Sticks and stones: Words do damage for those catching brunt of bullying

By Ray Van Dusen / Monroe Journal

FACEBOOK QUESTION: What are your thoughts and experiences with bullying?

Snickers in the hallway. Mocking gestures on the playground. Hurtful words in the workplace. Signs of bullying are around us every single day without the first fist being thrown.

In the endless cycle of kids picking up their parents’ traits, the dishing out and bottling in of bullying starts with school, continues into adulthood and sometimes ends in tragedy.

“As parents, the kids learn from us. If we say something negative, the kids are going to pick it up. Bullying isn’t just something in our schools, it’s in our churches too. Bullying is everywhere,” said Hamilton resident Mary Baucom, whose daughter, Tori, folded to the pressure of bullies.

“Every day at school somebody would push me and call me names. I know what it feels like so I didn’t want to lash out and put anybody else through it, I’d just go home and cry. The school always told me to just let it go in one ear and out the other, but I finally got to the point where I wanted to bottle it up and not even tell my parents,” Tori said.

Tori is mainly made fun of because of her weight. She has bacteria growing in her stomach lining and in addition to the medical condition, doctors have suggested stress from bullies may have played a role in her weight.

She said even certain teachers poked fun at her weight in years passed.

What started with teasing in elementary school lead to more harsh name calling in junior high until Tori reached her breaking point and downed 100 Extra Strength Tylenol before realizing her her suicide attempt was a mistake.

After spending time in an Intensive Care Unit for erratic blood pressure and heart arrhythmia, the high school freshman was transferred to a mental behavior clinic, where she found her inspiration to take control of being bullied.

In addition to a new outlook on life and standing up against the bullying that continues to plague Tori, her suicide attempt and hospitalization has inspired her to reach out to others going through the same complications.

“God left me here for a reason and sharing this experience is it. For anyone who has been bullied, I want to be their Superwoman. Anyone needing a conversation or just someone to listen to them, I’m here no matter what age, color or gender. I’m easy to find on Facebook so just hit me up,” Tori said.

Four walls closing in

As different cliques, upbringings and backgrounds converge each day in school settings, so does the probability of bullying. In most cases the bullies, themselves, are passing their own aggression forward since they may be being bullied too.

“It makes them feel stronger. In a recent case, I asked the bully if he had ever been bullied and he started crying,” said Kristy Gruchy, counselor at Amory Middle School.

“Bullying has always existed in schools. It’s just had more emphasis in the past few years. Normally, if someone was threatened years ago students would take it upon themselves to handle it and not report it. Naturally, bullying is part of school, but now kids are afraid of handling it,” said Aberdeen School District conservator Bob Strebeck, who has served 40 years in education.

“Students not reporting bullying is a huge problem because they’re afraid if the bully is caught and sent to the office, the retaliation is going to be so much worse. If bullying isn’t stopped early, what starts as picking on somebody in first or second grade is only going to get worse,” Gruchy said.

In the past few years, the state has made it mandatory for school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies. Policies address recognizing bullying and who to deal with it.

Strebeck said each student is asked to report any instance of bullying to a teacher or principal and that report is investigated before any action is taken.

“By policy, students have the right to protect themselves. There’s more of an emphasis on letting parents know we’re aware of a problem. As administrators, we can only prevent what we’re aware of and we have to be careful because some students use it as a means of getting back at another student,” Strebeck said.

Counselors are put in place to help curb the bullying problem in school from both angles.

“I try to work with them individually. For those being bullied, I try to build self esteem and for those bullying, I ask them how they would feel if the same thing happened to them.

“For those being taunted for what they wear, for example, I tell them to smile and respond by saying how they like that outfit or it’s their own original style. The main thing is to say something and walk away unaffected. Most of the time, a bully is looking for a reaction so if you take that away, you take away the bully,” Gruchy said.

While physical actions hurt, the mean words of bullies do more damage.

“What the students hear now, they believe. Right now is probably the hardest time of their lives with cliques and drama. As they start to get older and make different friends, jealousy kicks in like the want to pick on somebody else to make themselves feel better,” Gruchy said.

Gruchy teaches students how even in their adult lives, they will still come across people they won’t get along with so the coping skills they develop now will help.

Cyberbullying is another extension of hurtful words and phrases plaguing students today.

“We’ve noticed cyberbullying through text messages and through Facebook posts. Sometimes students will even create fake Facebook pages to attack someone. Cyberbullying is a way for a bully to still make an attack when he’s afraid to do it face-to-face; it’s a mask for them to hide behind,” Gruchy said.

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