Brookhaven teen talks to students about bullying

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kelsey Ann Jackson stood in front of a crowd of over 200 girls — all of them staring intently back at her.

The 17-year-old high school junior doesn’t quiver. She doesn’t stumble over her words. She shows no signs of nervousness.

But the confident girl standing in front of third, fourth and fifth grade girls at Vidalia Upper Elementary hasn’t always been so sure of herself. Just a few years ago, when Jackson was a fifth grader, she faked sick so she didn’t have to face other girls looking at her. Jackson was being bullied, and, at the time, she didn’t know how to make it stop.

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Jackson, from Brookhaven, visited Vidalia Upper, Vidalia Lower and Huntington School Thursday in hopes of preventing other girls from experiencing the pain she lived with from fifth grade through eighth grade.

“The girls would make fun of me because I didn’t play sports, and I wasn’t a cheerleader. There was a lot of behind the back stuff,” Jackson said. “They made fun of me because I wasn’t like them.”

Jackson said, unfortunately her story is not uncommon.

Jackson said bullying is often thought of as physical aggression, but, she said, with girls, bullying is often more psychological. But, that type of bullying is just as hurtful.

“If someone punches me hard in the face, that will heal,” she said. “But the feelings and effects of bullying can sometimes last a lifetime.”

Female bullies, Jackson said, often act in packs with one girl — the queen bee — calling on other girls to do the bullying.

Bullying happens in all forms with technology making it even easier for bullies to harass their victims.

Cyberbullying, or bullying through the use of technology like cell phones, text messages, instant messages and e-mails, is a rapidly growing and makes bullying seem less personal and more accessible.

When she was being bullied, Jackson said she did not know how to make it stop so she kept it to herself for over a year.

“One day, I just broke down and told my mom,” she said.

Jackson’s mother, Jennifer Jackson, said seeing her daughter struggle was just as upsetting for her.

“As a mother, seeing your daughter cry the way she was, you just feel awful,” she said. “It was terrible.”

And making it worse, Jennifer said, was that one of the girls bullying Kelsey Ann, was a close neighbor who’s family was close friends with the Jackson family.

“We went to her family and told them what was going on and they didn’t do anything,” Jennifer said. “The mother was more concerned about her daughter being part of the popular crowd.”

But Kelsey Ann said, “friendemies — people who act like friends but are really bullies — are a common way bullies find victims.

“I remember one time distinctly that I was at her house and we were playing like friends do until another girl came over,” Kelsey Ann said. “She just looked at me and said ‘You have to leave now.’”

But Kelsey Ann said her message is one of hope for girls who are being bullied.

“There are ways of making it stop,” She said.

Telling an adult like a parent, school counselor or school administrator is the best way to stop bullying, she said.

“They will help you,” Kelsey Ann told students. “It is their job, responsibility to help you.”

She said adults are equipped to handle bullying much better than young girls are.

“At this age, they can’t cope with it. They should not have to cope with it,” Kelsey Ann said.

Phyllis Cage, assistant principal at Vidalia Upper Elementary School, said bullying has been on the rise for several years, but it isn’t a topic that she is afraid to approach with students.

“I have brought girls into my office before for bullying,” she said. “I just tell them that we are going to work this out before they leave.”

Cage said it is important to be active in bully prevention because the younger children are learning from older students, and because of that, bullying starts at a younger age.

“Here we have third graders who might see their fifth grade sisters bullying someone and think ‘I’m going to be like her,’” Cage said.

And bringing in Kelsey Ann is an important step in prevention, Cage said.

“She is younger and hip and pretty and the girls will listen to her because they can relate to her,” Cage said. “They can look at her and see how far she has come since she was being bullied.”

Kelsey Ann also told the girls to be on the look out for girls who are being bullied.

“If you see someone who is being bullied or just being left out, go to them,” Kelsey Ann said. “Tell the bully to stop.”

Looking out for each other, Kelsey Ann said, is one of the best tools girls can use to prevent bullying.

“Bullies are less likely to bully if they think someone is watching,” she said.

And just being willing to stand up for yourself, if you are being bullied, Kelsey Ann said, will often stop bullies.

“Be confident and say ‘stop,’” she said.

Kelsey Ann also has a message for bullies.

“You will get caught,” she said. “You will get in trouble.”

She said often times bullies will often turn on each other making the former bullies victims of bullying.

She said that was the case when she was being bullied. The neighbor that was bullying Kelsey Ann, started getting bullied by the “queen bee.”

“Her mother came to me crying when it started happening to her daughter,” Jennifer said. “You really don’t know how it feels until it happens to you or your daughter.”

But Kelsey Ann is hoping some people will think about the effects of bullying before they start.

“Put yourself in the victims shoes,” she said. “How would it feel if someone was doing that to you?”