Students at Glendale Middle School will tell you they have taken on various roles in the bully wars. Like their peers, probably globally, sometimes the same kids have been bullies and bullied, witnesses and victims. They hate bullying, regardless of the roles they assigned themselves or had thrust upon them.
When they explain why someone gets bullied, it feels like random chance with a mean edge, akin to being hit by lightning: her looks, his clothes, she's quiet, he's alone, they could ... .
A teacher, Richard Aslett, did an informal survey and had students read an article I wrote about bullying. Then they wrote me letters. Nearly half said they've bullied someone. Forty percent say they've been bullied, 77 percent see it as an issue in their school and neighborhood.
When I talked to some of them last week, they had both questions about and sadly rich experience with what bullying does.
In second grade, wrote one boy, "I could barely walk through the halls because kids would make fun of me and sometimes the principal didn't care." He didn't go to the playground "because they didn't want me over there." He lied about being sick to skip school. Five years later, "I don't feel that I am stronger for the choices I make. I still feel kind of that stuff in second grade because some people still bully me, but today I try to stand up for myself."
Most wrote of watching bullies pick on someone and wondering how to help without calling the brat's wrath down upon themselves. Many couldn't figure it out and walked away. Adults sometimes do that, too.
"Kids are not coming to school because of bullying other kids at school, but bullies come," wrote another. "I hope this will stop so kids like me can have fun here."
Or: "In elementary school I saw a kid bully another kid. She did not come back to school for a long time" and then only for end-of-year tests." Later, she was bullying someone else.
One was bullied and became a bully "because being a victim hurts." Another wrote of boys dragging a younger kid into the bathroom and "beating him up and since I was scared and I never knew if they planned it or not and since it was like a surprise I did not know what to do and I overheard that the leaders said if he says anything about what had happened he was dead."
Another: "I was a bystander and because I didn't really know him personally, didn't know what I should do. He kept getting taunted day after day. He finally told his mother and I don't know what happened. ... I never saw/heard from him because he transferred schools."
A girl saw another girl she really never talked to crying by herself outside. She denied anything was wrong. "I knew she was getting bullied, but who?" So the other girl watched then took it to an adult who acted. "Things have started to change and she's come to school happy and getting less bullied. Then one day she came up to me and told me, 'thank you for everything.'"
" ... My friends used to bully a new kid and I never stood up for him. Until one day the boy had enough and told the teacher and we all got sent to the office." There, the counselor talked to them as a group and individually. Her question for the writer was, "why didn't you tell anyone?" It changed things. "I understood more of it and me and my friends never bullied someone again."
If you doubt bullying exists in your neighborhood, ask a kid. I'd bet on it.