Bullying can take different shapes and forms such as social isolation, verbal assaults and physical harassment.
Elana Burack is a high school senior in North Carolina. Three years ago, she had a group of girls she spent most of her time with. They were close friends, or so she thought.
“We'd eat together at lunch and go to parties and share secrets," Burack said. "One day I decided to sit with a different group of girls at lunch. I didn’t think this would be a problem.”
But it was.
“I was sort of cornered by my friend group and told, ‘You’re not allowed to do that. You have to sit with us. You're not allowed to sit with other people,’" Burack said. "At that moment I sort of realized - are these girls really my friends? - and I sort of had to reflect on our whole friendship and thought of all the other times they had been possessive of me and controlling and had told me what to do.”
Burack confronted the girls with her disappointment about their friendship.
“You’re supposed to support me, help me and encourage me," she said. "I don’t feel like you’re doing that, that I wasn’t sure that we could be friends anymore.”
Burack is one of more than 80 teenagers who shared their experiences in a new book, Under Attack: True Stories Written by Teen Victims, Bullies and Bystanders.
“It’s extremely painful to hear how cruel people can be towards each other,” said Stephanie Meyer, co-creator of a monthly magazine written by and for teens, who helped edit the stories. “Very often a young person who is bullied becomes very depressed, or because they're depressed, bullying affects them even more. There are too many instances of teens who have committed suicide as a result.”
But bullying, she says, is also a cry for attention.
“Very often the bullies themselves have been victims," said Meyer. "They are trying to regain the power that they have lost in being bullied at home or by other older children when they were young. And so they regain a sense of power by being the actual bully.”
With the growth of social media, Meyer says, cyber-bullying has become a serious problem.
“One young woman who was at a party, the end of the summer...At one point, part of her bathing suit apparently was kind of revealing and a picture was taken," Meyer said. "It was posted on Facebook and she wasn’t even aware of it for weeks.”
At first, 17-year-old Autumn Bornholdt was too embarrassed to tell her family.
“I was mortified. I couldn’t believe that these girls who I thought were my friends had not told me that this picture was online,” she said. "I was actually at the doctor’s office with my mom one day. One of my true friends texted me and said, ‘Oh my goodness, there is another post on your Facebook wall.’ Then I read it and just started to cry. My mom asked me why I was crying. I told her. She immediately started calling all of these other girls’ parents asking them to remove these nasty posts.”
Being bullied when she was in 7th grade is a painful experience that 18-year-old Sitav Nabi, now a college freshman, will never forget. She says there was one particular girl who had always picked on her.
“As I was walking home, she was across the street. She was throwing rocks at me," Nabi said. "I had my headphones on and didn’t realize until she hit me several times. I went to my house and when my mother realized that, she went to the police and reported her. But when I went to school the next day, instead of feeling sorry for me and understand it was wrong, everyone else attacked me because they said I had purposely gotten her into trouble.”
Passive and reluctant bystanders, she says, are just as guilty as bullies.
“If you are watching someone being bullied, being attacked, and you know it’s wrong, you have to stand up and make them stop because you’re traumatizing another human being,” Nabi said.
Nabi and the other teens who shared their experiences about bullying hope by raising awareness about the problem they’re helping others realize they are not alone, so they can stand up for themselves and their friends, and put an end to bullying.