Youth As Resources by Kelly Noftz

When it comes to describing the complexities of face to face bullying and cyberbullying, let’s look to teens Tiffany Tharenos and Sean McCarthy for a thorough description of the complexities of the subject. Here, they have given Project Cornerstone permission to reproduce their sophomore English class final paper on this hot topic. Read on to find how this English class assignment turned into a lesson for all asset builders!

Project Reflection: If You Permit, You Promote

For our project, we decided to choose the issue of bullying in today’s society and relate it to the book The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini. Bullying has always been a problem but it is becoming more widespread in schools and society in general. Bullying can be hard to define, but is best described as repeated and intentional harm to another individual where there is a power imbalance between the victim and the bully. Through our research, reading both factual and opinion articles, and an interview with an expert, we gained much more knowledge and insight on this topic. In the novel, The Kite Runner, bullying is a recurring theme. Hassan, one of the main characters, is subjected to constant bullying behaviors similar to those described in our research.

Factual Articles:
We read three factual articles that discussed bullying in general and the case of Phoebe Prince, a Massachusetts teenager who committed suicide after relentless bullying by a group of students from her school. Kids who bully are usually trying to gain power and control or compensate for their own insecurities. Also, they may be victims of bullying or abuse themselves. Bullying can take several forms, including physical, verbal and electronic. The widespread use of technology, such as social networking sites and cell phones, has made cyber bullying a growing problem that is nearly impossible to stop. The anonymity of the internet and the ability to reach a huge number of people twenty-four hours a day combine to make kids especially vulnerable. Unlike in the past, they are unable to escape the bullying even at home. Phoebe Prince is a tragic example of a young girl who was verbally abused, physically assaulted and bullied online until she took her own life on January 14, 2010. In an unusual move, several teens involved in the bullying were expelled from school, arrested and charged with a variety of felony and misdemeanor charges. Although they eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were sentenced to probation and community service, their lives were also changed forever. Phoebe’s family sued the school district and won a $225,000 settlement. Her experiences received extensive coverage in the media and brought the issue of bullying to the attention of the public. As a result many schools and communities have focused on prevention and education and some states have introduced anti-bullying legislation. As one school administrator said, “You need to create a cultural change so that bullying is antithetical to a school’s culture, so it is not tolerated by teachers and it is also not tolerated by students. The real key is empowering the bystanders.”

Op-Ed Articles:
Both op-ed articles were written by students, one for a high school paper and one for a college publication. This makes their comments more meaningful because they come from young people who have observed bullying firsthand at their schools. While they use some facts in their writing that support the topic logically, most of their arguments are emotional. They write about the pain that bullying victims endure and mention several teenagers who have committed suicide because of bullying. The authors’ goal is to make the reader feel sympathy and responsibility for those who are bullied and to move people to stand up against bullies. Carrie Ann, the high school student, says, “Bullying is everyone’s problem; therefore everyone has to be part of the solution.” The article written by the college student mentions several counterarguments related to bullying, including overprotective parents and the right of free speech, but she clearly disagrees with them. She says, “We should never make light of the effects of bullying, especially when it leads to the suicide of children. Playing it off as a rite of passage, the fault of the victim or “helicopter parents” only masks the problem: that we are all responsible for the existence of bullies and for protecting their victims.”

We had the opportunity to interview Mrs. Kelly Noftz, the Youth Partnership Coordinator at Project Cornerstone. We could not have interviewed a better person for our project. Mrs. Noftz is an expert on the subject of bullying and had so much information to share with us. Each year she visits approximately 120 schools and leads three-hour workshops on bullying and asset building. She has a unique perspective on the topic after being at many different schools and speaking with students, teachers and administrators. Many of the things she talked about were similar to information we found in the articles and we were in agreement with the points she made. One thing we found very interesting was that she said bullying is “not strictly a youth problem.” Her opinion is that much of the problem is related to the adult figures in our lives and a failure to connect and communicate between adults and children or adolescents. Mrs. Noftz says, “Caring adults need to be the soft place to land for young people.” It is the responsibility of adults to provide consistent messages about how we should treat each other. At the same time, they should provide clear corrections when hurtful behavior does arise. Another thing we found interesting was a study done by Project Cornerstone on the 41 developmental assets. It showed that kids who report high levels of the support assets, the empowerment assets and who believe they have a bright future have a high level of protection against sadness, depression and self harm like cutting or suicide attempts. Those were only some of the many lessons we learned that we will carry with us. She also taught us a really cool analogy about bullying using a “bucket”. It feels great when someone notices you, makes you feel welcome or celebrates you. These good feelings are kept in your invisible bucket. It also fills your own bucket when you fill the bucket of another person. A full bucket helps us feel confident and valued. At times we have all felt that our buckets are low or empty. We make the mistake of dipping into someone else’s bucket by gossiping, excluding or trash talking to try to fill our own bucket. It is also important to use to lid on your bucket. Personal Responsibility to put a lid on our own bucket to protect the good feelings we have about ourselves is key. We can be an UPstander and help others put a lid on their bucket by giving them support. The lid is temporary. We need to stay open to new experiences and relationships that can fill our buckets, while temporarily using our lid if needed.

Connections to the book:
Bullying is a growing problem in our society and is a recurring theme in the novel The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini. We were able to relate much of what we learned about bullying in general and the case of Phoebe Prince to the cruel treatment endured by the character Hassan in the book. Hassan was bullied both verbally and physically. He was called names, such as “flat nose”, because of his Mongoloid physical features and taunted about his low social status as a Hazara and a servant. Assef and his group of friends physically attacked and raped Hassan after a kite running contest when he refused to give up Amir’s winning kite. Amir arrived during the attack and saw what was happening to Hassan but did nothing to stop it. He also did not tell anyone or offer Hassan any support afterward. This led to serious problems and permanently damaged the relationship between their families. Phoebe Prince was also bullied by other teenagers. She was called names like “Irish slut” and was raped by another student. School personnel and friends were aware of the bullying but were unable or unwilling to stop it and she ended up taking her own life. In both the novel and Phoebe Prince’s case, the bullying affected not only the victims but also their friends and families and even the bullies. Amir’s guilt and regret over not helping Hassan greatly affected his life even as an adult and led him to take a great risk to try to make it up to Hassan. The teenagers who bullied Phoebe Prince also experienced major consequences. They were expelled from school, arrested and prosecuted, and will have to live with their actions for the rest of their lives.

General Reflection:
To one extent or another, we have all acted as a bully or been a victim of bullying but we cannot build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We have been reminded to stop and think before saying or doing something that might hurt others. This project has shown us how devastating cruel words and behavior can be. We are all responsible for our own actions and for standing up for our friends and classmates. Bullying behavior can be greatly reduced if kids and adults make it clear that it is not acceptable. There are things in life that we are unable to change such as others actions or other people’s opinions of us but there are some things we can control such as our own actions. From personal experience both of us can say that it is not fun to be on the victim side of the bullying but it is more important to focus on the positive in life than the negatives and to change the world for the better. We learn from our experiences and it only makes us the people we are today.

We will take away many important lessons from this project. This process has given us greater understanding and compassion for victims of bullying. No one should ever feel that taking their life is the only way to escape cruel treatment by their peers. As one article said, we should follow the Golden Rule and treat others like we want to be treated. If everyone did that, the world would be a much happier place. We have also learned effective strategies to use if we witness bullying behavior, such as getting an adult to help, getting the person away from the situation or distracting them from the destructive behavior, offering support and acceptance, and just being a friend. It is better to be an “Upstander” than a bystander.

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