HomeHealth & BehaviorBullying

Bullying smack-down

Can a star-powered website make teen civility hip?

By Karina Kinik

A seventh-grade girl suffers such persistent teasing by her classmates that she leaves school — and goes on to become a teen acting and singing sensation. Sound like the only-in-Hollywood plot to a Disney Channel special?

As it turns out, that plucky heroine is very real:  Demi Lovato, who appeared in the Disney sit-com Sonny With a Chance and TV movies, Camp Rock, and Camp Rock 2 and has produced several successful music albums.  Now Lovato’s using her special status as a former victim of bullying turned star and musician to raise awareness of the issue among teenagers.

As the spokesperson for Teens Against Bullying, a website sponsored by the PACER Center, an advocacy group for young people with disabilities, Lovato appears on the site in black fingernail polish and pink lip-gloss to share her own tale of harassment hell.

Created by and for adolescents, the website features real-life stories, teen-produced videos, and blogs, as well as an online toolbox of resources for students and schools to address bullying.

How pervasive is the problem? According to the National Association of School Psychologists, more than 160,000 U.S. children skip school daily because they feel threatened by another student. The consequences for bullying victims can be long lasting and devastating: poor grades, low self-esteem, depression, even suicide.

“People say, ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can never hurt you,’ but that’s not true,” writes Lovato on the PACER site. “Things were said to me that I still haven’t forgotten.”

By making bullying prevention not just a cause but a cool cause, PACER hopes to empower teens to create more-inclusive school environments where everyone feels safe and welcome. “When bullying is addressed,” says Paula Goldberg, PACER’s executive director, “communities will see more students with higher self-esteem, better school attendance, less physical and mental stress, and better school performance.”

And the culture at large, which in many ways glamorizes mean girls (and boys) of all ages, may undergo a shift and celebrate the underdog for a change. As one student writes on Teens Against Bullying about overcoming feelings of inadequacy, “Now when I think back to the time I cried for being different, I would cry if this uniqueness was taken away from me.”

Karina Kinik is an associate editor for GreatSchools.

Comments from readers

"What happens when the school your child attends does not listen to parents? My daughter is in middle school, so many things happens at that school. So when your daughter comes and tells me everything that is going on at that school (unfortunately it happened to her) your go the principal and staff and they look at you like it doesn't matter. What to do? I really would like for my daughters school to be audited by the State to see how bad that school is. It is very unfortunate that so many kids from that school are being harm emotionally, my daughter is! "
"This is a great story, thanks for publishing it. "
"This same thing is happening to me right now. I'm a freshman in high school and this is happening. I might get homeschooled soon like Demi. She's SO great. I joined PACERS too! online. :)"
"My daughter and son were just invited to leave the school where my daughter was the victim of the bullying and harassment from not only students from a Volleyball team but the two Volleyball coaches too. My daughter had actually taken the high road and quit the team because she chose not to be associated with these bullies and unprofessional coaches. It is a retalitory act for me reporting one of the Coaches for an assault and battery on me that she has received a permanent reprimand in her record, but instead of the school doing anything about this they have decided that is is easier to remove my kids from the school! I am so proud of my daughter ... a 7th grader who is leaving her school ... and the bullies behind!"
"I am encouraged to see a stand against bullying. My heart goes out to those who are bullied. Is there anything I can do to get involved with my daughter's school to raise awareness about bullying? Also is there anything in works to reach out to the ones who are bullying? If we get enough parents involved, we can make a difference. This is a serious matter and can impact one childs eduaction abilities. I want to take a stand against this type of behavior but need some guidance."
"Nice job! I can't seem to tell you what use to happen when I was in school. I just wish someone would have stepped up back then and just to think my kids are going through the same thing."
"This was an excellent article, and I am glad that I received it. My son is being bullied at school and called names and nothing is being done, and it MUST STOP. Teachers, Principals and even Coaches need to be more aware of this and they must stop it."
"I have a paper from the school my son attended in Delaware that states he is not allowed to go to some of his classes and he can only use the nurses restroom. This was his reward for reporting two years of being racially targeted for daily threats and several assaults. No one cared about this being segregation since we are white. He has been in counseling twice for PTSD and may start a third treatment."