HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – Bullying defined is “a repeated harassment or abuse of an individual.” The definition is simple, but solutions are not.
Consider this: In America 60 percent of middle school students are bullied. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, and half of them are due to bullying.
14-year-old Dejah Jones, a freshman at Woodside High School in Newport News, killed herself, in part due to bullying.
“I can’t imagine anyone going through that feeling of abandonment,” says Nicole Luna, who knows what it’s like to be bullied at Woodside High School. So touched by Dejah’s death, Luna wrote an open letter to the Woodside community about what happened to her at the school 14 years ago. The letter has already been shared 2,000 times on Facebook.
Luna is a vlogger, and uses makeup as a creative outlet to make her feel comfortable in her own skin. We asked her if she felt the same desperation Dejah must have felt? After a long pause she said, “I’m not sure I feel comfortable talking about that right now.”
Luna felt alone because she says the teachers did nothing, and there is a disconnect. According to the Stop Bullying Now Foundation, Only 25 percent of students say teachers stopped bullying, while 71 percent of teachers say they did intervene. The bottom line, teachers think they are intervening, but students don’t think they are. “It was very lonely. You feel a sadness and a hurt that’s hard to describe,” Luna remembers from her high school years.
14 years later the bullying still remains a part of Luna’s life. “Well, number one it impacts how you trust people even today.” Number two is self-acceptance, “When someone else doesn’t accept you, it’s even harder for you to accept yourself.” Number three is the long term scarring, “It heals, but it never goes away.” According to the book written by Bobby Kipper and Bud Ramey, “NO BULLIES: Solutions for Saving Our Children from Today’s Bully,” other inputs include depression, physical ailments, sleep problems, switching schools, low self-esteem, weight loss or gain, long term emotional scars, physical injury, property damage, problems with future relationships, violent revenge, aggression, and suicide.
Luna and Jones are not alone. 10-year-old Elijah Brown is athletic, not considered weak, but he and his mother say he’s been bullied since November. “He was punching me, spitting on me, smacking me,” Elijah says. He doesn’t want to go back to Luther Machen Elementary School in Hampton, and when his mother complained the principal took out a criminal complaint claiming she felt threatened. “I told her I’m going to get people together and we are going to have a picket. We are going to have a picket,” says Elijah’s mother Tanesha Grimes.
On the court paperwork Principal Jennifer Humble writes, “Ms. Grimes…threatened to bring people to the school and make noise, wanted to obtain my personal information from the police to come and get me and that I was going to burn for what I did to her son.”
To that “NO BULLIES” author Bobby Kipper, who was 26 years a police officer with Newport News, says, “Parents have a right to speak up on behalf of their children if they are being disrespected. They are our kids, and I hope community leadership understands when we try to protect our children. That should be an interesting court case.”
“This is something that can scar. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me is a lie,” says Shant’a Miller-Synaker whose 11-year- old daughter was attacked on the bus by a bully. “My child went from being a social butterfly to wanting to be depressed to wanting to take her life.” Miller-Synaker channeled her anger by forming Parents Against Bullying, took the bully to court, and the bully got two years probation. That seemed to work. She adds, “You have to do whatever is necessary to make sure your child is safe.”
“I’ve definitely been scarred by bullying, but the most important part is the healing process,” says K’bana Blaq who was bullied into his 20s. He is older than that now, but did not want to reveal his age. When Blaq got beat up his mother made him go back out and face the bullies, “She told me ‘you get out there.’ I stood out there and said you cannot touch me. You are not allowed to put your hands on me. For some reason the kids were so shocked (I was saying that) they didn’t bother me anymore. I thought that was the craziest thing.” We asked Kipper about what Blaq did, “It’s not the craziest thing. I like the idea of putting your hands up and saying, STOP! You are not going to do this to me. You are not going to take me to that level. You have to stand up at the beginning of the process that leads to physical violence. It doesn’t happen overnight and they will continue to do it until you stand up and put a stop to it.”
10 On Your Side asked Kipper whether or not you should physically fight back against the bully. In his book Kipper takes the politically correct approach, “Physical engagement of a bully is not advised. This may have been the reaction of choice for past generations, but it carries a much greater risk today as the weapons and the potential for retaliation have changed. We also recommend that bystanders protest verbally when possible, but not enter a physical bullying situation-rather, call for help, recruit support from others and verbally protest the abuse.”
We pressed Kipper, asking what do you do if the bully is physically hitting you, not stopping, and not listening to your commands to stop? What do you do then? Kipper said, “You have to stand up for yourself; physical violence is a last resort only when you are trying to protect yourself from other physical violence.” The bottom line, according to Kipper, you have to stand up for yourself immediately when the bullying begins. Encourage your child to let you know of any encounter with bullying, to stand firm when a bully tests the child for weakness, to not fight as a first resort, but do stand-up verbally; don’t be afraid to walk way.
In the end Luna admits she still has a long way to go, but she’s come so far, “What they did to me is a factor still. It still affects me, but they don’t get the prize of me acknowledging them anymore.”
We asked Kipper why is a bully a bully? He says bullies are often bullied at home, “The research shows a lot of bullying has been the product of domestic violence within their own home or sexual abuse within their own home.”
The bully then goes to school or the community and does what he knows, “To expect schools to solve a problem that is community-wide is not a good way to go. We need to all take blame and take solutions together,” Kipper says.
It seems we are always asking, ‘what is the school doing about bullying?’ Kipper says we should be asking what are parents and guardians doing to stop bullying before it gets to school? “You have to stand up at the beginning of the process that leads to physical violence. It doesn’t happen overnight and they will continue to do it until you stand up and put a stop to it.”
Kipper blames the culture in America as a primary problem, “It seems we seek out ways to mistreat others. We don’t protect our own rights. We don’t protect the rights of others. We in the society should believe it is all based on civility, and we are far from that in America. We need to work on that.”
Kipper says schools need to take some bullies out of a classroom and put them in a courtroom, “Look, if you were at the 7-Eleven, and somebody walked up, and hit you, and battered you, you would make a police report, and it would be properly investigated. It should not be any different simply because a child is 16 in a public school.”
Kipper says when you are bullied let someone know, and if necessary keep letting them know until they are tired of hearing from you, “It is a human rights issue. People are violating your rights as an individual. You have a right to stand up for yourself and to be socially conscious as to what it is doing to you.”