The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Bullying: See It, Stop It

January 29, 2011

Victim: ‘I’m the official punching bag of gym class'

ENID — Enid middle school students Marybell, Lance and Kaylin love going to class every day.

Kaylin has her friends and favorite teachers, Marybell has dreams of going to college and Lance has the ideal school day pictured in his head.

Unfortunately, his picturesque day of school doesn’t include other students.

“Usually I want to go to school,” said the sandy-haired, tall and lanky Lance, who sat in a chair in an office at ATS Counseling-Focus Institute, “but I don’t want anybody else to be there but the teachers.”

Lance isn’t only a victim of bullying, he said, he is the favored victim.

“I’m the official punching bag of gym class because kids think it’s funny to come up and hit me, even when they’re mad at someone else,” Lance said.

He’s pretty sure they know they are being bullies, he said, and he’s adamantly sure they do not care.

Even the teacher has gotten in on it, he said, adding the coach has called him “dumb” when he was trying to figure out what he was saying.

“That isn’t right,” Lance said.

One-third of teens in the United States have reported being bullied at school, according to 2009 Indicators of School Crime and Safety, and in that year 44 percent of middle schools reported bullying problems, compared to just more than 20 percent of both elementary and high schools.

Middle school is a tough ground for students to negotiate when it comes to fitting in socially, said Lisa Ellington, psychologist with Enid Public Schools.

At that age, she said, students are leaving childhood and trying to find their identities as young adults — challenges tough enough on their own without dealing with the taunts, teases and even physical and verbal abuse that can accompany them along with way.

Bullies, said Enid counselor Rebecca Kroeker Livesay, MHR, LPC, often are insecure, lashing out at others in an attempt at empowering themselves.

The best programs, school officials said, concentrate on both victim and bully.

Lance understands that on some level, but it doesn’t help him every day on those bus rides to school, when he wonders what his day is going to be like.

“You think every day is going to be worse than the last,” Marybell added.

The young woman often fields taunts about her wardrobe. They say she dresses “like a boy, even though I wear clothes bought in the girls’ section.”

“Even though I tell them to stop,” she says, her voice shaky, “they don’t do it.”

Kaylin can relate.

Every day will find her in the hallway in tears, she said, and oftentimes she’s there because the teachers sent her there.

It’s not punishment, she said. They understand she needs to get away.

“It gets frustrating and overwhelming,” she said. “If I don’t go outside ... I’d go ballistic.”

She said they let her go out in the hall and cool down. She gets upset, and it makes her angry.

“You get tired of it,” said her mother, sitting nearby, “and you want it to stop.”

Silence reigns for a few heartbeats, and across the small office, Lance stares off into the distance, lost in thought about the words just spoken.

“Yeah,” he said, breaking the silence.

The worst part of it, Kaylin continues, is those who get picked on often will turn around and do it themselves even more.

Lance admits that could even be him at times, and that is one benefit he has gleaned from counseling, which all three receive through ATS.

“I might have done it unintentionally,” Lance said, and he understands that now and is vigilant.

“Nobody likes to be picked on,” Marybell said. If she had one message she could get across to her tormentors that would be it, she said, “even though it hurts us, not you.”

Like Kaylin, Marybell just tries to walk away, but it’s her way of dealing with the hurt, not anger.

“I’m just trying to walk away, and wipe it off your shoulder,” she said, “pretend it never happened.”

But she says, too, it’s not easy to walk away. She loves the outlet counseling offers her — to be able to talk to someone about her fears and dreams. Nothing will stop her from going to school, she said, not even bullying.

But she has no illusions it will get any better as she grows older.

“You are going to go to high school,” she said, “and you are going to get bullied then.”

The girls have friends, which is one reason they really like going to school. Lance told the girls it’s easier for them because of their friendships.

“I was even outcast from the outcast table,” he said.

He and his sister often do skits at school to bring the topic of bullying to the forefront. “To Save a Life” is about an incidence of bullying uniting a school.

Kaylin hopes one day her schoolmates will wake up and be united against bullies.

She’s afraid of what it might take for that to happen.

“It’s probably not going to get any better until something happens at school and makes them uneasy,” she said. “Eventually someone’s going to go ballistic, and then they might figure it out, maybe.”

Victims of bullying can get to a point at which “they can’t take it anymore, and they don’t care whose in their path,” said local counselor Shaye Sheppard-Aman, LPC, NCC, owner of Alpha Assessment Counseling.

That’s where talking to someone — teachers, parents, counselors and even peers, though adults should get involved, Sheppard-Aman said — is important.

Rarely does bullying, alone, result in violence, Sheppard-Aman said. There almost always is some mental illness involved as well, she said, pointing to the most recent shooting of an Arizona congresswoman by an allegedly troubled young man and the shootings at Columbine High School several years ago by two teenagers.

But, Sheppard-Aman added, it also is important all students are aware of how potentially harmful bullying can be toward those who become victims.

“It’s important for kids to know they should stand up for (others),” she said.

Other students, and even adults, know what is wrong, she said, and it is time for them to take a stand when they see it and stop it.

“It may be entertaining at the time,” Lance said about those who bully others. “In the future it could come back ... to be ... eventually ...”

Again a stretch of silence, before Kaylin says what’s on everyone’s mind.

“It could come back to bite you in the butt.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some of the names mentioned in this story have been changed to protect their identities.

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Bullying: See It, Stop It