Headlines have brought us disturbing stories lately about kids being pushed toward suicide by unrelenting bullies. This trend, kids victimizing other kids, is nothing new, but the internet has made us all more aware. Some of these teenagers were targeted for being gay.
Suicide is heinous, and among young people it's especially tragic. Dan Savage started a terrific internet campaign, "It Gets Better," to reassure kids that adult life doesn't always resemble high school. The Trevor Project, among other suicide prevention groups, has been credited with helping kids who feel alone and in despair. Anti-bullying groups are gaining in popularity. As a former teacher, I can vouch for school groups like the Gay-Straight Alliance. They do a tremendous job helping all kinds of kids who feel stigmatized. In addition, studies show their very presence in schools lowers incidents of intolerance and intimidation.
I don't see much out there, though, in the way of advice for fighting back. These groups are right to focus on ways kids can make it through difficult formative years and emerge as victorious and well-rounded adults.
But sometimes bullies need a taste of their own medicine. Angry and mean people don't disappear from sight when we grow up. They are still everywhere. And they can smell a victim a mile away.
When I was 14 years old, I faced my first potential bully. Our interaction ended after I stood up to her and spit a mouthful of ice in her face. Since then I have used similar, albeit more grown-up, methods to defend myself or loved ones.
Confrontation isn't fun. I don't always enjoy putting people in their place, but sometimes we've got to whip a demon's ass.
1. Stop whining and get tough. Why are you walking with your head down? I'm assuming you want to go around with pink hair and ten rings in your lip. Therefore be proud of who you are. Shoulders back and head up; look people in the eye. Every once in a while, try smiling.
2. Reach out. Back in the 1980s, I thought I was the only girl around with a flat chest, a Botswana-like hairstyle, and skin so pale it glowed.
Oh, that's right. I was.
I only had Adams Junior High in North Tampa as a reference. Kids now have the World Wide Web. Get on there and find a support group. If you can't locate an organized collection of similar souls, start your own non-profit organization to advocate for people with pink hair and lip rings. Link to a PayPal account and take donations. Start a forum. Get out of your bubble and realize, once and for all, you are not alone. If 30-year-old men who live with their parents and enjoy sex with farm animals can find friends, so can you.
With a team on your side, you will feel empowered and ready to rumble. Bullies avoid bitches like you. Remember that.
3. Document the bullshit. Bullies love to rant and rave; they are infatuated with their own big mouths. More often than not, they relish playing Big Fish in a small pond like high school, college, Little League or Chamber of Commerce. Make them a star. When they get mean and nasty, turn on a handheld camera and broadcast their rant for the world to see.
Don't do anything dangerous. If an assault is imminent, mace might be a better option than your camera.
Most bullies rule by fear; they aren't too tough and often back down when their victims rise up. Turn the tables on them. Write about their behavior. Start a blog. Publish names and pictures and accurate events. Tell your readers what it's like to live in your town or attend your school and deal with assbags who lash out at anything they don't understand. Raise a ruckus. Write op-eds for the local paper. Bullying is a hot topic right now, take advantage of the opportunity to tell your story.
4. Release the hounds. The high schoolers in western Massachusetts who victimized classmate Phoebe Prince are in a world of pain right now because, after she committed suicide, her community started fighting back for her. That speaks volumes about a support system that exists for all of us. Phoebe's former harassers are learning that their actions have consequences. Not only are these now-regretful teens expressing sadness over a lost life; they are feeling what it's like to be bullied themselves.
My post-high school friends and I once visited a kid in junior high who was picking on my brother. All we had to do was stand on his porch and tell him what we'd do to him if he continued his behavior. It helped that we were holding baseball bats, but we never had to use them.
If a person has harmed you, tell others about it. Form an army of your own.
5. Take a deep breath. These are young people who don't think things through, and respond emotionally to their surroundings. Don't be like them.
Overreactions make everything worse. This is no time to go all Columbine on their asses just because you have an axe to grind. That only turns you into the biggest bully of all.
6. Fight back appropriately. Use all the tools at your disposal, including humor. Have you tried learning the art of the insult? (Email me — I have hundreds of funny ways to tell people off. Free of charge.) Make people laugh at the schmucks who should know better than to fuck with you in the first place.
Take a stand and stick up for yourself. Spit that mouthful of ice.
You just might like the taste.