Mama Madison: Stand up to bullies in October

National Bullying Prevention Month can really do some good

I often have no idea what day of the week it is. So please forgive me if I'm even less inclined to know which "awareness" month we are in. I guess, with the world bedecked in pink ribbons, it's kind of hard to miss that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But I had no idea it's also Auto Battery Safety Month and Talk About Prescriptions Month.

With all due respect to both issues though, I'm probably not racing out in search of the appropriate rubber, color-coded bracelet to honor either cause.

October, I just discovered, is also National Bullying Prevention Month. And I feel compelled to take notice. Because according to PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, a leading nonprofit dedicated to the eradication of bullying, more than 160,000 U.S. students stay home from school each day out of fear of being picked on. That's a lot of kids. Kids who don't deserve to wake up each day with knots in their stomach caused by the dread of whom they are going to encounter in the halls between third and fourth period. That's a lot of kids being relentlessly gossiped about at lunchroom tables and on Facebook and Twitter. It's kids who have developed crippling cases of anxiety or depression because of the cruelty of other kids.

I've been a part of the problem. I'm guessing many of us have. Because while I can't remember the names of many of the kids I went to elementary school with, I can vividly remember those of two--one boy in my grade and another girl on the bus--who were mercilessly teased by classmates. Neither did anything at all to invite the torment. They became victims because they were quiet and wore what the third grade establishment had deemed "nerdy" clothing--"flood" pants and horn-rimmed glasses. As if the rest of us in our Toughskins and Marcia Brady mini-dresses were that much cooler.

No, I was never the one to call him "Buger Jeffrey" or move to a new seat when the girl, two years younger, sat down near me on the ride to school. But I regret never once saying anything, not even to my own parents, about the other kids who were outwardly acting like jerks. I guess I was inwardly acting like a jerk. I didn't want to jeopardize my own social standing, even if it meant turning a deaf ear to the name-calling and ridiculing.

The overt verbal teasing of elementary school was replaced by subtler stuff in middle school. Gossip and cliquishness replaced the taunts. But it was still about jockeying for power and perceived popularity. Reputations were tarnished and social hierarchies established. And someone always felt shunned. Who were the bullies and who were the victims changed places on a daily basis. It was a constant battle. And no one won.

There is no question my kids' schools today are far more sophisticated and in tune with how they approach bullying than any of my schools ever were. At the elementary level my daughter took part in her school's Unity Day last month, which focused on the importance of kindness and compassion. And in my son's middle school, just about every kid has signed a pledge to stand up to bullying and harassment. The pledge is displayed banner-style over the school's main staircase--a constant reminder that students there can do better.

Probably out of guilt for never having interceded, I just did a brief search for both of my bullied classmates online. I can't find the boy, probably because I never bothered to learn to spell his last name. But that "nerdy" girl who sat quietly at the back of the bus every day now holds three patents, has testified before Congress, is a world-renowned expert on cyber security, and is absolutely gorgeous.

I'm glad she turned out okay -- and then some. But it's not such a happy ending for so many victims of bullying.

So in her honor, and in honor of Jeffrey, I will wear orange on Wednesday, October 10, PACER's national Unity Day. Because just being aware of the need for a little more awareness--whether one day or the whole month -- might go a long way in making a whole year's worth of schooling easier for over 160,000 kids.

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