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Former bully victim asks, "Do panelists stand up to bullies?"

Straight Talk: Teens 'n' Twenties
By: Lauren Forcella
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Dear Straight Talk: I saw the movie, “Bully” recently. Having had a taste of being bullied in high school — and witnessing far worse — it really affected me. One girl I knew would have spit thrown all over her desk and in her hair. It was horrible. I never spoke up for fear of being the next target. However, one popular kid could have shut that down in a second — yet none ever did. I'm wondering if the panelists ever come to the defense of bully victims. Or do bullies still rule today’s schools? ~ Red Bluff

Jane, 18, Placerville.: I was bullied throughout middle school and early high school. Unable to ask for help, I became very depressed, sometimes wishing my life was over. While I didn’t do alcohol, drugs or cutting, I was anorexic for almost a year. If someone had helped or spoken up for me, it would have changed my life. Luckily, I gained self esteem and stopped putting up with it. Now I always speak up against bullying. Remaining silent isn’t being neutral; it totally adds to the victim's sorrow. To other teens: Speak out. You just might save a life.


Gregg, 21, Los Angeles: I was a bully in middle school — a time of great family stress. My peers were always eager to totally gang up on the victim. It wasn’t until high school that I realized how low my actions were. From then on, I stop bullying when I see it and invite people who are excluded or being bullied into whatever activity my friends and I are doing.


Brandon, 20, Mapleton, Maine: At my rural school, bullying was only as bad as the students let it get. Some special-needs kids were bullied, but it stopped quickly when a group of not-popular kids came to their defense. Another time, some bullies were calling girls "sluts" because they were getting boyfriends.
My clique of seniors at the top of the popularity chain noted the behavior during a school assembly and it stopped instantly. (Note to schools: Seniors have tremendous influence on campus.) Another thing that kept bullying down was the drama team, which coaxed popular kids into joining by promising only humorous, modern plays. The popular kids bonded with the "fringe" kids and stuck up for them.

Akasha, 18, Sacramento: At my small private school, no one puts up with bullying. However, people still tease and there is minor bullying on occasion. When this happens, my friends and I always stick up for the victim and let the "bully" know that this behavior will not be tolerated — ever.

Omari, 18, Wellington, Florida: I came to someone's defense once. However, I was an athlete and "popular." Would I have stepped in otherwise? The honest answer is no. I would be too afraid. My high school used the Safe School Ambassadors program. The program trained me and 70 other popular kids on campus to constructively intervene when we saw bullying or exclusion. Because of this, there was almost no bullying on our campus. It was always stopped before it started.

Dear Red Bluff: The panelists couldn't vary more in background, life experience — and popularity. It is their desire to make the world a better place that compels many to speak up regardless.

You are correct that a popular teen can shut down bullying in a heartbeat. That's the strategy used by the Safe School Ambassadors program that Omari refers to. This successful anti-bullying program trains the most popular kids from each clique on campus to intervene when they witness bullying or negative exclusion. What I also like is that these magnetic young people take their peace-making skills into the world. Please learn more about the program at www.community-matters.org. ~ Lauren           

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More from Lauren Forcella:
Media attention has brought awareness to bullying — and now much needs to be done. I personally like the Safe School Ambassadors program because it grows a peaceful culture from within rather than it being policed, or even inspired, from the top. Training teen leaders in non-violent communication and empathy is brilliant because teens follow their social leaders. And by focusing on the leaders, instead of giving whole-school seminars, the training can be deep and intense, bringing real results. We did a column on the Safe School Ambassadors program (April 27, 2011, in our  archives). I am repeating one of the ambassador's comments below.

Jesse, 18, Brockport, N.Y.: Because of the (Safe School Ambassadors) program, I changed from being one of those bullies to a person who speaks out and helps others be happy and successful. Since this program came to Brockport there are hardly any fights. People talk about their problems instead of fighting. Upperclassmen now help motivate underclassmen instead of picking on them.
Some examples: In the locker room, two close friends from track were ripping someone who was overweight. I had to strength to say, “Hey! Maybe he’s trying to make a change. Bullying isn’t going to help!” Another time I sat with about six guys in the lunch room. An overweight kid named Zach was sitting alone and they decided to make fun of him. I told them to chill! I asked how they would feel if they sat alone? Now some of them actually sit with Zach and are becoming friends. All this makes me see how people can change so quickly when the right person tells them off. For instance, my two friends from track have now joined me in fighting the bullies. There’s a domino effect.
Readers, this is Lauren again. Thank you for sharing this column with your school administration.