Bullying program gives adults hope for children

Mary Foor of Duncansville said she transferred her son, then a seventh-grader, out of the Hollidaysburg Area School District in February 2012 because other students were teasing him about his clothing, stealing his lunch and kicking his textbooks down the hallway.

After spending a year at Blair County Christian School, Foor said her son wants to return.

“He misses activities he was able to do in Hollidaysburg” like band and theater, she said.

But she’s not so sure it’s a good idea and recalled that, as a bullying victim herself, she knows it could get worse if he goes back.

When speaker Elizabeth Bennett, a national bullying expert and advocate, asked the audience how many of them were bullying victims, the show of hands proved Foor wasn’t alone.

More than 200 people attended Wednesday night’s bullying program at the Ramada Altoona Conference Center, sponsored by a Blair County committee of local mental health service organizations as part of May is Mental Health Month activities.

Bennett explained that she doesn’t use the term bullying. It minimizes the problem, she said, and the term peer abuse better explains what people are going through.

When one calls it abuse, “you put it up there with other forms of abuse” like domestic abuse, child abuse and elder abuse, she said. “You start to see the seriousness of it,” she said.

Bennett often relayed her own experiences to educate the audience on how the abuse can be detected and what to do – as well as what not to do – to stop it.

“I was passive too,” she said, pointing to a slide showing what types of children normally are bullied and how they cope. She also said bullying victims sometimes become bullies themselves.

“I know I did that,” she said. “Because I didn’t want to be abused.”

Adults are the ones who have the power and understanding to prevent peer abuse, she said. There are a lot of feel-good marketing strategies that can rally kids to treat each other better, but adults have to follow through.

“It’s up to us to stop this,” she said, pointing out the need to get training and know the proper way to report and stop bullying.

Bennett also emphasized that there is hope.

“It’s not like … nothing’s ever going to be happy again or bright again,” she said, and adult survivors are proof of that.

Pat Long brought her granddaughter to see Bennett speak.

The Altoona eighth-grader said she’s been bullied since kindergarten.

“Apparently I’m ugly and stupid,” she said.

Tears in her eyes, Long said she wanted the girl to know there’s “a light at the end of the tunnel” and they’re going to stop the bullying.

Long took pages of notes during the program and said she came out of it “very impressed” with Bennett and the knowledge she has.

She said she wants to buy Bennett’s book and use it whenever any of her grandchildren are facing abuse from their peers.

“I am hopeful,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.