Thirteen-year-old Julia Kordon had never met 16-year-old Cassidy Joy Andel. She had never been a victim of bullying. She had never really even witnessed any incidents of bullying. But when she learned that the North Dakota teenager had committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying via text messaging, she couldn’t put it out of her mind. She had to do more than just feel sad. She had to act.
The result? First, creation of a Facebook page in Cassidy’s memory. Then creation of an organization to raise awareness about the dangers of bullying through education, empowerment, and grassroots activism: The Bullying Ends Now. With the help of her mother, Camelback Academy executive director Karen Kordon, Julia is reaching out to her peers through school presentations, a Facebook page, and a website, www.thebullyingendsnow.com.
According to both Julia and Karen, one of the biggest challenges in addressing bullying is that it has in large part gone underground.
“I think that now, especially with the cyberbullying, people can do it through websites where they don’t have to show who they really are,” Julia explained in a recent interview. “They can be posting [online] on a wall, and it won’t show who’s saying it to you.”
As Karen points out, by law, every school must have an anti-bullying policy in place. But the challenge, according to Julia, is that young people are often hesitant to report bullying to adults because they don’t think they will help them.
A lot of kids don’t want to talk to an adult about it because they don’t think they’ll do something about it or they think they’ll make them to talk to the bully, which they really don’t want to do,” Julia said. “So I think that a major thing we need to get across with the victims is that if you tell a teacher or an adult that they’re going to do something and they’re going to be there for you.”
Sometimes adults brush off reports of bullying as teen drama. As Karen points out, the challenge is to define what bullying is.
“A lot of people don’t really understand that bullying is an ongoing problem where a child – or even an adult – has this false perception of a person having power over them. It’s not just one disagreement on the playground or not being invited to one party – those things shouldn’t happen and they’re not nice, but that’s not bullying,” she said.
So far, Julia has confined her presentations to grade schools and middle schools: “I want to do high school, but I think I’m going to keep going with the middle school assemblies until I feel I’m better prepared to talk to people that are older than me.”
Ironically, although Julia has never been a victim of bullying, since she has formed her organization and begun presenting, she has encountered some pushback from her peers.
“I did get a lot of heat…. They all said that bullying is a problem, but it’s always going to be there, so why even bother trying,” Julia explained. “But one of the things we use in our assemblies is, when I bring that up I say, ‘Well, what if Abraham Lincoln felt that way about slavery. That would still be around today.’ So I think it’s just a matter of opinion on it because there’s always going to be people who agree or disagree with you. But you have to really focus on what your mission is in life, your goals.”