How to Stand Up to Bullies. A Christmas Story and Stomp Award-Winning Middle School Essays

Ahmed Shayef, first-place winner of essay contest about bullying
Ahmed Shayef, first-place winner of essay contest about bullying

“Bullying is an unfortunate part of our society,” writes Ahmed Shayef,  seventh-grader at M.S. 577 in Brooklyn, who won a walk-on role in A Christmas Story as a result of his essay on bullying, part of a contest held by the Broadway musical and the Off-Broadway show Stomp. Below are his essay and those of the second and third place winners, Tatiana Mandis and Sophie Watwood

 How To Stand Up To Bullies

by Ahmed Shayef

M.S. 57

Courage doesn’t have to be a dangerous or violent act. Courage comes in different sizes and shapes. Courage could just be standing up to a bully without being violent. Also, standing up for others is a courageous act that you can do and be proud of. How can you show courage and stand up to bullying without being violent?

Do not let what people say bother you and do be not afraid to tell them how you feel. Words can really affect people; they can cause real damage to the person. There are people who will make fun of personal characteristics, traits that define you as an individual. For example, they can make fun of your accent, or the way you speak. That can really hurt someone’s feelings. People shouldn’t make fun of others. They should be courageous and do the right thing instead of trying to be cool or funny. According to Kidscape  Survey, an extensive survey of over 1000 adults, “bullying not only affects your self-esteem as an adult, but your ability to make friends, succeed in education, and in work social relationships. Nearly half (46%) of those who were bullied contemplated suicide compared with only 7 % of those who were not.” Standing up for yourself makes you courageous. Speaking up for yourself in a non-violent way will make you proud, give you more confidence.

There are people who disagree and feel that instead of using words; physical violence needs to be displayed. This is a mistaken opinion because that’s being disrespectful and can cause even more harm. “Sometimes a teen or child who has been bullied eventually becomes the bully as a way to retaliate. In fact, revenge for bullying is one of the strongest motivations for school shootings, according to recent bullying statistics. “A reported 61 percent of students said they believe students shoot others at school because they have been victims of physical violence at home or at school,” according to the website Bullying Statistics . By verbally expressing to the bully how you feel and walking away you end the issue. Responding violently prolongs the issue at hand.

There are some suggestions as how to stand up for yourself in non-violent way. First, don’t be angry when someone bullies you, as you could get yourself in trouble. Also, think before you act. Furthermore, be prepared when someone bullies you, be prepared so you don’t answer in an impulsive way and therefore possibly violently. Finally, trust your instincts, what you want to say not what your friends think you should say.

Bullying is an unfortunate part of our society. Standing up for your self is very important. You need to have courage to tactfully tell someone who might be bullying you to stop. Responding violently only makes things worse. Responding with violence can cause more trouble and only creates more violence. If you are ever having difficulty with bullying and standing up for your self you should get help before getting violent. Once you act courageous by standing up for yourself non-violently you will feel good about yourself and have a happier, healthier future

Silent Bullies

By Tatiana Mandis

6th Grade
The Spence School New York, New York

There are many different types of bullying. For example, bullying can be physical or verbal and easily observed. These seem to be the most common types. But it can also be “silent” and difficult to identify. What do I mean by that?

I was in the dining room at school. I had just gotten my food from the lunch line. I placed my food tray down and started to sit next to a girl in my grade. I have never had a problem with her that I know of. If I passed her in the hallway, I would always say hi. When I sat down, she immediately got up and moved. She is considered the “popular girl” in my grade, but I was still surprised she would be so obviously and unnecessarily mean. The other girls sitting at nearby tables saw the incident and started to giggle and whisper. The popular girl didn’t say anything to my face, but she didn’t really need to—her actions said it all. She was silently sending us all a message: that she was too cool to sit with me. This type of bullying is common because it gives the bully an easy out. She didn’t say anything to me directly, and if confronted, she could easily say that I “misunderstood” or “misinterpreted” what she did. Her intentions of hurting me and elevating herself were clear. Also, when she sat down next to the other girls, they all whispered and giggled together while looking at me.

It doesn’t matter what type of bullying it isit always really hurts. Mission accomplished for the silent bully in the lunchroom.

I went home and talked about it with my parents. My father told me about how he was bullied, how he spoke to his parents about it and how he felt. His parents came to the United States from Greece without speaking the language and with only enough money to last them for a very short period of time. His father told him how they were bullied and taken advantage of throughout their lives because they were different. This didn’t make me feel any better, but then my father told me something that made me think. He said that his father told him that he felt his pain. I think it is important for kids to know that bullying happens and happened to their parents. He then said something even more interesting. He said that his father asked him what his goals in life were. My father, who was 13 years old at the time, said he wanted to go to a top university and play college tennis. His father asked him: “Did the bully stop you from reaching your goals?” My father answered “No.” His father said reaching for his goals is all he needed to worry about. His father said that over time I would see that people want to be with other people who share similar values, goals, and interests. This made sense to me. My father said that he would step in to help me if the bullying was putting me in a dangerous position or stopped me from achieving my goals. He asked me if I felt threatened or unsafe, or did it stop me from achieving my goals? I replied “No.”

My father then turned to me and asked what my ideas were about the bullyingwas the girl a bully? Or was she just having trouble communicating and resolving a problem? He asked what my approach would be in moving forward. My approach is to always make sure that I stand tall and look the bully in the eye when I see her and always be pleasant and see if it happens again. I feel that if I bring it up with her, she will use the “you are misinterpreting” line, which essentially would be double bullying because it would shift the blame onto me or would imply that there is something wrong with me because I can’t pick up social cues.

My mother explained to me that people, especially girls, can often be mean, and that sadly this starts at a young age and never really ends. She said that it is important to always be honest and stand up not only for yourself, but for your friends. It is very easy to “join in” and “giggle along” with everyone else, but this too is indirect bullying. It means that you are weak. She helped me realize that the definition of “being popular” is really a person’s perspective and not necessarily actuality.

This is only one example of many times I have been treated badly. Each time it has made me sad, especially when girls I would consider friends are the ones that tease me, laugh at me, or pick on me. My mother has explained to me that it is not worth getting upset in these difficult situations. She said that most of the time, these people have many of their own problems and that the only way they can feel better is to take out their anger on others. However, she kept reminding me that it is important to always remember how people treat you and to be careful not to let them do it again; to protect yourself by not putting yourself in the position to be targeted again.

Later, I thought about my conversation with my parents and decided that my parents were teaching me how to strengthen my resilience. They let me know they loved me and were there for me anytime, anywhere. They let me know it doesn’t just happen to me—it has happened to both of them, too. They let me know that how I felt was normal. They empathized with me. They also let me realize that the bullying didn’t stop them from achieving their goals. They made me take pride in my own accomplishments and review the goals that I have set for myself.

I felt much stronger after my conversation with my parents. I discovered that I was capable of dealing with difficult things. It certainly doesn’t excuse the bully’s behavior or make it acceptable. If I said bullying made me stronger, I would be validating this cowardly and painful act and indicating it is acceptable to bully others. It is not ok to bully others at all. My story is about how one can take a difficult situation and deal with it. No one should have to do this. I wish I didn’t have to endure the emotional and psychological torture of bullying, but I did and probably will againand that is the reality of it.

I realize that if I keep my rage or outrage or feeling of revenge or other impulsive feelings inside me, then the bully will get the better of me, and the bully would have had a lasting effectall of which really could stop me from reaching my goals. I realize that bullies are weakthat is the reason for bullying and the approach. I am sad and frustrated by the fact that people can be so thoughtless. Bullies are generally unhappy with themselves, and the only way that they can feel better is to lash out at others. Sadly, it is usually the nice kids who are bullied and picked on. My experiences have given me a little more awareness and sensitivity. For example, if I see someone sitting alone, I always make an effort to sit down next to them and make them feel included.

People should be made more aware of the more “silent” bullying. Visible, verbal, and physical types of bullying are easier to identify. For the most part, in my school and community, the students and parents are generally more sophisticated and educated to recognize those types of bullying and that they are wrong. It is the “silent” bullying that is more often used and is very tricky to deal with. Sometimes students are so involved in their own problems and finding their own way that they don’t even realize how mean and hurtful they are being. It starts to come naturally and appears to be connected to the definition of popularity.

In my community, awareness of physical and verbal bullying has effectively limited these types of bullying. Raising awareness of the different types of bullying (including new types via technology) would help limit bullying more. I hope that my story helps emphasize the importance of educating parents on how to deal with a child who comes home and talks about bullying or shows signs of problems without even discussing bullying. It is important to have open communication and know what to ask and say. It is even more necessary to pick up on signs that your child might be bullying another child and help him or her realize how detrimental those actions are to others. My parents learned effective methods from their parents and their experiences, but there needs to be a more thoughtful and formal way to bring the best minds on the topic to our students and parents so that they can learn, improve, and reduce bullying.

The Buddy System

by Sophia Watwood

Sometimes, the choices we make are scary. When you stand up to someone, whether it is in defense of yourself, a friend, or a stranger, you need to use sense that you should do the right thing. I had to make a decision like this, and I earned a friend from it. I think that it is important to stand up for anyone being bullied, because avoiding it will let it grow like a poison weed.

When I was in elementary school, there was a girl that could stand up to anyone, but she wouldn’t, because she was scared that others would think she was mean. This girl was taller, stronger, and smarter than all of the kids there. During recess, some people taunted her, running from her and stealing her books, because she went to therapy and because her opinions were different from theirs.

“Come and get us, crazy!” they would screech. For a long time, whenever this happened, I would watch from the other side of the blacktop, clicking my pink high tops together in anxiety, and when they finished teasing her, I would walk over to comfort her.

“They are wrong about you,” I would say, hugging her tightly. “You are better than them, and they are just jealous.” I believed what I said, but I don’t think she ever did. Whenever this happened, it hurt me to know that she felt bad, and it hurt me even worse to know that I wasn’t doing anything to help.

After almost 7 months, I finally made my choice. I realized that if I kept letting them tease her, they would fuel themselves on her, and they would grow, and at one point, she would disappear. If that happened, I would feel as guilty as the bullies. As soon as a group with a negative attitude walked up to the girl, I ran for them. My blond hair whipped back in small threads as I ran, flowing out behind me like a parachute. My blue eyes stayed focused on my target, and seemed to turn stone grey as I thought of what they were saying to her. I was across the yard and in their way faster than you can say run for it.

“This has got to stop,” I stated, frowning with my hands on my hips. “Every day I see you eating at my friend’s self esteem, and then I watch you walk away. Now, if you are going to say something positive, go ahead, but if it is not positive, not even the bricks on the walls want to hear it.” They walked away, and no one approached her except kids with a smile to give her.

“I … errr… ummm… I thought that was brave. When you protected me, even though they might ruin your life too. Thank you. You gave me the courage that I did not have,” she said. Her face was level to mine, even though I was standing and she was sitting down on the lowest step. I never forgot that, because I had never heard anything so poetic in real life. From then on, any time someone said anything negative about anyone, she protected them. She only needed to know that it was the right thing.

This is only one example of how someone’s choice to stand up for another has made a difference, eliminating one bully at a time. I think that if we had a buddy system in schools, there would always be someone there to make that choice. Students should be able to pick their own buddy, but administrators should ensure that everyone has a buddy.

With the buddy system, kids would feel confident that someone would always be there to stand up for them when they needed it. Your buddy would stand up for you when you were too scared or anxious to make that choice yourself. If you were being a bully, you would have someone there who could help you, instead of being repeatedly reprimanded with empty words and unrelated punishments.

Having a buddy would ensure that someone would always make that choice, to stop being a bully, or stand up to a bully. I hope that schools, students, teachers, and administrators alike choose to use the buddy system. Think of the girl in the schoolyard the next time you make that choice. If we make the right choice, we can eliminate bullying.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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