Student Voice: The Epidemic of Bullying

Guest Editorial by Mary Elhakam

Bullying: it’s one of those topics that we hear about over and over again. If you rolled your eyes just by reading the word bullying, you may be one of three categories: a person who has never experienced it, a person who doesn’t know anyone who’s ever been affected (which isn’t anyone’s fault), or a bully and you may not even know it.

Our schools have been playing it safe with both ends when it comes to discussing the topic. I remember in middle school, my entire class was seated in the auditorium as the dean discussed how bullying can lead those victimized to suffer from depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts; possibly to suicide itself. The twist to this is that the same dean also seemed to take a bit of a defensive position for bullies, saying that they may have lives that are tough or they may have been bullied in the past.

I’m not disputing that bullies may be suffering. However, that does not validate the way they treat others. When people who are being bullied are told that the bully may have suffered in the past, it’s like saying, “I understand that your mother died, but you shouldn’t cry, your father is still alive.” OK, you may be living a hard life. OK, you may be hurting on the inside. Maybe you’ve even been bullied yourself. There is, however, one thing that is rock solid when it comes to a bully: insecurity. Making fun of someone for being “fat” doesn’t make you any thinner. Making fun of someone for being ugly doesn’t make you any prettier.

According to, over 3.2 million kids and teens are victims of bullying every year in the United States. About 160,000 teens skip school everyday because of bullying, and 17% of American students have reported being bullied 2 to 3 times a month. Even more appalling is that 1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying, and, even more shocking, only 4% of teachers would intervene. These are statistics that I cannot dispute.

When I spoke up, I was invalidated by classroom teachers, deans, assistant principals and the principal. Nothing was done unless my mother sent emails threatening to go to the New York City’s Department Of Education (NYC DOE)  file police reports because my safety was being threatened.

Bullying is discussed very often, but so little is done about it.

We as a society play a game of two-face. When one is being bullied and starts developing symptoms of depression, these symptoms can lead to self- harming or suicidal thoughts. When anyone talks about this in our society,  he or she is labeled as “attention seeking”. To some level this is true. In order for it to stop, there needs to be some form of attention. When it becomes close to fatal, our society says that the person is being overly dramatic; they are being selfish; that people have it worse, and so forth.

There are only two words that come to mind when I think about it, VICTIM BLAMING. We tell the victims that they don’t have a right to feel the way that they do. That they are at fault for being mistreated. That they are being selfish and radical by thinking, planning or attempting suicide. Aren’t the terrible actions of a bully selfish? When it does become fatal, our society has the audacity to mourn the loss of the victim.

How do we change that?

We can start by educating the next generation about empathy. This problem can change, maybe not completely, but any reduction in the number of bullying cases would help. We need to teach the next generation that being a bystander and watching someone being harassed makes you just as bad if not worse than the antagonist.

It’s all about spreading love, compassion and talking about things that are viewed as taboo in our society, such as depression or self-harm related to bullying. When a farmer sees an unhealthy tree, the farmer doesn’t just look at the branches or leaves to evaluate the problem; the farmer looks at the tree’s roots. We, as a society, need to look at the roots, stem, branches and leaves to fix this.

We’re all in this together, all it takes is one person to make a sound and start a chain reaction. We’ve discussed the problem, now it’s time to fix it. Together.

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