Speak Up, Get Help
These words are from a student who didn’t take her own advice at first. She allowed her classmates to say hurtful things to her, treat her poorly and endure no repercussions for it.
She never reported it, acted on it or mentioned it to anyone. She dealt with it by trying to exclude herself from the world as much as possible, allowing those cruel actions from others to alter herself as a person. With all the bottled up stress and unspoken hurt, she allowed the actions of her classmates to not only alter her life, but also completely change her from the person she once was.
This young 8-year-old girl was Samantha Engelhardt, and for nearly half of her life, she experienced bullying firsthand. Samantha, now 16, first encountered bullying in elementary school. She dealt with body shaming from her peers, leading to insecurities at a young age.
“I never reported it because I felt as if they were only telling me the truth,” explains Samantha. “I hadn’t planned on telling my parents either, until my mom found a journal of mine. It went in-depth on things that went on and how I felt.”
Her mother, Sheri Engelhardt, took immediate action to console her daughter the best way that she could, getting her help through counseling and enrolling her in a Big Sister program. But, most of all, she made sure to open up the communication between her and Samantha.
“It is very hard to pick up when a child is being bullied sometimes,” she says. “Learn how to be your kid’s best friend. Ask different questions every day. The most important thing is to always have an open ear and build trust with your kids so that they feel they can talk to you about everything.”
In the age of technology and social-media outlets, bullying no longer only takes place in a school-based setting. Technology allows children of all ages to interact virtually, which can lead to cyberbullying.
“Parents should really keep on top of kids and their social-media accounts,” advises Sheri. “Have access to the accounts to see the communication. Most of all, explain that everything put on the Internet is there forever.”
It’s been eight years since Samantha experienced bullying for the first time. She has since transferred schools to try to start fresh, but she admits to making the mistake of not getting the help she needed prior to transferring to a new school.
“As a student, transferring was a big change,” says Samantha. “I felt as if people would accept me, finally. I felt I would fit in. But it was very hard for me to tell people how I felt, so I didn’t speak some days. It affected me greatly. It changed how I saw myself, how I saw everything, really.”
Sheri saw the effects that bullying had on her daughter, and it affected her as a parent.
“Bullying is a very serious situation,” reminds Sheri. “Lives are lost and changed, and it makes kids see things in a completely different light than they did before. Some kids try to take the negative and focus on the positive, but some never see the light. Bullying is a very hard thing to overcome. It creates scars that people hold for their entire lives.”
Reflecting back, Samantha is able to take a stand against bullying by taking her own advice – always speak up and always ask for help. It’s important to break the silence and not allow the children at fault to continue their actions with no consequences.
As for Samantha, she is now able to provide words of encouragement to others who may be experiencing bullying.
“You didn’t do anything to deserve what they are doing to you,” she says. “You aren’t what they call you or what they make you believe you are. Being different is OK. Some people just don’t like to accept that the world is full of diversity and an unlimited amount of difference.”