originally written for the Daily Citizen-News, Dalton, Georgia, October 2014

photo (1)Grace Kling remembers high school as the worst four years of her life.

“Everything before and after has been a Godsend,” she shared. “But I lost a lot of confidence during high school. It broke me down. I went in excited, wanting to be in the top group of students, wanting to excel at my extra-curricular activities.”

But some of the students in her grade and in the grade below her decided to make life difficult for Grace, she said.

Most of the negative experiences played out on the internet through social media, though her tormentors routinely blasted her with snide, passive-aggressive comments on campus. One guy drew over her senior picture with a sharpie in a lot of the other kids’ yearbooks. Someone wrote a vulgar comment about her on a bathroom stall. Her car was vandalized. Once Grace left class and returned to find that her primary bully had spit in her bag, all over her wallet and homework.

“It was disgusting,” Grace said. “I let my grades slack. I don’t blame my bullies for that, but I just know that I became very depressed. By my senior year I was down to 84 pounds and people thought I was throwing up or something to lose weight. The truth was that I just had a ton of anxiety.”

“My high school definitely knew about it,” Grace said of the harassment, “but it was stuffed under the rug. I mean, what were they going to do about it?”

For Grace, relief finally came when she graduated. Today she’s 22 years-old and living in SoHo, New York, where she works as a stylist.

“No matter what, there’s never a reason to stay around people that bring you down or affect you in any negative capacity,” Grace advised. “I thought that some people – even though they hurt me – were okay to be around because we shared friends. The truth is, it’s never worth that much hurt and torture.”

For Rhonda Chastain’s daughter, Britany, bullying became physical her junior year.

“I often took lunch to school on days I wasn’t working,” Rhonda shared. “As soon as I left one day, a girl knocked Britany’s food off the table and then punched her. Britany gained a black eye and a bloody lip.”

Rhonda was called back to school to watch the lunchroom video tape of what had happened. The perpetrator was suspended, but the behavior didn’t get better when Britany’s bully returned to school. It got worse.

“Out of this group of about six girls one would get suspended and another would take over,” Rhonda said. “It sounds ridiculous, but that’s what happened. The bullying began before I even knew. Britany had been hiding it from me.”

When Britany’s aggressors learned there was no camera in the school stairwell they pushed her down, dislocating her shoulder, Rhonda said.

“I can’t count how many times I went to school to talk,” Rhonda recounted. “At least 15. They kept telling me, ‘We suspended this one’ or ‘We suspended that one,’ but there was always more girls in the clique to torment Britany.”

After the lunchroom incident, Britany refused to go back to the cafeteria. She hid in a bathroom stall to eat her lunch or sometimes the computer lab teacher would allow her to sit in the empty classroom.

“Britany never fought back,” Rhonda said. “We were told that if she did she’d be suspended and arrested. She became very moody at home, withdrawn. One of the counselors said it was just her age but it was more than normal teenage moodiness. She was being bullied in every way imaginable – verbally, socially, on-line, and physically. There was no peace.”

For several days toward the end of Britany’s junior year, Rhonda attended her daughter’s last period with her to prevent the bullies from following through on threats to “get” Britany after school.

“Those kids didn’t care if I was there or not,” Rhonda recalled. “They verbally taunted her right in front of me. The teacher seemed not to hear. At that point I’d had it. I checked her out before that class the last two weeks of school. She failed Math. Luckily, she was able to keep her other credits.”

Rhonda homeschooled Britany for a while. Now 19, Britany is enrolled in Endless Possibilities, a local alternative school, where she’s earning her final credits to graduate.

“She runs into some of those girls sometimes,” Rhonda said. “It’s a small town. But she’s more grounded and has moved on.”

Five years ago, on October 17, David and Tina Long of Chatsworth lost a son to bullycide. They have since formed a non-profit anti-bullying organization that can be found at www.everythingstartswith1.org. Additional resources are at www.121help.me.

“Don’t let your voice fall silent,” Tina said. “There is help.”

  

Connie Hall-Scott is a freelance writer and publicist. In honor of October being National Anti-bullying month, she and Judy Elliott discussed the topic on WDNN’s Lifestyles for Women. The segment will air the weeks of October 20th and 27th.

 

AFTERWORD:  Stories like Grace’s and Britany’s aren’t uncommon. As adults – teachers, parents, administrators, lawmakers, human beings – we should NEVER stand for it. I met Tina Long about a year ago after watching her family’s story on the movie “Bully.” My heart immediately went out to her. If you haven’t watched the documentary yet – you should. It’s on Netflix. The Longs lost their precious son Tyler, 5 years ago this month, to bullycide. Their story is beyond heartbreaking and it makes me furious. EVERY child should be protected. EVERY child should be cherished. And EVERY child should  be able to get up in the morning and get ready for school without depression and worry over whether or not someone or some group is going to shame them or even hurt them physically. Even if I had not been touched by the effects of bullying on a personal level – someone I love is currently going through a struggle – I’d still be outraged. I guess I just don’t understand mean people. What exactly is missing in the lives of bullies that led to their perverse actions? Thank God for people like Tina and David Long who tirelessly WORK to make changes. I urge you to visit their website – http://www.everythingstartswith1.org. I urge you to do something yourself. Even if that something is simply speaking up when you see an episode of bullying going down.

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