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Apodaca: Bullying comes to the foreground

March 24, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

When I was in fourth grade, I slipped a note on my teacher's desk asking to speak with her about a girl who was bullying me.

It wasn't physical bullying; it was the "mean girl" variety of cruel remarks, dirty looks and social exclusion. I was miserable. But when the teacher took me aside, she told me the problem was all in my head, and that I needed to get over it.

I sat, staring at my shoes for a long time, and silently vowed never to ask a teacher for help again. In my eyes, she was now part of the problem.

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Years later, when I was in high school, a lonely girl walked into the packed quad at break time. Suddenly, a deafening chorus of taunts and insults erupted. The jeering was aimed at the girl, a new student who was the subject of some malicious rumors.

I stood by, frozen, unsure what to do as I watched her walk, head down, and escape into a building. Later, I heard that the girl was suicidal, and had been moved to yet another school.

That episode has haunted me ever since. I had witnessed an egregious act of bullying, and I did nothing. Like my fourth-grade teacher, I was part of the problem.

That was a long time ago, but some things never change. Today, bullies still torment victims. Educators are too often still clueless, parents disconnected, and other kids afraid to speak up.

What has changed is that the growth of the Internet and social media sites has perpetuated the problem and taken bullying to a new level, allowing abusers to pick on their victims relentlessly, leaving no safe haven.

It's welcome news then that we are now witnessing a shift in the public consciousness and attitudes regarding bullying. Whether or not we're undergoing an epidemic of bullying — a point of debate in the media — behavior that was once met with a shrug and an attitude of "kids will be kids" is now inviting closer examination.

Along with this new awareness is a growing realization that everyone has a part to play in stopping bullying.

"To me, it truly is the core issue of the problem," said Dr. Jerry Weichman, a Newport Beach psychologist and noted authority on bullying. "I tell kids, 'You're giving this bully a red light or green light based on your actions.'"

Fueling the national discussion are some high-profile cases, including one in which guilty verdicts were leveled against a Rutgers University student earlier this month on 15 charges related to his secret videotaping of his roommate's romantic encounter with another man. The roommate committed suicide.

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