Bullying – What Are We Doing About It?

I grew up a pretty average kid. Noting about me really stood out. Yes, my hair was big and wild with the Florida humidity, but there were other kids with bigger, wilder hair. Yes, I had constant acne from 11 to 30 (and still get the occasional break out at 37), but it wasn’t bad enough to be called pizza face. And I was a little chubby, but I was also athletic so I got away with it. I was a band nerd and an AP geek, but I balanced it out by playing varsity soccer. I wasn’t a standout, I just kind of was. And for that I was grateful. Teenagers (and now it’s starting younger and younger) can be really cruel, especially girls. Somehow teenage girls can find the one thing that you absolutely hate about yourself and taunt you until you feel like crying, punching them in the face, or both.

I had one girlfriend who was absolutely gorgeous, but happened to have hairy arms. This was her one insecurity and after the mean girls latched on to it she was relentlessly called “gorilla girl”. Another friend was super self-conscious about her extremely curly hair. The nickname she got saddled with was “Fro”. It didn’t matter that they were great artists, musicians, athletes or scholars. To the people who didn’t know them they became what they mean girls labeled them.

I was, and am, still friends with them. We commiserated over pizza and pringles, but we didn’t do anything about it. When the ridicule first started we told them to stop and that it wasn’t nice, but this just brought on more name calling and louder taunts. It was easier to stay quiet and keep our heads down. It’s easy to know logically that when people are saying mean things about you or your friends the issues aren’t really about you, but about them. However, when you are a teenager and the biggest thing on your wish list is acceptance, that knowledge doesn’t matter. Who cares that they aren’t happy with themselves? Who cares that they are mad that you’re the starter instead of them? Who cares that their older sister makes fun of them so they are just passing it down the line? None of that matters when you are a teenager, you’re hurt and you are desperate for people to like you.

Maybe it’s because social media is now so prevalent or maybe we have just become a meaner society, but bullying has reached outlandish levels. From the employee who now telecommutes so she doesn’t have to face her bullying coworkers to the NFL player who is refusing to report to work because his teammate is bullying him to the girl who committed suicide because bullies relentlessly taunted and ridiculed her on Facebook, bullying is in the media on a daily basis.

We all know it’s happening so now the question is – what are we going to do about it? I love the “Mean Stinks” program that Secret has created and think it’s a great step forward, but it isn’t enough to stop bullying. Companies that create campaigns and speak out about bullying are providing a huge service by putting the spotlight on a topic that for many years we swept under the rug or shoved in a dark corner, but we, as individuals, have to be willing to carry the torch. So, what can we do? We can:

  • Make sure that schools are bully-free zones. This will take effort by administrators, teachers, staff and students. Schools will have to have clearly defined expectations and consequences.

  • If you are an adult, make sure that the youth in your life know that they can trust you and count on you for help.

  • If you are a youth, identify an adult that you trust before the need arises.

  • If you see someone being bullied, you can ask the bully to stop, make sure the victim is ok, and/or report it to an authority figure.

  • If you are a parent, look for signs that your child is the victim of bullying or the one doing the bullying. Recognizing and addressing both of these roles is critical if we hope to change this pattern of bullying.

  • Be kind. I know this sounds silly and simple, but it works. If you think good thoughts about people you are less likely to bully them. It’s easy to make fun of people that are different than you, but keep in mind that you don’t know their journey. Think that girl needs to lose some weight? Maybe she’s already lost 50 pounds and is proud of herself. Think that girl’s clothes are so last year? Maybe she is being raised in a single parent home with a mom doing everything she can to make ends meet. We never know what people are going through and are in no place to judge them.

What else can we do to curb bullying? Please leave your suggestions in the comment section on our Facebook page: facebook.com/gotrac.

Amy Hester is program director for Girls on the Run of Alachua County. A Gainesville native that has recently returned to her hometown after living overseas, she has always been an athlete and discovered her passion for running long distances over a decade ago. While living in Japan, Amy realized that there was no GOTR chapter available, so she created a girls’ running club at Kadena Air Base and ran the Naha Marathon as a Solemate in 2010. Upon her return to Gainesville, Amy coached with GOTR for the Spring 2012 season, then started shadowing Jennifer Bleiweis as Program Director before assuming the role in Summer 2013. Amy is a running coach with Road Runners Club of America and is currently working on obtaining her personal trainer certification. When she is done with her certification, Amy plans to focus on youth fitness.  Fun Fact:  Amy has run marathons or ultras on 4 different continents!