When the Rome Middle School student’s classmates were telling her she was too ugly, too fat and didn’t deserve to be alive, the 14-year-old said she felt so trapped, she took to the razor for relief.
“They’re saying I don’t deserve to be at the middle school and that I’m an outcast,” Taylor said. “Because of the bullying, I’ve been cutting. I’ve stopped the cutting, but I’m still dealing with the bullying. I’m trying to stop the bullying the best I can by telling them to leave the other kids alone.”
But when Taylor turned to her teachers and counselors for guidance, she said she kept hitting brick walls.
“I’ve gone to the teachers and counselors about it, but they haven’t really done anything,” she said. “They’re saying they’ll handle it, but then the kids go up there and are making up different stories, and I almost get in trouble because of it.”
When her counselors learned that Taylor was depressed and cutting herself, she said they told her to consider therapy or institutionalization rather than fixing the reason for her depression: bullying.
October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, and according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, bullying can be verbal, physical or via the Internet. It can severely affect the victim’s self-image, social interactions and school performance, often leading to insecurity, lack of self-esteem and depression in adulthood. School dropout rates and absences among victims of bullying are much higher than among other students.
Connor Anderson is a pretty typical kid.
He said math has always been his least favorite subject, but it’s starting to grow on him. Now he’s becoming quite the history buff and likes science class, too. Connor enjoys riding his bicycle, hanging out with his friends, playing video games and going to church.
But when Connor stepped off the school bus one day and greeted his mother with a fresh black eye, she said she was beside herself.
Connor, a sixth-grader at West Central Elementary School, said some students have been relentlessly bullying him for years.
“One morning I went to sit down and I looked on my desk, and there were some pieces of paper there,” Connor said. “I saw writing on it, and I was wondering what it was, so I went and looked at it. There were some pretty hateful things on it.”
Connor said he wasn’t sure who had written him the notes, and he doesn’t understand why he is a target.
“I haven’t done nothing to them,” he said. “This one kid said that I humiliated him in, like, third grade at a football game, but I told him I don’t do that knowingly. I told him this needs to quit because this will come back and get him one day and he will get caught.”
Connor’s mother, Karen Anderson, said she understands that children can be mean, but they don’t understand the magnitude of the hurtful things they say.
“Kids go through a lot at this age, emotionally, hormonally,” she said. “I don’t condone the behavior. Kids come from all walks of life. Kids come from very stable, by-the-book homes, and kids come from different situations, … but at some point, there needs to be some accountability.”
When Anderson asked Connor to talk about some other examples of his being bullied, the 12-year-old’s eyes clouded over.
“I’ve got a whole bunch,” he said.
Connor remembered the day a classmate slugged him on the bus.
“I was riding on the bus home, my first time on the bus, and some kid just…. we were talking and you know how, accidentally, spit will fly out of your mouth? And when I was talking, it came out of my mouth and landed on his face, and he took it serious and got mad and called me a very hateful word,” Connor said, his voice trailing off.
“Because he thought you did what?” prompted Anderson.
“Spit on him on purpose,” Connor said, “and he punched me in the eye.”
Anderson said Connor’s fear is severely affecting his life, even outside of the school setting.
“We were going to dinner the other night, and we stopped at the gas station, and we were about to leave the gas station,” she said.
“And I saw (him),” Connor interjected.
“And what did you do?”
“And you told me your stomach … ?”
“Whenever you … ?”
“Spoke his name.”
“Or saw him, right?”
Counselors’ help is limited
Anderson said she is getting fed up with the matter. She has had two conferences with Connor’s school counselor, and the principal has yet to intervene. Furthermore, when contacting the superintendent’s office, she was told there wasn’t enough money in the school budget for programs to address bullying issues. The advice she’s been given, she said, isn’t good enough.
“What (the counselor) tells me, basically, is to find Connor a way to cope with it,” she said, incredulously. “But it’s a scar on your brain, and it’s a scar on your heart. You don’t forget that.”
Rome City Schools Superintendent Gayland Cooper said bullying is taken very seriously at the schools but that counselors are there to offer guidance to students, not to discipline them.
“Any time that bullying is reported, it’s investigated at all of our schools,” he said. “If we can find the perpetrator, the one that’s doing the bullying, we call them in and tell them that if another occurrence should happen there will be disciplinary consequences for them. We’re very firm on that.”
Given the nature of the bullying, Cooper said sometimes disciplinary action, such as suspension, is taken immediately. In severe cases in seventh through 12th grades, the bully will be sent to alternative school.
Enough is enough
Connor said a child told him to come to church one Sunday and meet him in a nearby field so he could beat him up. That same child threatened to slash the tires on Anderson’s vehicle. At school, Connor said he was called a derogatory name that refers to homosexuals because he was singing a song. That same child started shoving him.
“I just want to … I know it sounds horrible, but, like I want to fight back,” Connor said.
Anderson said her son is very passive and is never prone to aggression.
“I don’t want to be the type of parent that fights all of his battles, but he’s my child,” she said. “And I’m going to run to his defense. I want Connor to feel like he’s not a doormat. I want him to feel like a human being, and I’ve always told him, there’s no one better and there’s no one less than him.”
There are children who become severely depressed because they are bullied, so much so that their nerves make them physically sick. They want to drop out of school, Anderson said.
“I know some form of bullying has always existed, but it’s not fixing it. People in the community need to communicate better with their children and the schools. This is a very destructive problem, and as long as it keeps being swept under the rug, nothing is going to be done.”
Taylor said she hasn’t cut herself in more than a year, but those scars are still visible. She said bullies out there need to be aware of what they are doing.
“Watch your words, watch what you are saying, because it will lead to something bad happening,” she said. “Kids are hurting themselves because of it. They’re getting depressed; they want to drop out of school. No child deserves to go through that pain.”