Whitney Kropp will probably be the first to tell you that she is not a member of the “in” crowd. As a matter of fact Whitney was bullied last year by a group of classmates that repeatedly kicked her in the shin with their steel-toed boots, because she was different.
Imagine 16-year-old Whitney’s surprise when she was elected to the homecoming court for her sophomore class at Ogemaw Heights High School in West Branch, Michigan. Unfortunately her nomination was a prank, a joke…and she wasn’t in on it. When Whitney heard her name announced in connection with homecoming, she was excited. Later that night when she found out that some students nominated her and voted her as a joke, her mom found her in tears.
Whitney decided that she was going to skip the homecoming and stated, “I felt like I wasn’t worthy and why be apart of this world if I’m going to be pushed around like trash?” Whitney’s friends and the community stepped up and began to respond. In light of the news Whitney began received encouraging phone calls and offers from community members to provide her dress, dinner, hair and makeup for free. A Face book page created in support of Whitney has gathered nearly 50,000 likes in just days.
Whitney is a beautiful girl, but she is what some would call “different.” She bleaches her hair because she likes it that way, she doesn’t wear the latest fashion because she has her own style. You see, Whitney is an individual…what a concept. Whitney’s only “crime” was having the audacity to be herself, to have the courage to live her life the way she wanted.
Unfortunately other children are being bullied offline and online, and their story will not get media attention, but Whitney’s actions will encourage the others to make a different decision which could save their lives. This story could have ended like others with the loss of life, but Whitney’s decision to attend homecoming will make a world of difference to the victims of bullying who don’t have a voice.
Tips to for dealing with bullying or cyber-bullying:
1. Talk with your child about being proud of who they are. Unfortunately there are some who might bully your child because they feel they are different. My daughter was teased when she was 10 because she was 5’7” and wore her natural hair in sister locs. Immediately we talked about how beautiful she was and how amazing it was that she could be true to herself. When she started loving herself, she didn’t care about what others thought about her appearance. Her love for herself turned some of the bullies into friends who admired her confidence. Those who still didn’t care for her, didn’t really matter to her at all…It was their loss. It’s all in the conversation.
2. Tell them the truth about the bullies and the so-called “popular” kids. Many of the kids that are bullies are very insecure and wish they had the self-esteem to simply be who they really are. They wish they had the confidence of the person they are bullying. I told my daughter that the girl who is acting out, dressing inappropriately and constantly in trouble is not popular, she is the girl who is looking for attention and love.
3. Encourage your child to report the bullying to a trusted adult. Of course you want your child to tell you if they are being bullied, but we all know that if you are dealing with a teen this can be difficult. If your child is not comfortable coming to you, encourage them to tell another adult. Give them examples: teachers, counselors, coaches, or even their friends. The last thing they should feel is alone.
4. Monitor your child’s technology use. Get it their business! It’s imperative to know what your child is doing online. Don’t wait until an incident happens and then decided to make it your business. Are you aware of the sites they visit, who they chat with online, what types of conversations are taking place? Have you set boundaries, rules, and expectations? What your child thinks is innocent, may be a huge incident waiting to happen.
5. Talk with your child about how to handle cyber-bullying. You and your child should not respond to cyber bullying messages. Document the bullying by printing out the messages, saving the texts, etc. Block the person from your child’s online social media accounts, cell phones, and email and report the activities to the school, the other child’s parents or the authorities.
6. Share tips on with your child to prevent cyber-bullying. Make sure your child realizes that anything they post online can go viral with the push of one button. Encourage them to think twice about what they post and as a rule of thumb, never post anything online they wouldn’t want their classmates or family to see.
7. If you child is the bully or cyber-bully. We all want to think that our children are little angels, but sometimes they make mistakes or they learn a certain behavior from us. Educate your child about bullying and make sure they understand the consequences…emotionally and legally. I usually share “real life” stories about bullies who have ended up on the wrong side of the law. This is also a good time to have a conversation about how they feel about themselves and be extra mindful of your conversation about others around them.