At least one third of children in the fourth to eighth grades say they have been bullied, according to recent studies.(Photo: CORBIS)
The taunts and teasing are vivid memories for Assata Washington, 12, of Atlanta, Georgia.
When she was in third grade, some of the girls in her class called her names because she wore glasses.
The situation was so bad, Assata didn't want to go to school. "I used to ask, 'Mommy, why do I have to go?'" Assata says.
Assata was being bullied. Bullying is a constant problem in U.S. schools. At least one third of children in the fourth to eighth grades say they have been bullied, according to recent studies. Sometimes kids miss school to avoid bullies.
There are ways to stop bullies. But kids don't always do the most important thing—talk about it. Getting a teacher, parent, or other responsible adult involved is very important.
Assata told her mom and her teachers about her bullies. And her teachers kept an eye out for her.
The bullying finally stopped after Assata's tormentors got suspended from school for throwing food at her in the school cafeteria. That was four years ago, but Assata still feels bad when she thinks about the experience.
"I felt a little better because they got suspended, but I still felt hurt," Assata says.
A Lasting Pain
Being bullied—even for a short while—can leave scars that last a long time. Bullying is not just calling someone names. It can include threats or spreading rumors about someone, as well as hurting someone physically. Bullying is even going high-tech. Cyberbullies—people who harass others over the Internet—are putting a new spin on an old problem.
Miss America 2003, Erika Harold, was tormented by bullies she faced in school. So when she became Miss America, she made a decision. During her year in office, she would make putting a stop to bullying and youth violence her mission.
"The harassment had a negative impact upon my sense of confidence and optimism," Harold recalls. When she was in ninth grade, bullies made her life so miserable that she had to change schools. They called her names. They vandalized her family's home. Bullies even threatened her life.
Harold spent her year as Miss America visiting school kids around the country to talk about the problem. She says victims of bullies must understand that they are not to blame. "I made a conscious choice to define myself on my own terms," Harold says, "and refused to allow the words and actions of others to limit me."
Bullying is a serious issue that affects both the bully and the victim. Kids may become bullies either because they feel bad about themselves, or because they have been the victims of other bullies. In a posting on a Web site about bullying, a former bully says he picked on other kids because he was scared that he would be picked on first.
"Every bully has something [about which] they don't want to be made fun of," he wrote, "so they make fun of you so [that] no one will find out."
Whatever their reasons, experts say that bullies can and must be stopped. Kids can take an active role in making bullying unattractive.
If you see another person being teased, harassed, or bullied, speak out and report it, says Dr. Pamela Riley, executive director of Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE).
"So often it's not just the bullies, it's the bystanders that let [the bullying] go on and do not show displeasure to the bully," says Riley. "They should tell someone [and] stand up for kids who are being bullied or teased."
Kids need to "show bullies that they're not heroes," Riley says.
This article is reprinted from Scholastic News Senior Edition, September 15, 2003.