Erika N. L. Harold is an attorney, a former Miss America, and a Republican candidate for the 13th Congressional District seat in the State of Illinois.
It started out with people calling me names, and then it got worse. They threw things at me, they vandalized my house, and they sang nasty songs about me in school hallways and classrooms. It got so bad that I felt like I was in danger, physically. What really hurt was that many of the kids who were doing all this had been my friends just the year before, in 8th grade.She eventually had to change schools and she claims life got easier after that.
Many schools have student groups who deal with the issue of bullying. They go into classes and hold discussions, they do skits, they might put up posters around their school. They sometimes work with students from other schools to address the subject. Maybe your school has a group like this that you can join, or maybe you can start one yourself. What's most important, though, is to recognize that bullying is a problem, and be willing to serve as an active peacemaker.
A good place to start is the whole idea of being a bystander. This happens to everyone. Maybe you're not the bully, and maybe you're not the one being bullied. Most of us don't have the courage to walk up and tell a bully, "Don't do that." It would be great if everyone could, but let's be realistic! Here's what you CAN do: if everyone just doesn't laugh at the joke, that stops it. If you see a fight, don't join in or crowd around. If you just refuse to react to or watch what's going on, that makes a big difference.
At a very early age I had to form my identity, because it was something that I had to fight for in many ways. Hanging on to my identity was the only way I was going to survive what was happening. When you're bullied, people are making fun of your hair, your clothing style -- some personal thing about you. You have to decide if you feel good enough about yourself to stand up for who you are. Otherwise, you're going to end up letting other people decide how you dress, what you say, how you carry yourself, etc. By staying true to myself, I got a solid idea of who I was at a relatively early age. Having a strong identity like that has really helped me achieve my goals.
I think what keeps many people from standing up for themselves is being afraid of the result. But think about it: what's the worst that could happen? People may stop talking to you, or you may be unpopular. On the other hand, being able to hang on to your personal dignity -- that's something that can never be taken from you. It's a great skill to have. If you stand up for yourself when you're 13, you're more likely to do it when you're 23, or 33, and so on. There are lots of adults out there who got really crushed by bullying experiences and it stuck with them, always wondering if they're the "loser" they were called in 7th grade. Of course, there are many other ways to learn these life lessons, and I hope nobody has to go through what I did.
If someone's getting bullied, don't just disappear. Maybe you can't be very supportive in school or at the moment that something's happening, but you can find other ways to stand by them. If you're truly a friend, you owe it to that person not to neglect them when they need you most.
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