Since 2010, dramatic tales of bullying have appeared in news reports across the nation. As adults we are able to recall instances in our own experience in which we were either the recipient, the witness, or perhaps even the source of an act of bullying. Although it occurs throughout our lives at varying levels and degrees, we most associate bullying with middle school. Recently, stories of well-known actors and artists have appeared in teen news articles, from Glee star Lauren Cofferâs âDisable Bullyingâ campaign, speculations over Harry Potterâs Emma Watson and her withdrawal from Brown University, and rapper 50 Centâs semi-autobiographical novel Playground, in which he writes from a 13-year old bullyâs perspective. Stories of bullying are pervasive, and teens across the country are well-versed in its consequences.
In a recent visit to Hartman Middle School in Houston ISD, I arrived to visit with students about bullying; interestingly, I also arrived without prior awareness that the school had recently deployed numerous creative efforts designed to combat bullying and build a strong student culture. Displayed in 2â tall yellow letters along the schoolâs stately grand hall were the words Bullying accompanied by written essays and lesson summaries. I was thrilled for the coincidence. I learned later that the school launched a creative Stop Bullying writing contest and hosted a Saturday Peace Conference, where guest speakers offered personal anecdotes of bullying and shared ideas for its prevention.
In the schoolâs welcoming, well-stocked library, four affable Hartman students awaited our discussion, and I must say that they were an absolute delight to visit with. Letâs meet them:
- Ezekiel, a very wise emerging 9th grader: âI like to invent my own stuff and I do a lot of building with my hands. Engineering and technology might be a career.â
- Ixayana, rising 8th grader with a beautiful name: âI love to play basketball.â
- Jazmin, School News Correspondent and rising 8th grader: âI know that everybody here, weâre a family, and âŚitâs just like another home to me.â
- Philip, a self-assured emerging 9th grader: âMy favorite thing about this year was that we had a lot of activities, like UILâŚwhere we go to competitions with other schools in subjects like math and science.â
I began by asking the group to share thoughts of their choosing on the topic of bullying. Along the way, I discovered that although still commonplace, these students had been given the tools and the support to manage any bullying situation. They were open, confident, and wise:
AN: Share with me your thoughts on or experiences with bullying.
Jazmin: âI was bullied in the past by text and calls, and sometimes people would pass notes around school. I never told anyone but my mom, and then she came up to school and put a stop to it. A lot of kids, it really gets to them and thereâs been a lot of suicidal stories you hear all over the news. The bullies think âIâm cool because I can bully, and Iâm bigger than he or she is,â but itâs not cool. Itâs just immature.â
Ezekiel: âBullies have low self-esteem. Thereâs no purpose of bullying other than to make yourself feel good or pump your head up. Iâve had an encounter with a bully in sixth grade, and he acted like he was cooler than me. Thatâs another thingâthey feel little, so they try to pick on people to make them smaller than they are and try to make them feel lower than they areânot even physically, but mentally, too. Itâs not really useful.â
Ixayana: âMy little sister got bullied once, and it really hurt me. Since she got bullied, I got closer to her and felt more love for her. I would talk to her and we took her to a counselor, and she got better.â
Philip: âI saw bullying every day from a boy who used to get his money taken by a bigger boy, and I encouraged him to tell someone at school. Later on we talked to the teacher at school and we handled it. It stopped after that.â
AN: Does everyone know whatâs going on in middle school, even with so many more people than in elementary school?
Jazmin: âIt depends. I feel like I know everythingâwhoâs talking about who and whatâs going on after school. In middle school thereâs a lot of kids, but rumors spread around really quick.â
AN: What about bullying over cell phones and Facebook?
Ezekiel: âIt has happened here beforeâpeople will fight over text message or Facebook.â
Jazmin: âThat happens all of the time. If [a fight or an argument] happens, people just take out their phones and record it.â
These student insights into bulliesâ motivations were quite perceptive, strong indicators of supportive home and school environments. As half emerge as school leaders and the remainder enter as the youngest members of a new world, I hope these insights continue to provide strength and reinforce a strong moral compass. It takes a comprehensive community effortâschools, parents, and studentsâto address this challenge and steward a culture of acceptance and support.
As educators, parents, siblings, and mentors, we eventually face the task of supporting a child in overcoming an experience in bullying. Have you seen effective anti-bullying or acceptance programs? How can we emphasize empathy and acceptance while building self-assured young individuals?