October is national bullying prevention month. I don’t know why I didn’t know that until today; I’ve written and edited a lot about the topic over the years. This very week I turned in an article to a local paper about a teen who had experienced such intense bullying in the eighth and ninth grade he eventually switched schools mid-year.
While anyone can become a bully’s victim, those with disabilities or special health needs are at a higher risk. The 16-year-old I wrote about fit into that latter category; he has been battling Crohn’s Disease since he was in the third grade.
Special IV treatments caused him to miss school a few days each month. Prednisone taken for months on end resulted in his face swelling. He also made daily visits to the nurse’s office for medications. And then he took those frequent trips to the bathroom… All ample fodder for kids bent on bullying. Most of it was verbal, social. Some of it was physical.
Once a straight A student, he wasn’t one anymore. He also wasn’t forthcoming about his situation, but his parents eventually figured out something was wrong. They met with school officials to try to rectify the situation. It was useless.
He turned to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a grappling sport, mainly to learn how to defend himself. The training is methodical and slow; results didn’t happen quickly enough. Within a few months, he left his high school and transferred to a private one. But he kept up the training. He took to the sport quickly, showing great perseverance. Within two years, he was competing at and winning grappling competitions across the state.
He’s never experienced bullying again since leaving his old school, never had to employ any of the techniques anywhere other than in competition. He’s a remarkably calm, reserved and thoughtful young man, now a junior in high school.
But as I spoke with him, and his mom, and his coach, I was so incensed that this boy who has battled Crohn’s for half of his life, who must fight health battles that most of us cannot even fathom, had to encounter the unrelenting bullying of heartless, idiotic kids. That he had to leave his school to escape their cruelty. That he had to learn a defensive fighting technique to feel somewhat safe.
I don’t know if a designated month can help prevent bullying. But for the sake of future kids like this remarkable teen, if there’s even a chance it can, I’ll be happy to usher in the month and any promise it may bring. Welcome, October.