Column: For the bullied, just having a friend helps

Katie Smith, Online Editor

I entered seventh grade wearing a ponytail tied with a soccer-ball printed scrunchie and a pair of blue dress pants my mom bought on sale at the uniform store.

I still wore boys’ shoes for their comfort, and the fact that we weren’t allowed to wear makeup or perfume was no problem for me.

My new school was composed of mostly kids wealthier than my low-income family, kids who grew up together and didn’t take an immediate liking to my boyish looks. 

Though my classmates didn’t know it, I spent every night crying to my mother, begging her to let me go back to my old school. Other kids would pretend to befriend me online then tease me to my face in the hallway, using what we talked about as ammo.

I heard all the whispers. I saw every eye roll. I felt the basketball Thomas Newby threw at my head in PE. 

Even though I laugh remembering someone had the audacity to hurl a basketball at my head, that year was miserable for me at the time.  For some, the constant pestering doesn’t quit.

It doesn’t take a fist to throw a punch anymore. It takes no more than the fingertips of an agitated cell-phone user to send the same sting to an unsuspecting victim. Bullying has become airborne.

It happens in the negative space between schoolyards and workspaces, where its anonymity allows for pervasiveness of cruel behavior, and the encouragement of its continuation.

The term “cyber-bullying” has become a joke. It’s something that moms in made-for-TV movies say to their daughters when they create Facebook accounts. Even the word “bully,” reminiscent of brute-forced high school students giving swirlies during passing periods, has lost its impact.

The colloquial uses of these words have become such caricatures of the actual acts they entail; it is hard to imagine anyone being a “bully.”

But we all know it happens. We see its effects manifesting as major depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, and substance abuse.

Stop Bullying, a government effort to inform the public about the issue, reported that in 12 of 15 school-shooting cases in 1990, the shooters had a history of being bullied.

This isn’t to suggest victims in theses cases were at all responsible for a single individual’s decision to harm anyone else. What it does suggest, however, is a need for prevention and intervention – and not just in high schools. In order to see significant progress, it is imperative to have a heightened sensitivity to this issue everywhere we go.

The feelings of belittlement and rejection are isolating. Helping someone you know is regularly picked on or shot down does not mean following them and teaching their attackers a lesson in manners at every stop.

To genuinely reach out to someone as a safe, friendly person is enough to begin combatting that isolation.

This behavior goes further. If bullies work to feel powerful and superior by making their victims feel alone and helpless, helping a someone affected by bullying is impairing the antagonist.

Katie Smith is a senior journalism major. She can be reached at 581-7912 or [email protected]