Bullying among kids and teens is a problem throughout the nation. Learn how five brave kids are standing up to bullies by promoting kindness and acceptance in their schools and communities.
Don’t Stand By
Isabella Griffin was just 9 when she was bullied at her Alamosa, Colo., school. She told her parents that kids were making fun of the clothes she wore, and they told her she needed to stand up for herself or it would only get worse. Soon after, she noticed a student with special needs being bullied and stood up for him. After researching bullying, she was surprised to learn that 5 percent of people are victims, 10 percent are bullies and 85 percent are bystanders. Isabella decided to focus on the bystanders. With the support of her principal, she launched Be a Buddy —Not a Bully, asking students to sign an anti-bullying pledge and wear a bracelet that says “Stand Up! Step In!” Since then, Isabella, now 13, has spoken to more than 7,000 students nationwide (beabuddynotabully.org). “The purpose of the bracelet is that if kids are ever in a situation where they see bullying happen, they can look at their wrist and remember they took the pledge,” Isabella says. “We need to get bystanders involved to do something.”
No One Should Eat Alone
As part of Beyond Differences, a student-led group that focuses on social isolation (the precursor to bullying) in middle and high schools, Carl Simpson-Heil, 17, a senior in Larkspur, Calif., helped roll out No One Eats Alone Day in California four years ago. This simple program (nooneeatsalone.org) encourages kids to sit together at lunch and get to know each other. The program has expanded to more than 1,100 schools nationwide with one million kids participating. “What we hope is that all students feel included and valued by those around them,” Carl says.
Crowns Aren’t Just for Pageants
Olivia Pierce, 15, who participated in her first pageant two years ago to raise her self-esteem after being bullied throughout elementary school, came up with a different way to look at pageant crowns. The Eagan, Minn., teen launched a Facebook page and website (raiseyourcrownagainstbullying.com) inviting kids to be “ambassadors against bullying.” Almost 700 photos from all over the world have been posted of people raising their crowns—even paper or invisible ones.
“I want people to know that they can come to our website and be accepted and welcomed and that no one is alone,” Olivia says.
A Place to Take a Breather
Acacia Woodley, who was born without complete arms, was bullied by a classmate in the fifth grade. Instead of being intimidated, Acacia invited the girl over to her house. “We talked in my room, and she told me she was having a hard time at home,” recalls Acacia, who lives in Palm Bay, Fla. “I had this revelation that it’s not just the kids that are being bullied who are having a hard time, but the bullies too.” Acacia, now 14, created Tiny Girl, Big Dream (tinygirlbigdream.org) with the aim of creating a space at schools where anyone can go when they are being bullied or having a bad day. More than 300 Friendship Benches have been placed in schools all over the U.S., Canada, Sweden and China. Acacia also speaks to students around the country about tolerance and acceptance.
Kids Helping Kids
Jaylen Arnold, 15, found out early that bullies don’t like people who are different. When he was 8, he was targeted because he has Tourette’s syndrome, which causes physical and vocal tics, as well as Asperger’s syndrome and Obsessive- compulsive disorder. He decided to fight back—not physically, but with words. He started the nonprofit Jaylen’s Challenge Foundation (jaylenschallenge.org) with the goal of speaking out for those bullied for being different. He travels to schools across the country spreading his message of “Bullying No Way!” and has spoken to more than 120,000 kids. “I want to spread kindness and positivity—that’s the way we’ll build a promising future,” says Jaylen, who lives in Tampa, Fla. “When adults talk to kids it often becomes same old same old. When peers talk to each other, you understand the message better—I know I do.”