September 17, 2011

‘Dear Bully’ is must reading

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Relationships, Women at 3:13 am by dinaheng

When I was in elementary school, Dad moved our family from San Francisco to Houston to start a grocery business. While it was bad enough being the new kid in school, I was also the only Chinese-American kid.

Every day, I would get on the school bus, not knowing if the kids sitting behind me would choose to pull my long hair or not. Taunts of “ching-chong” followed me everywhere, and not once did a teacher say anything to stop the torment.

It’s no fun dealing with bullies.

The experience is frightening, and for many children, it’s a humiliating experience that leaves emotional scars for life. Most of the time, we don’t see those scars, so a lot of adults seem to think that bullying is just a rite of passage in growing up.

It’s not.

Last year, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hung herself in her parents’ home after being bullied relentlessly by fellow students at South Hadley High School in South Hadley, Mass. The teenager was bullied for months in school and through online comments over a brief relationship with a boy at the school.

Nine students were charged with statutory rape, violation of civil rights, criminal harassment, and disturbance of a school assembly. Plea agreements resulted in sentences of probation and community service.

While Prince’s case garnered international attention, 160,000 children miss school in the United States every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students, according to National Education Association statistics.

This painful reality struck home with young adult authors Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, who each started blogging about the Prince suicide and bullying. The two decided to join forces, and started a Facebook group called Young Adult Authors Against Bullying, which quickly grew to 4,245 authors.

“We asked the members of the group to report pages that were bullying people to Facebook, where much of the cyber bullying occurs, and Facebook has taken some of them down,” Hall says.  “We also asked the authors to share their own stories about bullying, thinking that we’d create a safe place for authors and readers to talk about bullying online. There were so many great stories, our agents came up with the idea of doing an anthology, and Harper Collins loved the idea.”

More than 200 young adult authors submitted essays for “Dear Bully” (Harper Teen, $9.99). Hall and Jones served as the editors, selecting 70 essays for the book, most of which were written by New York Times best-selling authors from all the top publishing houses in the country.

Participating authors include Ellen Hopkins, Lauren Oliver and Alyson Noel to Jon Scieska, Lauren Kate and Mo Williams. Essays share experiences about being bullied, watching others being bullied, and being the bully… all meant to show young readers that life does get better, and that none of us is alone in being bullied.

R.L. Stine writes about how being the “funny guy” was the best defense against bullies in his class. Cyn Balog writes about the connection she had with a high school classmate who committed suicide, teaching her that “kindness is never, ever the wrong choice.”

“Young adult authors typically write for ages 12 and up,” Hall says. “Some research says bullying is more rampant in the middle school years, from 12 to 15. But bullying starts as young as five or six, and is practiced by adults, as well. Bullying never really goes away. It just changes form.”

“Dear Bully” is a book every parent should read, then give to their children. For as Carrie Jones says, we learn through stories. We learn what’s right and wrong, what is hurtful to others, and what brings joy to others.

“A lot of bullies are bullied at home,” Jones says. “They become bullies because it gives them a sense of power after feeling helpless. When you get bullied, it can be for things you’d never expect — for being too skinny, too smart, too pretty.”

In Jones’ s childhood, it was slurring her s’s and speaking with an accent that attracted the attention of bullies in her first grade class. After being continually teased about her voice, Jones stopped talking at school.

“My mom went to a parent-teacher conference and came back crying because she was told I wasn’t talking, and they thought I was developmentally disabled,” Jones remembers. “She said, ‘I know you’re smart. Why aren’t you talking in school?’ “

Jones explained the taunting by classmates, and her mother made her promise to speak at least once in every class.

“I did, but I avoided the s words,” Jones says. “It’s amazing how much bullying affects your self-esteem, and how it affects choices through your entire life. If adults would react with compassion and respect to those who are being bullied, what a difference it would make.”

It’s great to see these authors speaking out about how bullying affected their lives. If even one author’s story helps one reader (teen or adult), it will give the phrase “bully pulpit” new meaning.



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