I wrote a book about the tragedy of bullying in a fictional school where such harassment went overlooked and unchecked. Unfortunately, that happens in real life more often than we want to believe.
At Comic-Con this past summer, I'd been invited to participate in a panel called "End Bullying: Responding to Cruelty in Our Culture," and wasn't sure what to expect walking into that conference room.
I was joining people like Star Wars: The Clone Wars voice actress Ashley Eckstein, who has been a proponent for girls in geek culture with her HerUniverse clothing line, and author Carrie Goldman, who wrote the book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.
Goldman, who moderated the conversation, asked me about the idea in Brutal Youth that people who are treated badly end up behaving badly -- lashing back at the world, even if the people they hurt aren't the ones responsible for their own pain. (You can see that at 11:55)
But by far the most impressive speaker that day was a 12-year-old girl who got up during the Q&A and tearfully asked for help. Her comments come at 39:05. "How do you expect someone who is being bullied to be helped . . . because no one helped me."
She stood beside her mother, and they said they had already gone to her teachers, the principal, and others in the school administration, and no one took her complaints seriously. It turned out, she was being called a horrible nickname, vile, profane, and graphically sexual. She told us afterward that she was planning to leave and go to a different school.
During the panel, we all took our shot at trying to help. You can hear what I offered at 45:55. Essentially, I said she can't control what the teachers or other grown-ups do, but what she can do is look for someone else who is being treated like she is, and be a friend to that kid. Sometimes it's easier to stand up for others than for yourself. Not that it's ever easy.
At the "End Bullying" panel, we met real people in the audience who have been scarred by this kind of torment, which is behavior that goes unchecked when we assure ourselves that some responsible adult will step in and help.
The people who gathered in that conference room needed help, needed a friend, and hopefully this was a place where they found many.
Their heartache definitely broke mine, but we discovered that our pieces fit together to make something that beats much stronger.