Almost Popular: A Cautionary Tale by Judy Bolton-Fasman
Contributor
Written by
Judy Bolton-Fasman
December 2009
Contributor
Written by
Judy Bolton-Fasman
December 2009
Here are some facts about bullying: • Up to 25 percent of children in this country are bullied sometime during their school career. • In a National Mental Health Association survey of 12- to 17-year-olds, 78 percent reported gay kids or kids perceived as gay were bullied. The number shoots up to 93 percent when teens were asked if they heard derogatory comments about sexual orientation. Bullying is a national nightmare. Bullying is physical. Bullying is emotional. Bullying brings on death of the spirit through humiliation. Sometimes bullying contributes to an actual suicide. Ask Sirdeaner Walker. Her 11- year-old son hanged himself with an extension cord after being taunted for months at his charter school in Springfield. More facts: • Far right groups have consistently protested against anti-bullying bills in various states, reasoning that the bills have a thinly veiled agenda to promote gay rights rather than address anti-bullying measures. • Thirty-eight states have passed a version of an anti-bullying bill. There are 11 versions of an anti-bullying bill in front of the Massachusetts Legislature. The most comprehensive of them is HB483, which addresses harassment, intimidation, bullying and cyber bullying in a public institution. Criteria include: Bullying as unwelcome, written, electronic, verbal or physical acts or gestures where a student feels coerced, intimidated, harassed or threatened. Now put aside the facts for a moment. Here's the hard truth about bullying - bullies often get away with bullying. No one wants to be a tattletale. No one wants to risk retribution. And, for the record, any adult who thinks that bullying is an inevitable part of childhood is a bully's accomplice. Two years ago, Brigitte Berman, a high school sophomore who lives outside of Boston, began speaking out about her experiences with bullying. She wrote a book called "Dorie Witt's Guide to Surviving Bullies." It is no ordinary self-help book. And Dorie Witt, Brigitte's fictional alter ego, is no ordinary high school freshman. The self-published book is now in its second printing. Brigitte and her mother, Jane, report that it's a favorite with PTO groups and parent-child book clubs. The book is available at Wellesley Booksmith, The Enchanted Fox in Medway and on Amazon.com. Here's another truth: Our children emulate our behavior, which is why bullying doesn't go away after childhood. The schoolyard morphs into the office or a PTO meeting. Anywhere grownups congregate offers the potential for emotional bullying, subtle or otherwise. For example, when was the last time you or I mixed it up and talked to someone other than a friend in our circle at a meeting or a social event? Or worse, how often have you passed someone you know in a hallway or a supermarket aisle and not said hello? Not bullying, you think? You don't have to beat someone up to be a bully. Exclusionary behavior qualifies as bullying. Dorie dispenses her advice through diary entries that present situations ripe for bullying - being the new girl in school, the inherent cruelty of cliques. Toward the end of eighth grade Brigitte designed a questionnaire and led focus groups for her peers, asking pointed questions about their experiences with bullying. They appear at the beginning of each chapter as brief questions and answers under the heading of "Your Two Cents." At the end of each diary entry Dorie rolls out her own "Two Cents" of advice on topics such as navigating lunchroom politics and cyber bullying. At the end of each chapter she wraps up the topic with a cheerful reminder to "Remember This!" In a chapter about gossiping Dorie asks her readers to remember, "gossiping is destructive, cruel, and heartless. Not only can it ruin friendships, but it can ruin lives!" But Brigitte's survival guide is not exclusively for teens or their parents. I shivered when I read the list of fictional, but yet so believable cliques in Dorie's school. I can just as easily fill in the blanks with my own peers as teenagers can with theirs. There is the Populars Clique, The Almost-Popular Clique and the Wanna-Be-Popular Clique. There are also the Nadas - eating is dangerous to their self-image or lack thereof - and the Floaters - those who easily slip in and out of various social groups. Last month Brigitte Berman went to Beacon Hill to testify for passage of HB483. She was joined by other teens, including a reformed bully who spoke about his experiences. The young man is a student at the Rashi School in Newton, where a wise administrator precipitated his turnaround by assigning him to study the effects of bullying. This is the responsible adult that Brigitte Berman encourages her readers to seek out through Dorie Witt. This is the unusual adult who can help a young bully find his compassion. And "Dorie Witt's Guide to Surviving Bullies" is a book about compassion and ultimately hope.

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  • Judaye Streett

    As you said, unfortunately bullying does not end after high school. I experienced some in college at the hands of a teacher who attempted to form cliques with certain students and encourage them to emulate her behavior. She tried to make some students look and feel stupid and to degrade them in public. Some girls disagreed with what she was doing, but was afraid that if they did not go along with her, she would turn on them.

    Thank you so much for this informative post. Much more needs to be written and discussed about the very common subject of bullying.