The Call-In: Bullying

Aug 27, 2017
Originally published on August 27, 2017 2:15 pm
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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

And this is the Call-In. Today, we're talking about bullying. Kids are heading back to school. And the National Center for Educational Statistics says 1 out of every 5 kids reports being bullied. So we asked you to call in and share your experiences with this difficult issue.

LYDIA HORVATH: Hi. My name is Lydia Horvath (ph).

TIM FULLERTON: Tim Fullerton (ph).

JENNIFER SAMSON: Jennifer Samson (ph). And I live in Portland, Ore.

HORVATH: And I'm calling from Farmington, Conn.

SAMSON: I'm calling about your story that you're having on bullying.

HORVATH: Yes, I was bullied basically sixth grade through 12th grade, mainly sort of pivoting on, telling me I was ugly, et cetera.

FULLERTON: I was always the smallest child in my grade. So I suffered pretty relentless physical abuse, intimidation and humiliation until I went to college.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is a lifelong scar that I struggle with daily.

HORVATH: That's my story of bullying. Thanks for this opportunity.

FULLERTON: Thank you.

SAMSON: Thank you. Bye.

CHRISTINE LANE: I was bullied since about kindergarten all the way through until I finished high school.

MARTINEZ: That's Christine Lane. She's one of the people who called us. And she grew up in San Diego, Calif.

LANE: I was verbally bullied, had my property destroyed, as in backpacks being flushed down toilets, kids picking on me, social ostracization, alienation, verbal abuse. And then when I went into the foster system when I was 16 in my sophomore year, that's when it escalated to physical violence.

MARTINEZ: Why do you think it happened when you enter the foster system?

LANE: So I think as a kid, based on my upbringing - child of an alcoholic, very isolated - I already had bad social skills. So I kind of stood out. I didn't know how to fit in with other kids. I didn't know how to act like them, and they could see that. Kids zero in on that, and they kind of go for the jugular. So, already, I was kind of vulnerable to that. And then going into the foster system, I was encountering other kids who had their own baggage, own - their own difficult issues that they were dealing with. And I think they just saw that vulnerability, too. And for where they were at, it was a little escalated - the violence and the bullying.

MARTINEZ: So did you ever tell anyone - anybody in authority, a teacher, your mom - when you were younger?

LANE: Oh, yeah, definitely. My mom was very aware of it. She had her own issues. She did try to contact the school, deal with it the best she could. The schools, I always felt, were largely apathetic. And maybe the teachers were just already stretched thin. But I remember one particular happening when I was about 12. And I was surrounded by a bunch of kids in the yard, and they started throwing rocks at me and kicking sand at me and roughed me up. And I remember going to a staff member, crying. And, obviously, something had happened to me. And I told them what happened. And the staff - the teacher - looked at me and said, well, if I didn't see it, it didn't happen.

MARTINEZ: Was there any one at all that stuck up for you?

LANE: Yeah. So in gym class, we had a substitute teacher. And back then and even now, I don't like PE. And I was sitting up in the bleachers. And I was just being my kind of anti-social teenage self, sitting up in the bleachers, reading my comic books. And kids started throwing dodgeballs into the bleachers, trying to hit me. And I was telling the substitute. And the substitute was like, oh, well - and they were kind of overwhelmed. They're dealing with a lot.

And then this kid in my class who I never really talked to before, never really noticed before named Andy stands up - this little 16-year-old kid. And he says, hey, guys. Cut it out. Leave her alone. That's not cool. And nobody in my entire school experience had ever said that, not even teachers really. And this little kid - this little 16-year-old stood up, said something. The kids heard him. And from then on, to this day, we're both 29 years old, and we're best friends.

MARTINEZ: Did things change after that even a little bit?

LANE: Yeah, they did a little bit. I think just having a friend next to you makes such a difference in social standings in school. Kids aren't nearly as likely to go pick on you if you've got your friend right next to you. If you look vulnerable by yourself, and no one stands up for you, then, yeah, easy target.

MARTINEZ: How do you think back on those years now?

LANE: Really mixed feelings. I - most of my memories of my entire school experience I try not to think back on. It's a lot of pain and still a lot of resentment - a lot of resentment at the kids, a lot of resentment at the school, who I feel like didn't do enough. I mean, even on my high school graduation, I almost outright refused to walk.

MARTINEZ: So I'm wondering now, Christine, you as an adult - how has your previous life experiences maybe affected your adulthood?

LANE: So yeah, I think my experience going through bullying - I still haven't completely worked through it, so I have a lot of social anxiety around that. I get intimidated easily. If I feel like I have a colleague or a peer who is being aggressive, I tend to hide. I tend to be more introverted because it brings up that bullying. And I think, even at 29, I'm still kind of dealing with that, where there's instances I'm around other people, and my brain goes back to that complex of the cool kids, the popular kids. What's going Am I safe? Who can I talk to? Are they talking about me? And I've tried to work through it. And it's something I continue trying to work on.

MARTINEZ: Christine Lane - she joins us from our member station KUOW in Seattle. Christine, thanks a lot.

LANE: Thanks for having me.

MARTINEZ: We wanted to know what tools are available today to help support kids like Christine. So we called Kortney Peagram. She's a psychologist and owner of the consulting firm Bulldog Solution, where she counsels parents and teachers on how to reduce bullying and cyberbullying. We asked her what parents should be on the lookout for in their kids.

KORTNEY PEAGRAM: I tell parents that if their moods start to change - so if they're - they start to isolate themselves, not wanting to go to school, grades dropping - or they start acting out - maybe bullying their siblings at home - I often say there's something going on.

MARTINEZ: Now, these days, a lot of the bullying kids will face will take place online. And Peagram says that's why it's important that parents know exactly what's on their kids' phones.

PEAGRAM: If you pay for the phone bill, you should have access to get through the phone because social media is social. It's never private. So I really talk about, like, you know, monitoring kids' phones - is really important, especially at a younger age. We also talk to parents about, like, you know, learning to disconnect and role modeling. To be a good role model, it's not OK to - if you're texting at the dinner table, to tell your kids not to do so.

MARTINEZ: What do you say to kids, though, that maybe treat the phone, like, maybe - when I was a kid, I treated my diary - that it's my private stuff. It's a violation of my privacy.

PEAGRAM: Yeah. I talk a lot to kids about, like, what's your public self and your private self. So I would say to parents, like, it isn't a diary because it's going out there. Your diary won't prevent you from going to college. But, you know, something going viral on social media - you might have a lot of missed opportunities.

MARTINEZ: Wondering how your advice changes when the bullying maybe goes from verbal to physical. Is there a difference in the way you handle that kind of advice?

PEAGRAM: Yes. So physical bullying should be addressed immediately. Verbal bullying - and I think that it goes hand-in-hand with cyberbullying. I don't think they're separate anymore. Kids are attached to their phones, so whatever is going on at school's probably going on online, too. Verbal bullying is - sometimes a little hard to have the physical evidence. But kids don't think, so they put things in text messages. And so that - you can take a picture of that and have that. Print that out, you know, for evidence. And, often, bullying, if it's constant - it becomes a form of harassment. So there's things you can do legally to protect yourself when it gets out of hand.

MARTINEZ: Peagram says whatever parents decide to do, they should tailor their response to their child.

PEAGRAM: There can't be just one solution - right? - because it depends of the child. So if the child is shy, introverted and, you know, has low self-esteem, I mean, I wouldn't recommend he goes up to the bully and says stop because that's not in his nature. That's not where his strong points are. So identifying the child's strengths - right? - and finding ways to use his strengths to help himself. So asking a friend - be like, hey, you know, next time he starts picking on me, can you either tell a teacher or go get someone or ask him to stop? All it takes is one really good friend to stand up for you, and it'll change everything. What we see right now, which sometimes is scary, is kids don't know how to be kind. So I asked teachers and parents to really work on building empathy, compassion and kindness because that's what's going to stop bullying.

MARTINEZ: That was Kortney Peagram. She's a psychologist and works with schools in the Midwest to reduce bullying and cyberbullying And she joined us from our member station WBEZ in Chicago. And next week on the Call-In, Labor Day weekend is coming up. Do you make minimum Are you able to make a living? Do you have to work extra jobs to make ends meet? Have you seen your hours cut? We want to hear your stories. So call in at 202-216-9217. Be sure to include your full name, contact information and where you're from. That number, again, is 202-216-9217. And we may use your story on the air.

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