By Dori Hillestad Butler
A few years ago, I wrote The Truth About Truman School, a novel that deals with cyberbullying. In the book, a girl named Lilly Clarke is harassed online—on a website the whole school reads, an anonymous classmate posts photos and accuses her of being gay.
She starts to avoid school, and then one day, she disappears altogether. The book is also the story of her classmates who witness the bullying and don’t know how to respond.
You may have heard that it’s Bullying Prevention Week—or Month. This year the National Center for Bullying Prevention has expanded the event to cover the whole month of October.
It’s a strangely timely decision, considering all the recent stories about bullying-related tragedies. Special reports on bullying are appearing on the websites for CNN.com, Cartoon Network and People magazine this week. Some of the stories will break your heart. You wonder what you can do—if you can do anything at all.
I want to tell you about a school visit I did last spring. I spoke to 4th and 5th graders, and after one of my presentations, this girl came up to me. She waited until all the other kids were lining up to go back to their classrooms and I was getting set up for the next presentation. She said, “Can I tell you something?”
I said, “Sure.”
She looked around, then leaned in close and whispered, “I’m being cyberbullied.”
At first I just stood there. I expected her teacher to call her over any second. But when that didn’t happen, I said, “do you want to tell me about it?”
Her eyes filled with tears. Then she said, “my friend is spreading rumors about me. She has a website and she uses it to write mean things about people, just like in your book. Now no one will talk to me. Everyone in this whole school hates me.”
She told me she and that girl had been friends since they were four. Their moms were friends, too. But now because the girls weren’t getting along, neither were the moms.
I ached for this girl.
I wondered whether she had told anyone at school about what was happening. Her teacher? A counselor? She said, “they won’t do anything because my friend’s mom helps at school a lot.”
I found it interesting that this girl kept referring to the other girl as her “friend.” She didn’t sound like much of a friend to me. She sounded like a manipulative little—okay, I probably shouldn’t say that when I’m a guest on my publisher’s blog.
I asked her whether it would be okay if I told her librarian what she’d just told me.
She wiped her eyes and said, “Just forget it. It doesn’t matter. Nobody ever does anything anyway.” Then she ran off to join her class.
I did say something to that librarian. All I could do was describe the girl since I didn’t get her name. But the librarian thought she knew who I was talking about. She said “That girl has quite an imagination. I’m sure she read your book and made up that story just so she’d have something to say to you. I don’t believe any of it is true.”
I was stunned. Those tears weren’t real?
Of course the librarian knows the girl and I don’t. She could be absolutely right.
But what if she was wrong?
It’s hard to believe some kids are bullies, but sometimes it’s hard to know when a kid is a victim, too. Which is all the more reason why it’s important to take bullying seriously—in every instance.
Yes—it would’ve bothered me to find out the girl was playing me. But it would bother me a lot more to see this girl’s picture in the news.
I hope it never comes to that.
Dori Hillestad Butler began her career writing for magazines such as Cricket, Spider, Highlights for Children, Children’s Digest, and Child Life. Since then, she’s published numerous picture books and novels for children, including ghostwriting several Boxcar Children© Mysteries. Her latest novels are the first three in a new early chapter book series entitled The Buddy Files, featuring a dog detective who also becomes a therapy dog. That Buddy is a therapy dog is not a coincidence. She and her dog Mouse are a registered Pet Partner team through Delta Society and we enjoy reading with kids. Dori lives in Coralville, Iowa.
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