Stefania Shaffer, Profile


Vandra Meets Bullies, The Old-Fashioned Way, Before Cyber Bullying Existed

Ask any student, what’s worse than bullies harassing you at lunch?

Cyber bullying—replaying that awful moment on a loop for the world to see over and over the rest of your life online.

In the days before cyber bullying on the Internet, we still had forms of intimidation by the tough kids who thought they ruled the school.

If you were new to middle school, you were an easy target, and not because you were tugging a rolling backpack twice your size— those were things we called luggage and saved only for plane trips—and not because you had a way with creating matching Pee-Chee folders and textbooks you covered in fabric, color-coded by subject.

If you were a sixth grader, you were fair game for the bruisers in eighth grade who needed a place to vent the anger that had probably been unleashed upon them one too many times. You were small, you were innocent, and you cried easily—which is the ultimate goal of a bully, to know they have hurt you in some way.

Today’s bullies don’t just harass you in the hallway, or steal your lunch money, or push you into lockers, although these things still exist. Bullies are much more sophisticated these days because they want to be celebrated for the massive punishment they unleashed on you by filming your worst day with their camera phone, and then sending it out to the universe through any one of the multiple channels providing them much more than the fifteen-minutes of fame any ordinary person accomplishing something spectacular would likely get. In this regard, bullies are no different than the murderers who seek out attention from the media.

Why are we fascinated by the tragedies of others? Students who witness the circle of bullies taking down their best friend while they stand by doing nothing to help is like watching a bad road accident. They can not not look away.

A bystander’s first feeling is usually, “I don’t want it to be me.” Their second feeling is, “I wish I could have done more to help, but what?”

An honest look at some solutions comes from highly regarded motivational speaker Michael Pritchard who rallies students to put bullying to an end. I have seen him speak at middle school assemblies. He tugs at heart strings and electrifies every single one of the several hundred kids in the audience. You can hear a pin drop—and no one laughs when one brave member travels to the mic to share how it really feels to be bullied.

As a middle school teacher who has seen nearly two thousand seven hundred seventh-graders come through my class, I have found there is something universal in bullying. The majority of students will say that bullying needs to stop—but the same majority will also say they have witnessed bullying and did nothing to stop it for fear of becoming bullied themselves.

There is a code of silence that is hard to break because many students believe that a teacher or a parent can’t make it go away. Besides leaving our doors open while eating lunch at our desk, how can we better patrol and prevent as parents and teachers?

I address the problem of bullying in my first fictional Middle-Grade novel called Heroes Don’t Always Wear Capes when the protagonist Vandra Zandinski is harassed by eighth graders when she is a new sixth grader. The older girls think she has stolen the attention of their eighth-grade boyfriends and form a gang of girl torturers to attack her at the bus stop after school, and to throw her down in the empty corridors during lunch. Vandra is petrified that things will only get worse if she tells someone. But when her Vice-Principal Mr. Barbey gets involved, Vandra finds out he is not so useless after all. He punishes those eighth-grade girls with multiple consequences, including a twenty-page written report on what harassment really means, how to recognize it, and how to protect those who are being harassed.

At least Vandra didn’t have to re-live her worst nightmares online.

Blog question: What efforts have you made to stop cyber bullying? 

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