Game changer: from bully to advocate

by Cody Dolan on May 7, 2010 · 10 comments

in bullying,stigma,suicide

I don’t remember getting bullied that much as a kid. I can think of a few instances, but nothing that scarred me or really resonates today. Unfortunately, I don’t have to think very hard to remember the one time I was part of a bullying group.

My experience as a bully

The details are lost to me, but I know I was in elementary school. I know that a few of my friends at the time had decided another student deserved our unwanted attentions. I could say that I hadn’t yet established my own identity and therefore wanted to follow the crowd. That might be true, but it would be disingenuous. I honestly don’t know why I felt the need to add to this boy’s misery.

I remember the boy was a bit smaller than most and was thought of as being a bit weirder than his peers. One of my friends once caught him picking his nose and christened him “Booger,” a name/word nearly all 10 year olds find hilarious. I won’t use that label again, so instead I’ll call him Steve.

Steve wasn’t in my class, and in the insular world of late 80s elementary school that meant I hardly saw him. I know I called him that cringe-inducing nickname a few times, but other than that I can’t recall much else about him.

What I do remember haunts me to this day, and that’s not a phrase I use lightly.

The incident

We were riding our bikes around the neighborhood one afternoon when we saw Steve, also on his bike, crossing the street. One of the more aggressive kids saw him and took off in his direction, taunting Steve with that horrible name. We followed, and all of us joined the chorus. Steve didn’t look our way, but he turned on all the speed he could muster and made a beeline to his house. We chased him the whole way, another two or three blocks, never getting within 30 feet of the surprisingly fast smaller boy.

Steve’s mother was in their front yard, so she heard and saw everything he son had just gone through. I remember the pain on her face, even though I didn’t know what I was seeing at the time. I remember that pain turning to anger and frustration. I remember that anger and frustration giving way to pleading. I remember her asking all of us to please stop tormenting her son, to please stop calling him a name that I’m sure made him cry when no one was around, and to please let him have some peace.

Recent examples

Students hold a candlelight vigil for Phoebe Prince.

This incident came to mind when I read a recent article about the case against Phoebe Prince’s bullies. Prince, you probably know, moved to South Hadley, Mass., from Ireland last year. The 15-year-old high school student killed herself this past January as a result of constant physical- and cyberbullying. According to one of her friends, Prince was targeted because “she was pretty and people were jealous.” This supposed jealousy manifested in vicious taunting, abusive text messages and threatening Facebook posts. She was called an “Irish whore” and a “slut,” far cries from “Booger” and infinitely more hurtful.

Several of her classmates are now being charged with crimes, including statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, criminal harassment and stalking. The article I read implied that little was done by her school’s administration to ease her suffering, despite reports that authority figures were aware of her situation. After months of abuse, Prince hanged herself in her family’s home. Even this didn’t end her persecution; her tormentors posted cruel, venomous comments on the memorial Facebook page created for Phoebe.

It seems obvious to point out that bullying of any kind can lead to mental illness. The victims are much more likely to suffer from depression, conduct disorders and a variety of other illnesses. Of course, whether it’s from the shame that comes with “letting” someone else bully them or the stigma associated with these mental illnesses, those victims often don’t want to talk about any of this.

Stories like Phoebe’s, or like 11-year-old Carl Walker’s, who hanged himself in April of 2009 after enduring similar bullying, have made it so that we can no longer accept that silence. As cyberbullying continues to rise, the work being done by Menninger clinicians like Stuart Twemlow, MD, and Tom Ellis, PsyD, ABPP, is now more important than ever. We need to listen and understand how to handle the bullying we see, and prevent it from escalating to the point where victims feel like suicide is the only way to get it to stop.

I think back to my 9- or 10-year-old self and try to understand why I took part in bullying Steve. I try to remember why I thought it was OK. Mostly, though, I remember Steve’s mom, standing alone on her lawn, sticking up for one of the people she loved most in her world. I remember her eyes, desperately searching for a reason to hope this would all end, that her son would be able to enjoy a normal life. And I remember the defeat in her slumped shoulders as we rode off, laughing at how clever we were.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Christebany,Jasmine,Tracy,Nicolas September 28, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Bullying is a big problem that can hurt people physically and emotionally. People need to stand up for themselves or another person who is being bullied.If you’re bullied or another person is, you need to tell a grown up.
Cyber bullying gives the bullies a bigger chance to torment you emotionally over the internet. If it gets out of hand you may need to involve the police
so bullies won’t hurt you any more.

Edison, Amy, Preston, Melina September 28, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Bullying is a major reason for kids to commit suicide. Bullies don’t realize how much pain and suffering they can cause when they bully kids. Whenever you get sevrely bullied, you can tell the teacher or report to the police so they can help you stop the bullying. We can also stop bullies by paying more attention to the hallways and report what you see to the principal.

Daniel,David,Kevin,Vui September 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Bullies in general, are making kids and teenagers feel horrible. When teenagers or kids get bulled enough, they decide to kill themselves, because of bullies. We can handle bullies by telling your parents first then teachers. You need to do this because when Pheobe Prince was getting bullied she didn’t tell enyone except her friend. Great post!

P.S. this is true for people at any age becuase all ages can get bullied

Jay, Axel, Jiar, and Clinton September 28, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Technology has many flaws. One of the biggest flaws is cyber bullying. Hundreds of kids are tormented by cyber bullies. We believe that this is a cowardly act, since they don’t have to show their face. We should ignore, block, change account information, or even report them.

Bullying happens mostly at school. We should stop ignoring the bullies because they will keep bothering you, try to be friendly to them, tell immediatly when they bother you. Don’t ever, and I mean ever, let a bully get to your mind.
This post was Great. Thanks!

Mi,Helen,Ayo,and Kenneth September 28, 2010 at 1:55 pm

We believe that bullies are cowards. Hiding behind their lies and physical strength. Bullies are mean and annoying. We also believe bullies are ruthless, bullying people to death and choking the bullied person with lies and stealing their self worth.
Sometimes it gets so bad to where people take their lives because they are in the poor state of mind that was created because of the physical and mental pain from bullies. Bullies are usually bullies because of tomant at home or because they feel abanded. We can solve this problem when people speak up when we witness bullying. We should also become a good samaritan and stop bullying when it happens.

Kat May 13, 2010 at 6:22 pm

As a parent, grandparent and a school volunteer, I have seen bullying for years. I hated it as a child and now it is simply out of control. As this post shows, name calling and torment can destroy a child’s self esteem and deeply wound him/her for life. In the age of text messages and social media sites, bullying has been taken to a new level. We must find a way to teach children about the damage that they are inflicting on the person they have chosen to bully. The continual harassment must feel like a growing mob and the young people are not prepared to address this lack of control. How sad to see children take their own lives as a result of bullying. Great post! This is something every parent and teacher should read.

Pat May 12, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Bullies have always been cowards, hiding behind some attribute that makes them powerful, usually physical size. Now they have the anonymity of cyberspace to conceal them. Thanks for your honesty in sharing.

Clint May 11, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Very well put. Working at a school, bullying is still so prevalent, even on social media platforms. The effects are so wide
ranging and long lasting, and I’m so glad the topic is being brought to the forefront.

Lauren Hale May 11, 2010 at 8:40 pm

This is a really relevant topic right now. Bullying has always been a problem in schools, but now with the advent of internet 2.0 we as a society need to find all new ways to prevent bullying. I have heard that often times kids don’t understand the impact of cyber bullying because they don’t see the person they are tormenting face to face. I wonder if stories like Prince’s that have been in the news lately is changing the way cyber bullying is viewed. Great post!

Teresa May 8, 2010 at 1:20 pm

What an important topic to discuss, one I think most people can relate to. There’s not a person out there who hasn’t either been the bully or the bullied. If we are lucky it is something that, while difficult to remember, has not been too damaging to our lives. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is as true anymore. With all the technology we have, bullies can torment 24/7. The people they bully have almost no safe haven, as bully’s house or computer can provide them with anonymity while they inflicting their pain. I teach students ages 10 to 13, and I certainly believe that bullying is becoming worse because of technology. When I conference with students that are the object of bullying, they almost always tell me of text, email, Myspace, and Facebook bullying as well. Bullying in school is not enough for new age bullies, they are relentless and use all resources at their disposal to cause pain and embarrassment. I think this kind of all-encompassing bullying has horrible, lasting effects on kids. Because of this, bullying tactics like those used by the kids in Massachusetts need to watched out for by everyone: parents, teachers, friends, and Good Samaritans.

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