The Power of Words: To heal or to damage.

Abby Shaffer, In-Depth Editor

On November 8, I attended a bullying symposium at Saint Vincent College. Numerous, passionate people offered unique perspectives about a variety of topics pertaining to bullying. Their voices transformed my perspective on the power of kindness.

Bullying is when an individual or a group of people with more power, repeatedly and intentionally cause hurt or harm to another person or group of people who feel helpless to respond.

It has been wired into our brains that bullying “ has always been around and it’s just something that every child has to learn to live with, deal with, and get over it.”

Kaitlynn Rose is a victim of bullying, who will suffer from the long-lasting effects of her tragic experiences for the rest of her life. Rose, who is now 21, was so severely harassed as a child, that she has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Panic attacks, suicidal agonations, and fear of groups consume her life everyday because she was bullied.

Sheila Jordan, the mother of Rose, is tired of hearing that her daughter should just get over it. Jordan has seen first-hand what bullying can do to a person and knows something needs to change.

We know what it does to people. We are accountable now to be better people, to be a better society, to be better parents, to be better teachers.”

— Sheila Jordan

Clearly, bullying is an issue, but do you know just how bad the problem is? According to the National Education Association, an estimated 160,000 U.S. children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. School, which is supposed to be a safe learning environment, has become a place students dread to go in fear of cruel treatment by their peers.

According to Kingston General, in a survey of teens who experienced suicidal thoughts, 77% of those teens had reported that they were bullied. When a student is bombarded with treatment that makes them feel worthless, it’s just a matter of time until the student starts to view themself as that.

Nearly 75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying. Constant verbal or physical attacks can bring about vengeful thoughts. In some cases, it’s possible that students were acting on those feelings which led to horrific tragedies.

In both situations, students who chose to take their own life, or the lives of others, felt as if they had no other way out. Bullying put them in such a deep, dark mental state, that they believed death was the only way to put an end to their suffering.

Could some of these tragedies be avoided if bullying wasn’t a factor?

Even though bullying has been an ongoing issue for generations, it seems so much more insidious today. Tim Hammill, the supervisor of educational technology, blames that conception on technology.

Social media allows the bully to follow the victim, making it seem impossible to escape. Anyone has the power to say things that they may not feel comfortable saying face-to-face.
“It’s easy to hide behind technology,” Hammill explained.

Recent, rapid growth in technological advancements has generated many issues and questions for the future. The cyber world is a learning experience for everyone including kids, parents, and teachers. “This has to be the most challenging age to grow up in. We have problems that we’ve never faced before. Nobody taught us how to do it,” Hammill elucidated.

Interestingly, 64% of children who have been bullied did not report it. Many victims fear retaliation, assuming that staying silent is the better option.

Similarly, bystanders often times choose not to report incidents due to fear of social consequences and/or becoming the target themselves. “I stood up for people that were bullied, and then got bullied because of that,” explained Wendy Bell. However, when bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time, according to the National Bullying Prevention Center.

You must speak up-to a teacher, a counselor, a principal- to someone.  I know that sometimes this is difficult to do. I also know that if you do not tell someone, it is likely that nothing will change,” stressed Mrs.Rider, a guidance counselor at Greater Latrobe High School. “Do what you can to support your fellow students. Even if you are too uncomfortable to step in, during a potential situation, you can be supportive. Invite someone to join you for lunch, to toss the football on a nice day, or sit with you to do homework during a free set.”

Listed below are trusted individuals and organizations that can be used as helpful resources:

  • Parent/Guardian
  • Guidance Counselor
  • Blackburn Center
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

If you know someone being bullied, “Tell them that they are worth it. Tell them that you want them in your life. Speak good to them. Encourage them,” says Sheila Jordan.

Although there is no simple solution to bullying, it’s essential to keep in mind that everyone is going through a battle you know nothing about. In fact, when you trace back why people bully, it usually goes back to home. Ironically, often times bullies were the ones who were initially harassed and then became the bully as a coping mechanism.

“The most important thing to remember is that none of us can 100% control 100% of the people around us, but we can 100% control our reactions to them,” says Mrs.Rider. There will always be negativity in this harsh world, it’s unavoidable. You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond to it.

In the words of Buddha, “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself: is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?” Your words have the power to push someone past their breaking point, or give them a reason to keep going. Choose wisely.