Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bullying in Minnesota: In the news again & a look back January 22, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:21 PM
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WHO AMONG YOU has been bullied?

If I could see you all, I expect many a hand would rise.

Both my arms would be waving wildly, high above my head. Me. Me. Me.

That bullying occurred more than 40 years ago. Yet, it feels like yesterday when my junior high classmates picked on me and other kids from a nearby farming community. We, apparently, did not meet their standards given our rural addresses outside the county seat.

Countless days I arrived home from school in tears. Crying over mean words. Crying and wishing with all my might that things would change or that I would never need to return to that school.

A teacher who also bullied students added to my angst as did other teachers, who simply looked the other way.

These horrible memories flash to the forefront because of a bullying incident in Minnesota that is, today, big news. News because the father of the girl being bullied created a YouTube video that shows just how mean bullies (and their parents) can be—mean as in using the “N” word against the father’s African American daughter. Click here to read background on this bullying case and to watch the father’s video.

You would think in the year 2015, with all of the discussion on bullying, all of the awareness, all of the laws, that bullying would not exist. Wishful thinking. All the talk and rules in the world will not close mouths that speak words of hatred and racism and just plain meanness. Yet we need to keep trying.

What to do. There’s no single solution. I wished back in the late 1960s that my parents would have done something—anything. But that can backfire, too, make the bullying worse.

When our son was bullied as in being spit on, pinched, pushed and kicked by a classmate, my husband and I met with his teacher. Her response: Befriend the bully. Are you kidding? Place the responsibility for solving the problem on our elementary-aged son and not hold the bully accountable? Not going to happen. Eventually we pulled our son from the school.

Recently, I was shouted at during a meeting. I sat there stunned, struggling to hold back tears. Soon thereafter I left, unable to suppress my emotions. But this time the reaction was different. Concerned individuals approached me, assuring me that I didn’t deserve the verbal attack for asking a legitimate question.

After the meeting, the man who launched those angry words at me apologized. He phoned again early the next morning to apologize. I accepted both apologies.

If only every case of bullying ended that way, with a sincere apology, acceptance of responsibility and determination to change.

That would be hoping for Utopia.

A snippet from a sign at the International Peace Garden, Nerstrand Elementary School, Minnesota.

A snippet from a sign at the International Peace Garden, Nerstrand Elementary School, Minnesota. The sign and garden do not specifically address bullying. Rather the Peace Garden advocates peace and getting along, despite our differences. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Yet, I can take my experiences and find some good therein. Because I was bullied, I am a more compassionate, caring and empathetic person, championing for others. I may have been that way without the bullying. The qualifying word would be “more.”

I can use my words in a positive way to affect change, to show others I care, really care. As we all know, words are powerful.

Now it’s your turn to speak. Please share your thoughts on bullying.

FYI: To learn more about bullying prevention, click here to reach the Pacer Center’s Kids Against Bullying website. And then click here to reach the site for teens.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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40 Responses to “Bullying in Minnesota: In the news again & a look back”

  1. cynthia92126 Says:

    My son was bullied as well, by a neighborhood “thug”, my son’s age (he was 9 at the time). I too, went to the parents (along with other parents whose children were bullied), and got the usual “my son would never do this!”. My 16 year old daughter, finally lost it when she witnessed the bully strike my son. She went up to him–with her face inches from his, and told him that in no uncertain terms, that if she ever saw or heard that he struck or verbally hurt my son again, he would live to regret it. Of course, the bully went crying to his mother, and guess who ended up at my door? Yup, the mom was upset that my daughter had the audacity to threaten her son. My response to her–now you understand how WE feel when her son bullies OUR kids (and there were many in our neighborhood)! This family still didn’t get it. Bullies are raised by bullies.

    • Cynthia, I am sorry your family also had to endure bullying. You tried to resolve the issue in a reasonable way. Unfortunately that often does not work for the reasons you state. You have one strong daughter. Good for her to stand up for her brother.

      Your last sentence likely also carries a lot of truth.

  2. …yes, it is our “teachers” that shock me… 😦

  3. I still remember being bullied in school. There was one boy in particular who was extra mean. I have a horrific memory of having a night crawler worm rubbed all over my face. I still get sick at the thought or sight of worms. Bullies are the exact reason why I can count on one hand the number of former classmates I would associate with. As a parent it’s my greatest fear that my child will have the same experiences.

  4. I was one of the lucky ones, Audrey, my hand is not waving for me, but for my younger brother. When we moved from Iowa to Massachusetts, my younger brother, a gentle and studious young boy who raised rabbits and built elaborate forts was driven nearly to suicide by the cruelty of the boys at our new school. It has affected him for the rest of his life. I think this is a human condition, sadly, that now has an even more vicious outlet in the form of social media. At least my brother could return to the sanctuary of his home and not be tormented by cruel texts and posts. Today that is not the case. These children are tortured relentlessly. All I can think of right now is that lovely Irish girl who hung herself near Boston because she just couldn’t handle another day of it.

    • Oh, Barbara, my heart aches for your brother given the cruelty inflicted upon him. That he could retreat to the love of his family likely saved him. He sounds like a creative and intelligent brother. I can read your love for him in your words and how you, too, were affected by that bullying.

      Yes, you’re right that at least “back then,” the bullying ended when we got off the bus and/or walked through the front door. Today bullying takes on an entirely new dimension.

      Thank you for sharing your, as always, eloquent insights.

  5. Joan Quiram Says:

    Thank you for posting this story! I too was bullied as a child, and I remember having teachers who didn’t do anything about it, or who didn’t seem to care at all. Now that I am a teacher, I actually believe that being bullied myself has helped me to spot bullies a little easier; to help those being teased; and even to help the bullies themselves. One thing that I want to mention is that quite often, bullies themselves were also picked on by someone else. When that happens, they somehow feel the need to have that feeling of control over someone else because someone had control over them. They get a feeling of power after feeling helpless.
    I have the privilege of teaching in a Christian school, so I can bring the whole “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “What would Jesus Do?” aspect into what I say, but anyone can approach it from the angle of treating others the same way you want to be treated. I am very thankful that there have been more resources in recent years to help teachers approach this topic, and that our school tries to have open discussions and learning experiences to help the students understand the full effects of bullying. I always tell kids to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you judge them; get to know them, see life from their perspective; ask yourself if the words you say to someone would hurt if they were said to you.
    I watched the video on the link, and it just tears at my heart that there are parents out there who would defend their child’s actions even after they saw the video proving it! Parents should be the first ones to try to teach their children to stop, but unfortunately there are too many parents out there who either do not care, or do not believe their child could do something like that, despite the proof.
    I have a good friend whose child committed suicide after being bullied, and he attended Christian schools his entire life. So it isn’t just in public schools, it’s everywhere. My own son was also bullied in a Christian high school. I contacted the principal who was also the pastor, and we met with the other student, his parents, and our son. We found out from conversation that my son had actually been bullying the other student first! No one ever wants to think badly of their child, so they always want to defend them. However, in this case, I was glad that we met and got everything ironed out in a calm manner. The two boys actually became good friends after that! So never say never I guess.
    The best advice I can give is to always keep an open mind, don’t ever dismiss a child as a tattle-tale if they tell you someone is being mean to them, and always try to hear both sides of the story before making any judgments.

  6. bev walker Says:

    My oldest son was bullied in 6th grade. The final straw was when the bully tapped on my son’s shoulder and when my son turned his head to see who did that, he was met with a fist to his mouth full of braces. I met with the principal and his response was to instruct my son to pick up a chair and hit the bully with the chair!! I told him we didn’t raise our children to act that way and if my son did something like that, he would be in trouble! Shortly after that, we pulled our boys from the school and sent them to a parochial school 18 miles away. It was well worth it!!

  7. I had to stop, smile, read, agree. When I saw the title, add all those squiggles – the thought of swearing – “we” don’t ever forget.
    I could see it unfolding all around, “those” smaller, weaker, etc. They did not do a thing wrong, just being, made them a target. They also knew they would have some protection, if I was near. It was wrong. Of course, I’ve run into “Some” that made accusations, or threats, damage, meaning – a portion of my life is not reparable. The good moments are still good though. The summer before freshman year, I rented out my youth and energy to two other farmers for baling hay. (We usually had three cuttings on our farm 600 bales each) Another lad took one look at me and said, have you ever looked in the mirror? No.. but I vaguely remember having 42″ chest and 25″ waist. A bitter/sweet- the bully ran away. The point: what was he thinking?

  8. Marilyn Says:

    The bus would be packed, we were the last kids picked up on the morning school bus run and the first off in the afternoon. I especially remember the words, the hurtful nicknames. Sometimes I walked up and down the aisle, trying to find a seat where I could perch on the 2-3 inches I would be allocated. The driver couldn’t move the bus until we were seated. At least that part of it stopped when the bus driver had words with the whole group of them. I think he ‘made room’ for us and rearranged the seating to stop that part of the bullying.

  9. I thought bullying in school was bad until I was faced with a work environment from bullying, hostile hell – every day targeted, tested, isolated, degraded, dehumanized. People would think I was crazy if I went into all the details – all the crap that goes on in a professional work environment – Oh my goodness – SCARY! I think back when I was a child/pre-teen/teenager I did not have the emotional maturity let alone the social skills to handle it at times. I struggle as an adult at times too. I am amazed at what human beings can do to one another, especially going as far as to due harm – that is SO WRONG! I make it a point to be kind, be of service and service with a smile each and every day 🙂 It is not easy, but it is easier on my whole being at times.

    Thanks for sharing and shedding the light on a topic that needs to go away, but I do not think I will see that in my lifetime though.

    Take Care xoxo

  10. hotlyspiced Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear you were bullied as a child and that then your son was the victim of a bully. I find in this age of political correctness, bullying incidents aren’t being dealt with as sensibly as they should be. When my Archie was in primary school he was being bullied on the bus by a boy in the high school. The principal’s response was to bring both boys into the office to have a chat about how they were both doing wrong to each other. Both? If I were the principal I’d have dealt solely with the bully and hoped that it would be legal to give him six of the best. That used to stop bullies in their tracks a generation ago xx

    • Sometimes it’s difficult to understand how those in authority handle bullies.

      I’m sorry to hear that Archie was bullied, too. Just look at these comments. Too many of us or those we love have been bullied. Enough.

  11. Littlesundog Says:

    So many awful stories of bullying – so many of us left scarred by it. It makes me sad. I could really relate to Renee’s story of experiencing bullying in the workplace. Sadly, people close to the situation do not step up to the plate to assist or defend. I worked for the state’s juvenile affairs system some years back. What I witnessed in that office was horrific. Case workers bullying kids (kids who had been in trouble), and a system that punished rather than attempt to help the child change and make better choices. To boot, there was bullying among peers and coworkers throughout the agency, and despite filing grievances, little was done. It took me years to heal and get past the horror of what I endured and witnessed in that workplace, and what I saw kids and low-income families suffer at the hands of the “justice” system. Bullying happens in families as well. I find it amazing how people can bully their own family members. I have no answers… I feel overwhelmed that bullying has become so commonplace.

    • You and Renee have added a lot to this discussion by pointing out that bullying also happens in the workplace and within families. Sad, but true. Your workplace experience especially saddens me given this was an environment where healing should occur. Wow. I hope things have changed in that specific place.

      No answers seems common. But at least we are talking and trying to address the subject, right?

  12. Jackie Says:

    Bullying makes me sick to my stomach… It’s just so sad that any child (or adult) should even have to endure such hurtful behavior and words. Sorry you had to go through it yourself and for Caleb too, ugh!!!

  13. Almost Iowa Says:

    I was struck by cynthia92126 statement in the first comment “my son would never do this!” I couldn’t possibly tally how many times I heard parents saying this in the halls of the Minneapolis Police Department.

    When we hear this, we tend to believe the parents are clueless, deep in denial or are just plain old bad parents. None of these things are true.

    People, especially young people, are most often “who they are with”. They take on the personality of the group and when the group becomes toxic, it tends to become more and more extreme until an external force reins it in.

    It is not that far of a stretch for any of us to understand. Unless we are of strong character, which frankly few of us are, we tend to be a much different person in church than we are in a bar on Saturday night. We might be one person at work and another at home. It is just part of our nature.

    So what does this say?

    It says the sweet little angel we know and love can be a vicious little bully despite everything that we have taught him or her. The sad thing about kids is that they learn more from their peers than they do their parents.

    The most important thing we can do to influence the direction of our children’s lives is to influence who they hang with

    But this says something else… Bullies rarely bully in a vacuum. They almost always require peer approval and support.

    • You make some good points. Thank you. Be sure to read Joan’s comment. It’s equally as insightful.

      The Prior Lake father who created the YouTube video has updated it. He discovered that his daughter, the one being bullied, did not take the bullying as seriously as he and his wife. He also learned that his daughter had used the “N” word.

  14. chlost Says:

    I work in juvenile court and deal with kids who are bullies and those who have been victims of bullying, both girls and boys. I have never met a kid-or a parent-who admits to being a bully. There are very often kids who have been bullied, or feel that they have been wronged in some way, who respond by bullying. It is a vicious cycle.

    When my husband was being bullied in school, he responded by hitting the bully, and was never bothered again by the bully or anyone else. When our son was bullied, that was my husband’s advice to him. I watch old TV shows, and there are episodes of Leave it to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show where a young boy is bullied in school and the fathers help them deal with it by standing up to the bully and getting in a “lick” or two. But now, if you are in a fight, you may have a criminal charge which follows you throughout your life (even though it is a juvenile charge). A fifth-degree assault charge will prevent you from pursuing many careers, schooling and housing.

    We are somewhat more aware of bullying, but we have not figured out a more appropriate and acceptable way to respond to it.

    • I appreciate your insight from the perspective of working in the juvenile court system. You see a side that few of us see. That’s why your comment is especially valuable. Thank you.

      And I agree. We haven’t figured it out yet.

  15. Beth Ann Says:

    Bullying stinks!!! I doubt there are many who have not been bullied, you are correct in that. It just has taken on many different forms over the years. I have always been the one who stands up for the underdog as well so I experienced it as well but am happy to say that it only takes one person to make the difference and initiate the change. Great post, Audrey.

  16. Sue Ready Says:

    Bullying as well as domestic abuse are HOT TOPICS and need to be written about frequent;y to keep the public aware. Thanks for highlighting the issues and promoting discussions.

  17. Ann Gettis Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts on this. I haven’t read the comments but I am sure there are many more horrific stories of bullying in them. My kids were bullied. My second oldest, Jeremiah, was particularly shy and sensitive and had a very difficult time of it. Ultimately, the depression, the hopelessness, the lack of feelings of self-worth and self-esteem won out and my beloved son ended his life at the age of 21 in 2006. He wrote pages about the bullying and how it made him feel. Of course, there are simply no words that can convey how this has affected all of us who loved Jeremiah…

    I returned to college following Jeremiah’s suicide to study bullying and its prevention. After receiving my master’s degree in psychology with a focus on bullying prevention we founded a nonprofit, Jeremiah’s Hope for Kindness. Our mission is to foster and kind and respectful schools and communities. We are small but growing. The need is huge and it often feels overwhelming. But, I am hopeful because of the work being done to prevent bullying and create schools and communities where all youth and all adults feel safe and cared about getting the support and nurturing they need to grow and thrive. If you would like to learn more please contact me at jeremiahshopefk@gmail.com and also please visit our website, http://www.jeremiahshopeforkindness.org
    Thank you again, Audrey, for your very important message. 🙂

    • Ann, I am incredibly sorry for the loss of your beloved Jeremiah. Your tragedy shows us just how serious each of us should take bullying.

      Thank you for your efforts to educate others. It is the personal stories which most often make the deepest imprint. You have turned a personal tragedy into action that can make a difference. That is a tribute to your love for Jeremiah and your care for others.

      I hope Faribault schools, churches and other organizations, given your home base here, have tapped into you as a resource. Thank you for your hard work, determination and efforts.


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