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Walking into the high school gymnasium as a freshman was probably one of the scariest experiences of my entire life.
Not because I was a "green" freshman or because I was a little fish in a bigger pond. Rather, it was terrifying for me because I was bullied.
There were a group of girls that got a rise out of picking on my twin sister, our best friend and me. It started out with spitballs being thrown at us in the gymnasium bleachers. The spitballs eventually turned into big wads of bubble gum. And, of course, name-calling was a common occurrence.
To my knowledge, we had done nothing to provoke this treatment. We hardly knew these girls. They had attended a different middle school than us and for one reason or another they just didn't like us. So, every morning before the bell would ring, we were forced to sit in the gym and be taunted, teased and eventually, threatened.
I remember every morning walking as slowly as I possibly could in the parking lot of the high school, hoping and praying that the bell would ring and I wouldn't have to go into the gymnasium. Most mornings, my twin sister and I didn't walk slowly enough and we would have to make that dreaded walk into the gym.
Throughout the first half of my freshman year, the taunting continued to escalate and my twin sister and I, along with our best friend, began to get prank calls at home. My mom intervened and the prank calls stopped. But, the bullying didn't. Unfortunately, my best friend was forced to sit directly beside one of her bullies in history class. The bully would terrorize her the entire class, making fun of her, calling her names and telling her that she was going to beat her up in the hallway. My friend's mother pleaded with the teacher to move her daughter to another desk in the class, but the teacher refused, saying his students were in alphabetical order and he wasn't going to change the seating order.
Well, the bullying escalated to a point when one day, the bully's threats of violence became a reality.
It was a Friday morning, and I can vividly remember walking through the hallways at MCHS with my twin sister and our best friend, heading to our first period class. As we turned a corner to walk up one of the stairwells we saw the herd of "mean girls" gathered near their lockers. One of them yelled something to the effect of, "Go get her" and the bully came charging at us. My twin sister and I told our friend that we would try and shield her so that nothing bad would happen. But, as we walked up the stairs the girl grabbed our friend's hair, threw her down, and began beating her. I ran frantically up the stairs to get a teacher. I can still remember hearing my friend screaming. It was horrifying.
The incident eventually lead to my friend, along with my twin sister and me, going to court and getting a restraining order so that the bully couldn't come near us. And, for the most part, the bullying subsided after that. Eventually, I no longer felt afraid when walking into the gymnasium. But, I can honestly say that the bullying made most of my freshman year a living hell. I was constantly paranoid, scared and worried about what might happen when I went to school. I can't even imagine what teenagers go through now with text messaging and other social media, such as Facebook.
I encourage any young person out there who knows of someone that is being bullied or someone who is themselves being a bully, tell an adult. I do believe, for the most part, that bullying is being treated much more seriously today than it was when I was in high school. That's because bullying has resulted in "bullycide." Last year, six students in the United States committed suicide because they were being bullied. As a result, schools have (or should have) a zero-tolerance attitude when it comes to bullying. But, students must help combat the problem as well, which means reporting bullying when it occurs.
Having a child in school now, I'm even more cautious and aware of the potential for bullying. My protective "mother bear" instinct kicked in on the very first day of school, and I intend to do everything in my power to make sure my son never has to experience the torment that I did because of bullies. I will also make darn sure that he doesn't become a bully himself.
To read more about how you can help stop bullying, go to StopBullying.gov. The website provides information from various government agencies on how kids, teens, young adults, parents, educators and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying.