After over 12 years in the Weston Public School system, I have fortunately never been the victim of bullying or cyber-bullying. Maybe my conviction that it simply does not exist was thrown off all these years by my own experience. Maybe I'm just lucky and have avoided all bullies wherever they may exist? Perhaps my three older brothers sent out a warning to all the punks, or my smile can magically thaw any ice-cold heart and thus I have no problems.
In all seriousness, however, what if the truth is that I have been oblivious to a serious teenage plague that can rapaciously take over at any time? We all saw the terrible thing that happened in South Hadley, Mass., in January 2010 as a result of unchecked bullying. What if that happened here? Not a soul I know would ever want to see that.
Since that incident, the laws against hazing and bullying have been incredibly apparent in the high school environment. The rules are clear, whether Mr. Parker is orating them to us in the welcome-back assembly or my coach in his pre-tryout speech. There is no way bullying will ever be accepted on the level it was before because in reality, any level of bullying is completely unacceptable.
In the last two weeks I have set out to see if there have been cases of bullying, and more specifically cyber-bullying, right under our noses here in Weston. What I heard was surprising. It saddens me that the school in which I try to take such a large role has vestiges of bullying within and outside of the hallways.
With the virtually unavoidable means of electronic communication nowadays, the possibilities are endless for the cruel perpetrators in the world who don't have the courage to confront their victim (though it's lousy any way to want to confront them...). One can now tweet, text, post and publicize bullying messages, and I don't think that's right. Discovering that bullying even exists in Weston is hard enough, but learning it can be conveyed with as much venom in a faster time and in a more covert way just breaks my heart.
Just hearing stories from three of my classmates was enough for me to realize the extent to which the problem can exist. The extent to which it, sadly, does exist. One student has a relative now contemplating transferring to private school because of denouncing text messages. Another student, I'll call him Joe, who has struggled for years with various attacks that has finally summed up to me what he thinks bullying is. His words are printed as follows:
"Bullying. Yes, bullying still exists, even though there are laws against it now. People may not realize it, but sarcasm in combination with lack of care for other people's feelings can be embarrassing, and can easily be perceived as bullying. I have experienced this first hand, and it is not fun. Things get blown out of proportion easily and it is hurtful. But bullying doesn't have to be all about name calling, because bullying can also be gossip. I also have seen first hand how people of a good nature can start back-stabbing each other over gossip and rumors that spread. That can be bullying too, and I have had my fair share of rumors spread around, and I admit to being a person who has actually gossiped before. We can't stop the gossip, but we can stop hurtful rumors."
I have been recently checking in with another student, "Mary," on a regular basis after hearing her story. What sickens me is that her troubles are continuing right now; her bullies are bullying right now, and no law or regulation is stopping them. It has gotten to the point that she has been sent to the hospital for acute depression. I am not alone in thinking that is incredibly unacceptable. From what I am told, she is doing better now, and the perpetrators do not go to Weston High School.
Their weapon of choice is Facebook. An intentionally friendly tool, Facebook serves to connect us to one another on a worldwide stage. That phenomena has caught like wildfire and continues to grow each and every day. I myself have a Facebook page and it is my best help in class events, team notifications, creativity resources and of course staying connected with my five older siblings and myriad relatives. But I have never been on either end of a Facebook-sparring duel, and I can only imagine how the victims of this situation must feel.
So here's the real question: If boys and girls are calling each other terrible things across electronic wires, how do we stop it? How do we, as a community, fight this plague prone to infect the vulnerable young in our own town, own state, own country? There must be something.
To start, there are countless resources out there today that are designed to aid people of all ages in the 21st-century communication world. Please don't hesitate to educate yourselves and those around you, especially the younger folk who may not necessarily be able to help themselves. Become acquainted with trusted services that can help, like the highly qualified counselors present in our own public school systems. There are people out there who are out to hurt, and cause bad feeling to others. But more importantly, there are people who want to help and are willing to join me in this fight against bullying.
With this anti-bullying movement which has swept the nation, I was inspired last year to create a tool called the Wildcat Wall in the high school. You will probably hear more about this in a later entry sometime down the line, but basically it is an open forum for students, by students to foster better understanding of what isn’t always shared aloud. It’s a creativity outlet as well as a safe place for thoughts, emotions and whatever is on the minds of the nearly 800 (I would love!) WHS students.
My best piece of advice would be to just smile. Just smile, people! Share some love and good feelings because (as my mother taught me), KINDNESS is the greatest virtue. Don’t be mean, I mean it! I hate to see people get down, especially when it comes from a fellow peer. We are all students here, guys! We all go through the same things, good and bad, and we need to be there for each other as friends, not enemies.
I leave you with some final words continuing from the student who is quoted above.
"My best advice in helping the situation is to simply put an end to hurtful rumors. If people do something, or have done something in the past, simply let it go. One individual's past has never defined who they are, but has allowed them to grow into who they become. Let us help each other to grow into better people."