The Bullying Effect

Illustrations by KIT MILLS


In 8th grade, Kelby Johnson came out as lesbian. “In our little town of Tuttle, OK, that was a dangerous thing to do,” said Kelby. The bullying started with cruel comments and notes in school, but got much worse. One day, six older boys from the community actually hit Kelby with their car while yelling insults out the window. The bullying got so bad that Kelby’s father decided changing schools was the best option. “No student should have to live through what I went through.”

Bullying has a huge impact on schools everywhere. According to the National Education Association, in the United States it affects approximately 13 million students every year, and around 160,000 students stay home from school because of bullying.

Bullying takes many forms. Verbal bullying consists of teasing/name calling, while social bullying involves damaging a person’s reputation or relationships, such as leaving someone out of a group of friends. Physical bullying is intentional harm to a person’s body or belongings, and cyberbullying is harassment by means of social media. Cyberbullying makes the bullying situation more intense, because now bullies are able to harass victims everywhere.


Some students are at a higher risk for being bullied, such as disabled or LGBTQ youth (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer), like Kelby. Victims of bullying are more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety, as well as have health complaints and decreased academic achievement scores. They become more likely to drop out of school or miss classes. “I feel like I belong somewhere else,” said Alex Libby, age 12, in the 2012 documentary Bully.

There isn’t just one reason bullying happens. Some students bully because they were raised where rules weren’t enforced, or because they were bullied themselves. A teen girl who wished to remain anonymous stated she excluded another student because her friends were doing it.

Kids, adults and organizations are all trying to find ways to fight bullying. If you want to help, Canadian organization Erase Bullying suggests, “Report bullying to someone you trust (like a teacher, principal, your parents, etc.). If the bullying is serious or you think someone’s life or safety is at risk, report it to the police.” Projects like the documentary Bully work to prevent bullying in schools. And on March 3, 2014, students from Minnesota and activists rallied in support of an anti-bullying bill that was passed in April.


In August 2014, Trisha Prabhu, a 13-year-old from Chicago, won a Google science fair award for her idea to reduce cyberbullying. Since most cyberbullying comments are impulsive, Trisha developed a program that would pop up and prompt a commenter to think about how a statement would affect someone. In her project, the user decided not to leave the comment 93.43 percent of the time. She hopes to make it into a real product that can help curb cyberbullying.

With the support of loving parents, Kelby Johnson eventually earned a GED, came out as transgender and began to work with various organizations on a national level to end bullying. In a 2012 interview Kelby was hopeful: “We can be the generation to stand up and say, ‘This isn’t going to be us. We’re going to put a stop to this now so our children do not have to go through this.’”

Transgender person: Someone who was assigned one sex at birth but identifies as a different gender; for example, a baby said to be female at birth may grow up to identify as male, vice versa or otherwise.

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