During middle school I became the target. Frizzy hair, braces and glasses that took up half my face — before thinner black-rimmed frames became cool — were all part of who I was.

An overbite that caused a gaping open mouth exacerbated the insecurities. For whatever reason, a few classmates took notice — including one in particular.

The classmate would constantly tease me and protrude out his teeth to imitate me. For the most part, I just ignored it.

Yet one day during band class while preparing to take an annual trip to Six Flags, the director warned us about staying in larger groups and not wandering off alone because of creepy people. In front of the entire class, the classmate said “no one will bother Rachael because she does this,” and proceeded to buck out his teeth.

The room erupted in laughter. I turned crimson, and the instructor chastised the student.

The fellow classmate was in trouble and apologized — because someone made him — which made me feel even more uncomfortable about the situation, though it never happened again.

I deflected and told him I thought it was hilarious and hoped he didn’t get into too much trouble for it.

A few years later, in high school, I got along with and joked with the same student, and we’re now even Facebook friends.

By current standards, my middle school incident could fall under the category of a milder form of taunting or teasing that fortunately didn’t escalate past that point.

I don’t know if it’s bullying awareness within the past decade, a new generation, or both, but I am shocked by both the amount and types of bullying that seem to be reported to date.

Verbal bullying has seemed to shift from mild teasing to using derogatory terms or even threats. Physically bullying has led to assaults, harassment, stolen property and suicides. Social media, where some bullies can hide behind a veil of anonymity, is another beast.

A Google news search of the keyword “bullying” shows 5.86 million results for the topic.

A few alleged incidents have even been brought to the Herald’s attention during the nearly two years I’ve been with the paper.

Advice I’ve seen from reading articles, or from covering a few workshops myself, seems to include walking away, telling an adult, befriending the bully, documenting or taking a screen shot of social media threats, and the list goes on.

The lines seem to be drawn between the bully, the victim, parents of both, and other adults who are supposed to intervene.

However, I also think another neutral group could get involved without being instigators.

I think I can look back on childhoods and remember at times certain kids were more prone to be picked on.

Parents who have kids who are fortunate enough to not have been bullied could perhaps teach their children to be on the lookout for those kids — teach them to reach out to the victims instead of hearing rumors of who did what to whom.

Teach them to include kids who are “targets,” aloof, different, labeled as weird or whatever the circumstance is, and surround them so that it makes it harder for bullies to get to them when they’re alone.

Teach them to take a stand when they hear or see something that’s not right, without being confrontational.

Teach them at what point they should snitch in order to protect someone else.

Teach them to target victims or potential victims with positive reinforcement.

Rachael Riley covers Harker Heights and Nolanville. Contact her at rriley@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7553.

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