The Accidental Advocate

If you had come to me in about 1982 and said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would not have said “a bullying prevention advocate.” This was mostly due to the fact that in 1982, there wasn’t such a job as “bullying prevention advocate.”

My career aspirations at the time were largely relegated to one-word jobs like “singer,” “doctor,” “teacher,” and “ballerina” (although I’m pretty sure my chances for that last one ended by about 1978). However, “writer” and “editor” did make the cut, and they led me to Committee for Children—and to my unofficial career as a bullying prevention advocate.

As the PR and Communications Manager for a company that develops (among other things) anti-bullying curricula, I do a lot of posting on social media. And a lot of those postings are about bullying. And, because I am an extrovert who happens to believe fervently in the work that my company does, I usually make the same posts on my personal social media accounts. All of which has led to my reputation among friends near and far as someone to turn to when they are faced with bullying.

Which is how I came to be on the phone with one of my oldest friends the other day, lending a sympathetic ear as she outlined—in uncharacteristically angry fashion—all the roadblocks she has met in trying to deal with her freshman son’s bullying problems.

My friend—I’ll call her Beth—recently moved to a Midwestern town with a population just shy of 4,000. Beth has been a teacher herself, and knows how important social and emotional learning is to a child’s development. So when her son Kyle reported being called everything from “idiot” to “faggot” at school, she was surprised and dismayed to find that no one would do anything about it. “Boys will be boys,” she was told, and one school administrator informed her that their definition of verbal bullying included threats but did not include name calling, and Kyle should therefore “ignore it.” It took Kyle coming home from school with torn clothing and a bruised face for Beth to make his teachers realize there was something wrong.

Now at the end of her rope, Beth called me—having for years seen my Facebook posts about bullying—to ask for advice. I gave her some ideas for talking to the principal again, send her Web sites she can use to help the school and her community observe National Bullying Prevention Month, and put her in touch with a colleague of mine who is coordinating bullying prevention efforts from her state department of health.

Will it be enough? I don’t know. I am a writer; I am not a child psychologist or a teacher or a nurse—so I can only advise Beth from very high-level perspective (as opposed to the in-the-trenches experience that many of my colleagues have). But I am grateful that my path has—however inadvertently—let me to be a resource for people who need help dealing with the very real problem of bullying.