Archive for Saturday, July 14, 2012

Group aims to curb bullying

July 14, 2012


Nationwide, people are addressing bullying, seeking to stop it. A new organization in Lawrence is taking up the cause.

Crystal Shepherd, of Lawrence, has created an anti-bullying group called Friends Don’t Let Friends Bully. The organization will launch this fall at South Middle School. Shepherd hopes to galvanize students, parents, teachers and community members in the anti-bully movement.

From left Crystal Shepherd, Shari Hicks and Christina Johnson gather for a Sunday lunch and to talk about a new support group they have started for South Middle School called Friends Don't Let Friends Bully. The group has already had one fundraiser and has plans for another one soon.

From left Crystal Shepherd, Shari Hicks and Christina Johnson gather for a Sunday lunch and to talk about a new support group they have started for South Middle School called Friends Don't Let Friends Bully. The group has already had one fundraiser and has plans for another one soon.

“The idea is that it’s a community effort, that bullying is not in the dark anymore,” said Shepherd, the group’s organizer. “Instead of a program focused on protecting the victim, (Friends Don’t Let Friends Bully) is designed to draw the bullies out. ... Maybe they don’t even realize what they are doing is bullying and the ones who do realize they are bullying aren’t in the dark anymore; they need to be held accountable for their own actions within themselves, including by the people around them.”

One of the missions of Friends Don’t Let Friends Bully is to rebrand the image of the bully: It’s not cool to be a bully. The group is planning dog walks, love runs and pep rallies to spread the message.

Part of the message is intended for people around bullies, Shepherd said. If Friends Don’t Let Friends Bully can reach children at vulnerable ages, making them confident enough to speak out when they see friends pick on others, they can deter the bully from acting out.

“Your friend wouldn’t let you wear blue eyeliner with that shirt,” Shepherd said. “Your friend shouldn’t let you bully.”

Bullies tend to pick on others when their behavior is accepted, approved or even applauded. Shepherd wants schools to become safe places for students, places bullies do not feel lauded when acting out.

Personal resonance

The anti-bullying movement has deep resonance with Shepherd. Her son, Nathan, 13, has been bothered by bullies since second grade. Nathan was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 9. She said kids would tease him because he behaved differently than they did. Over time, the bullying grew brutal and relentless; she said Nathan would come home with welts from being hit in the face with the ball during foursquare; he would drag himself home in low spirits.

The consistency of bullying pulled Shepherd into the classroom time and time again to defend her son. Once, she compiled a PowerPoint on Nathan and Asperger’s syndrome designed to educate and explain why Nathan was a little different. The presentation proved successful at first: The bullying abated for a month. But then it picked up again.

Finally Shepherd saw bullies penetrate her son’s favorite place at school: choir. Though Nathan struggled academically, he thrived in choir. But when the bullying started there, choir was no longer a refuge.

“I thought choir was the one place he was safe, and now he’s not,” Shepherd said. “I decided I can’t keep saying something to the teacher. I really need to get in there and do something about this.”

At first Shepherd thought of forming an autism awareness program. Then she realized that autism wasn’t the problem and that being attacked and persecuted for being different was. So she sought to form Friends Don’t Let Friends Bully to address bullying as a social problem.


Shepherd has recruited teenagers Austin Brown, 17, and J.T. Sczbaznic, 17, to help get the group started. For the group’s first fundraiser, an Anti-Bully Love Run that drew in 75 people, the teens distributed fliers, hung Christmas lights and doled out water to the runners.

Though the teens said they were never extremely bullied, they have been teased before for their clothing.

“Anything that keeps you out of the main group is easy targeting for a bully,” Austin said. “If you let what people say get to you, and you change to be like them, they’ll make fun of you for that too. ... We hope that through our program, parents will start to realize if their child is a bully or they are being bullied and take action and do whatever they can to keep it from happening.”

It is only the group’s first year, but it would like to expand in Lawrence.

“We would like to get other schools involved and make it a citywide awareness program that’s started at all the schools because bullying happens from elementary all the way to high school — or beyond even,” said committee member Sherri Hicks. “Bullying can even happen in an environment for adults.”

As Shepherd tries to redefine the image of the bully locally and beyond, she is in need of volunteers — parents, students, community members — to help boost the anti-bully cause and get her message out.

Positive message

Most importantly, Shepherd hopes to reach bullies.

“Let’s help these bullies too,” Shepherd said. “Hug them, hug the bully. Let’s make them understand what compassion feels like. This isn’t going to reach everyone. (Some of them) are too far in their frame of mind to accept the change, but at the same time I really feel like with community awareness, it’s not going to be overlooked anymore.”


Robert Rauktis 5 years, 8 months ago

“Your friend wouldn’t let you wear blue eyeliner with that shirt,” Shepherd said. “Your friend shouldn’t let you bully.”- I'd rethink this slogan, unless the mom wants "bullying" on her.

Bully's don't think very rationally, which children/teenagers rarely do, except in Disney movies. If they could hear a "message" then they are probably intelligent and enlightened enough not to be bothered or fulfilled by doing it. Get them to be a "big brother or sister" to act as a guardian angel. Vito Corleone in blue jeans or blue eyeliner. A good educational moment for everyone. Really tough people usually don't bully as they don't have to. They pick bigger or more noble targets. The bullies fall back to be toadies, like the old KU athletic department.

Norm Jennings 5 years, 8 months ago

Great comment SF, not sure that just supporting victims and further alienating the disaffected "bullies" does as much to solve the issues as many seem to think.

Inspiring the bullies to "grow up and out" of their issues to expend their energy and angst on targets that will garner true esteem from themselves and their peers would seem essential to any real resolution?

Maybe this is in some of these programs more than I realize, but not highlighted in the publicity (probably a little too deep for a newspaper article).

lawrencian1234 5 years, 8 months ago

While I agree that better parenting is important, I think there is a significant aspect of peer pressure/ social learning involved in bullying- kids can learn to bully by watching other kids being unkind.

aashindelar 5 years, 8 months ago

Concerned about bullying and how it effects your kids' lives? Please check out our fantastic project to try and get a worthwhile discussion started about bullying in middle schools across the US!

jhawkinsf 5 years, 8 months ago

My child was sucker punched by another student at school. It was back when 6th. grade was still part of elementary school. I found out about it that evening. Apparently no teacher witnessed it. When I went to the office first thing the next morning, I was told that the principle only saw people by appointment. I guess she had more important things to do.

There was never a repeat of that type of incident once we enrolled my child in private school. Though I continue to be a big supporter of public schools, I will work three jobs and all the extra hours I can to ensure my child doesn't have to go to public schools. It's a broken system.

MrTHOR221 5 years, 8 months ago

As a parent of a child that was bullying all through school, I have to say that involvement has to be the key. Crystal's cousins, were both bullying because they were different. One was ADHD and the other was probably a bit of that too. But teachers allowed this bullying because they "NEVER seen the bullying". All they ever saw was when our boys had had enough and retaliated. Of course we spent about as much time in those schools trying to get the school authorities to do something about the bullying. It never happened. The only thing that happened is our boys got kicked out because of their behavior. It got so bad that our youngest quit school rather than continue to deal with the bullying. I can't say that I blame him either, since nothing we done ever helped. All it done was make the bullying worse. And that's sad. For the teacher who has only seen it happen once time is 20 years, maybe you work in a really great school. But open your eyes, because it could be happening right behind your back. The thing is the kids that are getting bullied are so scared to say anything because it only makes it worse. The "bully" gets called into the office, gets a mild talking to, and then retaliates or has their friends do it. I have seen it all. I know what blinders teachers wear. Our boys came home bloodied and yet nothing was ever done. And no the police didn't do anything either because it was a "SCHOOL MATTER". I even went before the city council and school board about it. All I got was that our son got kicked out of school for the last 2 months of his sophmore year. And he couldn't return to school until November of his Junior. So I don't know if this program will help or not. But I stand behind my niece and her efforts at getting awareness of bullying that is going on. And maybe she didn't use the "perfect" words. But the thought behind the words is what counts.

Sprigeo 5 years, 8 months ago

Wonderful solution to what has become an overwhelming challenge for adults to overcome. Educators and parents can support the efforts of kids and teens by encouraging programs like Friends Don’t Let Friends Bully. Like many of the student groups we have identified in the Sprigeo Heroes Project, this organization understands that for true change to occur, kids and teens must take responsibility for creating change and holding each other accountable, every moment of the day. A tall order I know, yet when youth come together and recognize the power they have to impact a community, their energy is unmatched. Kudos to the group mentioned hear. The coming school year is going to be amazing.

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