I've received more than 30 emails, letters and calls from readers, telling me about the bullying they endured long ago and how it changed their lives, or about bullying their kids are now dealing with.
I'm going to post many of them, with the writer's approval and in some cases, with a few details removed.
If you have stories you want to share, tell me. Some may lead to news stories, and all can have value to others.
I am a graduate of Lourdes High School, 1962.
My family moved me from a country school to the big city of Rochester, in the early '51, I think (not too sure of the exact date). I recall, while attending school at old St John's, that Central Public was across the street and there were fights between the older boys from both schools.
When I was moved to the new St Francis school, in east Rochester, there were fights between underclassmen and upperclassmen (sixth and seventh grade). These fights were over a ball, the basketball hoops, or just because. There was always taunting and teasing.
When I attended high school, there was a growing trend of harassment of freshmen, as a "welcome aboard" initiation. Sometimes this resulted in an over exuberance to push the limit and a fist fight broke out. That 'harassment' stopped with my class.
As most teenagers did in those days, the "sock-hops" brought many schools together into one of the many halls, in Rochester, for dances. Some students were from out of town. However, I witnessed several fights, in the alleys, between public school boys, over the affections of females, attending the dances. Some of these fights brought police attendance to the altercation.
My own case, was a little different in that someone I knew picked a fight for me, with another individual, and I ended up fighting more than one individual, at different times, before I actually came to blows with the individual I was suppose to fight. From my freshman year through my junior year, I was harassed by boys older, tougher, and meaner than myself; just because I didn't protest the "arranged" fight. Sometimes I avoided places that a fight would most likely take place - I was alone much of the time I roamed the streets of Rochester. Tough guys, never seem to be alone; they always have an audience. Some few folks get off on seeing someones blood and hearing the bone crunch, or a fist slap against someones face. There never seem to be a lack of folks picking fights without the will to fight it by themselves.
In my young adult life, I never saw girls fight. I have seen it more recently, on TV news programs. In yesteryear, girls seem to size each other up and invite each other to sit down and talk.
From grade school through two years of college, in Rochester, I never read or heard of a self-inflicted death due to "bullying". I don't even know if there exists a study that can document such a historical phenomenon? Are there any? Is this a more recent phenomenon? Has our society so stripped itself of "love your neighbor as yourself", that we can attack the children, covertly, and push them to despair ? Despair is a severe absence of LOVE, even self-love. Do our children only see themselves as commercial products, advertize in movies, magazines, and TV? Is this problem just about someone teasing or bad-mouthing someone else? Or is there a deeper, darker pool of a loss of self worth? Is this self-worth associated at all with the rise in single parent households? Destructive attitudes of our society as regards the true value of children? Has the commercializing of the perfect face, the perfect hair, the perfect figure, or the smartest clothes dominated every child's motives for getting up in the morning and living life?
What is the parental role in infusing a genuine sense of personal value in ones children. I never let an opportunity pass to encourage, to support or to "educate" my children in their identity as Christian youngsters. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you..." For the most part, it worked well. All of my five, living children, have had to stand their ground, so to speak, against the few, very few, who wanted to rain on their sunny day. Children can and do get an ugly streak; that is human nature. Nobody has a good day every day. I don't think anyone knows why some children get mean and destructive, on any given day? Fortunately, my children spoke to me about these episodes and I either went to the home or called the offending child's parent on the subject and the results were nearly trouble free.
My son, chose to handle his disagreements the "old fashioned" way. He was big enough and strong enough to minimize his personal threats, and smart enough to know when to fold his tent and pursue a "diplomatic" peace.
I believe, a parent, who is vested in the genuine out comes of their child's friendships (know who they are and what they do), the books they read, the movies they see, the activities they engage in, and the depth of moral accountability they posses, will rarely experience, if ever, the tragic result you wrote about in your articles.
So I ask, 'did it ever happen, without notice', probably. 'Will it ever happen again, in spite of our best community efforts', probably. 'Can it ever, absolutely stop', probably not. One can never know the fabric of the carnal man (mankind).
I am a little long, I just thought you should know my thoughts, as a former Rochester 'native son'.
-- Paul Tobin
I attended school in the Rochester School district. During my 7th grade year I was bullied by my two best friends…to many this may seem quite odd, but I believe that because I was bullied by two people that I trusted more than anyone at that point in my life that I have had a difficult time trusting anyone since then.
Jane, Mary and I were the best of friends. We shared classes, secrets, and much of our spare time. We had these notebooks that we’d pass between classes, where we’d write notes to each other—typical 7th grade girl stuff. At some point in our friendship a rift became apparent, Jane and Mary started spending time together without me. Soon there were negative notes about me and to me in those notebooks we shared. At the end of one of our classes Jane and Mary told me that they hated me. I was crushed; we had been so close I had never made an attempt to forge other friendships outside of our little group.
I started receiving harassing and threatening notes in my locker, I was taunted on Instant Messenger and by phone, lies and rumors were spread around school about me. The secrets that I had shared with Mary and Jane, now became their ammunition. School became a waking hell for me, and it followed me home. My parents didn’t know what was going on at first—I didn’t want to tell them what was going on, I was a big girl, I could handle it myself. But after my mom found me crying in my room at night because I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t keep it from them any longer. They told me they’d speak with the girls’ parents. I begged them not to, I knew I would pay for it at school come morning.
I was right. Jane and Mary moved away from solely using words. I started getting tripped in the hallways, I was pushed down stairs, and had food and the bleach rags from lunch thrown at me. I got notes that suggested that I should just leave, disappear or “get it over with”. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was plagued by nightmares. My parents watched me become a shell of my former self. They tried calling the school to complain about the problems I was having, but they were only told that it was just girls being girls, and that girls can sometimes be mean. This was 1998-1999—Columbine was that very spring…
I became very depressed. I was suicidal. I didn’t know how to make anything stop. I couldn’t see a way out. My little sister came upon me once contemplating a knife in my bedroom and promptly called my parents. I became much more careful after that…my biggest problem—and probably what saved my life—was that I couldn’t figure out a way to kill myself and make it look like an accident. As crazy as it seems I didn’t want my parents to feel guilty about not being about to help me. I rationalized to myself that I didn’t want to die; I just didn’t want to exist anymore. But as much as I wanted this, I didn’t want my parents to feel that my death was their fault. To make this convincing I started putting on a happy face, everything was fine, school was going great—only my diary knew the truth. I was desperate to find a way out. I would fanaticize about my death; a fall down the stairs, accidentally walking into oncoming traffic, if I would have been old enough to drive I would have driven my car into a tree.
At some point in my playacting, I started to feel better, if only a little bit. I threw myself into schoolwork, most importantly science. Science was something I could do all by myself; many of the students who openly like science at that age were already ostracized, so I fit right in. Science was based on concrete facts, it never changed and I trusted that. Another group of classmates adopted me into their group and I stayed friends with them throughout high school—though since 7th grade I never had a significant friendship with another girl. I never trusted them with secrets, just incase it could be used against me again.
My bullying experience followed me to college, when the pressure of classes and my personal life became too much, those same thoughts crept back—the same ones planted by Jane and Mary. My best guy friend at the time, a bourgeoning psych major forced me to go to the counselors’ office. I attended sessions with a psychologist twice a week for my last two years of college and was prescribed antidepressants for excessive guilt and anxiety. I graduated with everything under control—until I had to break up with my boyfriend of 4 years—back to the psychologist I went.
Twelve years after my year of bullying I still deal with the negative effects of it. I still get paranoid when I hear girls or women whisper or giggle around me, I still have trust issues, and it takes me a long time to open up to someone. But I’m here. And I thank God and my excessive guilt for keeping my here. I’m so glad that I didn’t take what some call a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If I had I would have missed out on so much, the great friendships and experiences that came during and after college, meeting the love of my life, traveling around Europe, the birth of my niece, becoming a successful scientist. After college I taught faith formation classes for 7th graders at my church, and every year we have one night that we set aside to talk about bullying. Have they seen it, experienced it, been the bully or the victim, how to stop it, prevent it. We’ve shared a lot of stories, and I can tell you, there are a lot of children out there who are growing up too fast. They know friends who cut themselves, who have attempted suicide and more. At this age their biggest worry should be their upcoming math tests and if the boy they like will ask them to slow dance at the next school mixer.
You know Jay -- you can collect MY TWO CENTS anytime. (smile and wink)
I was bullied for 4 years when I was a kid (here in MN and in upstate NY). Unfortunately, I've encountered bullying as an ADULT also -- two years with a bad neighbor and a few times out at *THE BAR* when my band was playing or packing up.
The effects of what I endured between 4th and 8th grades are still with me. If I see a movie or TV show where someone is being bullied, I immediately see RED and the hair on the back of my neck stands up (like on an aggressive dog). My blood boils. This happens when I see it in real life also.
In my opinion, there's not alot that can be done. Any kind of policing or monitoring, or "telling on"/ getting an adult (or adultS) involved... it can come back to bite you in the butt... and it can be worse.
The only thing that worked for me was when I started working out and fighting back. Then it calmed down. When I started to excel as a musician also -- I earned respect from just about every clique/demographic in the school then.
I think, bottom line, it comes down to the individual. They have to be trained how to handle the situation and have to be BRAINWASHED into knowing that it will pass and you will NOT be 13 forever.
It actually ended up helping me when I channeled my anger as a late teen and in my early 20s. My anger and aggression came in handy when I moved to Boston and NYC and found myself walking through a rough neighborhood and/or when I was working as a bike messenger.
I still have a deep and powerful rooted anger about it all. Hopefully it will fade out completely someday... (soon?).
I want to say thank you so much for doing a great job covering the Rachel Ehmke story. It is absolutely devastating. I dont know the family personally, just know who Rick and Mary are from our small town community.
I am just so sad to hear about Rachel.
People who bully need to be held accountable for their actions. If you drink and drive, you are held accountable. If you abuse someone, you are held accountable. If you bully, you should be held accountable. These kids knew they were hurting Rachel..and kept on doing it! WHY??? What is so fun about hurting someone???
Rachels story hits a little close to home. You see, my son graduated from KM a couple yrs ago and was also the victim of bullying. It was so heartbreaking. This handful of boys thought it was so "fun" to pick on someone. I wont go into details about what they all did, as this isnt about my story, its about Rachel. I just ache for Rachels family.
I want to say THANK YOU for getting Rachels story out there. Maybe it will help save someones son/daughter.
Dear Mr. Furst -- I really appreciate the coverage the Post-Bulletin did on the suicide coverage of Rachel Emhke, and her brave parents "coming out" to speak about the bullying Rachel experienced, in the midst of their incredible grief. I feel NOT covering the story, when the family was willing to talk about it, would have felt like covering up the suicide (sweeping this difficult subject under the rug). I also appreciate the continued coverage, and it looks like in today's paper there is an article about how kids can help other kids who are experiencing the challenges of life as a young person-a great opportunity for parents to talk about these issues with their children.
One of my co-worker's son was in a class with Rachel, and my co-worker's husband is a paraprofessional at the school, and it sounds as if this bullying has been going on for a year. ... This is a difficult and challenging issue to say the least. It is all very sad on many different levels.
Thanks for all you, and the Post-Bulletin are doing to address this difficult issue and many others.
.......more to post.