“I was being bullied for being different, for my parents not being together, for my weight, for the way I looked, for the things I liked, and for the people I was friends with,” says Kaitlin*, a freshman at a local high school.
Kaitlin is one of 2.7 million students in kindergarten through grade 12 in America who experience bullying yearly; a little more than 2 million students are the bullies.
“Bullying can be physical – punching, stealing, damaging personal property, or forcing a young person to do something against his or her own will. It can be verbal – teasing, name-calling, spreading rumors. It can be relational – refusing to talk to someone or making him or her feel left out,” says Lauren Caravaglia, LCSW, Kaitlin’s therapist at Christian Health Care Counseling Center (CHCCC). “And now, as a result of social media, the Internet, and email, cyber-bullying is on the rise.”
“I was bullied verbally starting in the fourth grade, but upon actually thinking about it, the bullying may have started as early as first grade,” Kaitlin says. “Bullying made me feel totally alienated and alone and weak. I felt like the kids who were bullying me were right, and that I had to change because there was something wrong with me.”
Bullying negatively affects both parties. Victims may experience mental-health issues like Kaitlin, physical injury, and even death through suicide. Those who bully are at an increased risk for substance abuse, academic problems, anger issues, and violence later in adolescence and adulthood. Those who suffer the most serious consequences are youngsters who are both victim and bully.
Kaitlin hid the bullying from her parents for four years. When they learned about it, they immediately contacted school administrators, and sought help for Kaitlin at CHCCC.
“Through counseling I am learning that my parents and friends are there for me. It was hard for me to believe that at first,” Kaitlin says. “Therapy also helps me realize that being myself is okay.”
*Kaitlin’s real name was changed upon her request.