the people I hung out with were losers. Then girls started attacking me in groups, picking apart my friends and moving on to me and my appearance. I was fat. I was ugly. I was a loser.
At one point, two girls got together to taunt me over the computer. The disses were familiar to me; it was everything I had come to hate. When I decided I had enough, I blocked them and signed off of my computer thinking that would be an escape. It wasn’t. The phone rang. It was them. They called seven times. The first and second time I ignored it. The third time I answered, they were pretending to be my friend, but I knew who it really was. The next three times they called, I answered and quickly hung up. The seventh time, my dad answered and told them to stop calling or he’d get in touch with their parents, but I knew even that wouldn’t stop the bullying. They just shifted to another victim. Later that day, two of my friends told me they’d been harassed by the same girls right after their last call to my house.
Bullying is not just something that happens in school. It happens at the mall, the movies, the park and even on your own computer. It’s becoming worse, leading Phoebe Prince, Ryan Halligan, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and others to take their own lives. Imagine reaching a point where you’d rather kill yourself than put up with the constant harassment. Bullying in general has become such an epidemic that many states are considering laws against harassment between teenagers. Massachusetts just passed sweeping anti-bullying legislation. If the law were to be passed through every state in the country, bullies may be forced to take a step back and realize that their position of power is coming to a close.
At some point in our lives, most will take on all three of the following roles; victim, bully or bystander. As a bully, you need to recognize what you are doing is wrong. As a victim you need to stand up for yourself and report the person teasing you immediately, or else the teasing will not stop. But most importantly, as a bystander you need to know that just because you’re not involved doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to tell someone about bullying that you have witnessed. If we all take a step back and run these thoughts through our mind, we may have a chance to come together and stop bullying once and for all.
Check out Thrive’s ongoing coverage of bullying.