. . . the right care at the right time

A very special homecoming queen

By Lisa Kalinski MA, LPC

Whitney Kroop is just one bully victim in one high school in one small town. This week the 16-year-old from West Branch, Michigan, made national news as the target of a homecoming prank. Quiet, polite and rarely finding fault with her peers, she’d been picked on both in school and on Facebook.  Then, quite surprisingly and joyfully, she was voted to the homecoming court. But the excitement was quickly met with the harshest of rebukes when her snickering and sneering classmates told her it was a prank, and the boy who was to appear with her withdrew altogether.She’s one victim in one town, suffering just one more humiliation. But it’s not that simple.

According to a University of New Hampshire study, about 16 percent of students in the United States are involved in bullying. Of those, seven percent are the bullies and nine percent are the targets of the bullies.

There are 800 students at West Branch High School. That translates to 128 kids involved in bullying, 72 of which are targets. Seventy two kids scared to get on the bus; unable to concentrate on their studies or worried about getting pushed around and getting their self-esteem further crushed.

That’s not a problem; that’s an epidemic.

By 24 years-of-age, 60 percent of bullies have criminal records. In comparison to other children, bullies grow up to have more arrests for drunk driving, domestic violence and child abuse.

Why do some people derive pleasure from inflicting pain in others?  What makes some of us want to crush a fellow human’s self-worth and dignity?  All kids want to avoid being hurt, so why purposely abuse others?  The crudest method of feeling good about oneself is to make others else feel badly about themselves. It’s small-minded, short-lived and ultimately futile.

Research shows that bullies view violence as an acceptable way to interact with other children.

They fight to defend themselves or to show they’re strong. Some are physically abused by their parents. Some copy the behavior they see at home. Often, because they don’t know what to do, parents and teachers ignore the behavior of bullies.

The internet has provided a double-edged sword for all of this, and there is hope. Whereas cyber-bullying has added a devastating outgrowth to old-fashioned playground shoving and name-calling, it leapt to the rescue in Whitney Kroop’s case.

When word of her plight spread through the West Branch community, resident Jamie Kline started a Facebook support page, gaining more than 4,000 likes in Michigan and nationwide. Personal stories of bullying and messages of encouragement filled the page. A local salon offered to style Whitney’s hair for the dance and other local businesses chipped for her gown, shoes and tiara.

Many schools are only now facing up to what’s been happening under their roof. They’ve come to realize that they may be supporting bullying behavior without even realizing it. Teachers and administrators may recognize and reward only certain groups of students. Athletes or scholars may get special attention. These schools lack an atmosphere of inclusion and cooperation.

New Oakland diagnoses and treats children with many mental health issues that may be exacerbated by bullying. We are pleased that many schools have finally begun to address bullying with a variety of anti-bullying rules and education. Why not create a mandatory course and simply call it “Golden Rule 101” and require parents to administer take home tests?

Whitney Kroop and millions like her would be strongly in favor of seeing that happen.