Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can kill

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Made me learn a little bit faster.
Made my skin a little bit thicker.
Makes me that much smarter.
So thanks for making me a fighter.
In her song, “Fighter,” Christina Aguilera thanks her abuser for making her stronger.

I have some people to thank too: Thank you to my classmates who followed me around school and taunted me, thank you for turning my best friends against me, thank you for throwing apple sauce at me, thank you for mocking me and thank you for manipulating me.

I started getting bullied in junior high and it has definitely changed my life. I used to be more outgoing and more confident in myself, but one day (and I remember the exact date) I became a target for my classmates to pick on, and it has been different ever since. That fateful day when I started getting bullied is something I will always remember, but I can guarantee the bullies would not even know what year it was, because it did not affect them the way it affected me.

Being harassed and bullied hurt me for a long time; even thinking about it now gives me the creeps. In the end I would not change what happened to me because I am happy with who I am today, even though it took me a long time to get here. I do feel stronger today because I survived being bullied.

Not everyone survives. Two 11-year-old boys killed themselves, less than two weeks apart, after they were severely bullied at school. Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover (pictured at left), a sixth-grader from Springfield, Mass., hung himself with an extension cord on April 6 after being tormented by his classmates for acting more feminine than other boys. Jaheem Herrera, a fifth-grader from DeKalb County, Ga., hung himself on April 16 due to constant bullying: he was teased for his accent and like Walker-Hoover, was called gay.

Herrera’s school was considered to have an exemplary bully education system prior to his suicide: Students had presentations about bullying and had to sign pledges. In an interview with “bullying expert” Barbara Coloroso, CNN reporter Anderson Cooper seemed shocked that the pledges did not stop the extreme bullying from happening.

Sorry, Anderson, but anytime a kid is told to pledge against bullying and drugs, and a teacher is watching them, of course they are going to sign it. When a kid is told to say they are sorry, of course they are going to say it. Signing a pledge and verbalizing an apology does not mean there is any truth behind it.

Children are not born as hateful beings. Hate is a learned behavior, and children are learning it from the media, their parents and their older siblings. There is only so much the school can do. It is easy for the parent of the bullied child to blame the school, but the parent of the bully needs to take responsibility too.

When one of my friends thought what was happening to me was funny, my mom called her mom to tell her what was happening, she hoped her mom would help make it stop. It didn’t, because she refused to believe her kid was taking part in bullying. Parents are part of the problem, because every parent thinks their child is golden. It turned out the kids in my graduating class were far from golden.

Even the principal of my elementary school told my mom that he could not wait until my class left the school. He said my class was the worst behaved, had no respect, and that the parents were just as bad as their kids.

How does any 11-year-old understand what the word gay means? Sure, they could watch a TV program and pick up these words. Where some parents are lacking is explaining to their kids what those words mean. I remember I watched a movie once where a woman called a man a curse word. Later that day, I called my friend that word and right away my mom said that was a word I was not supposed to say, and she explained to me why.

According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network study, 65 percent of teens are bullied each year. Bullying will always be around, but 65 percent is too high a number. That doesn’t even include the percent of pre-teens who are bullied. Schools and parents can always do more to prevent bullying, but it will never go away completely. Bullying doesn’t stop when the school bell rings. Adults pick on others as well to make them feel better about themselves.

We should be investing time in boosting kids’ self-esteem and teaching them about respect. Bully education needs to have a face, explain to kids what it is really like to be a victim. When I was in school, teachers would talk to us about bullying only after a kid had been bullied for a long time.

In the end, stopping bullying is about learning how to respect each other. It applies to both kids and adults. Coloroso said on Anderson Cooper 360º on April 23, “I don’t tell kids you have to like that kid in your classroom, but you must honor their humanity.”

Casey Merkwan is a student at the University of Minnesota and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.

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