April 22nd, 2008
11:27 AM ET

Yesterday's bullies pale by comparison to today's

Editor's Note: Glenn Pena was recently featured on TV Land’s High School Reunion. He was known on the show as “the geek” and talks about his days being bullied at JJ Pearce High School in Richardson, TX. You can learn more about Glenn here

Glenn Pena
"The geek" on TV Land's High School Reunion

At the moment I'm known by the fact that I was bullied in high school after I appeared as "the Geek" on the TV Land network show High School Reunion.

People who know me now but didn't know me then sometimes approach me after seeing the show, shocked that I endured hurtful insults and physical attacks from other kids while I was in school. My question to each of them is usually, is it really so shocking?

Bullying is an age old problem that continues today. My experience with being bullied may have been a bit more extreme than most back then. But many people in school in the 80's felt picked on to some degree; everyone has some painful memories from their time in high school.

Since the show ended, I've received many notes from people who were picked on, taunted, teased, beat up, you name it. Some of these people were so tortured that they changed schools or their whole family moved to a new place.

Many of the decisions I made as a young adult were shaped in part by the anger I still had after being bullied in school.

After school, I joined the Marine Corps, which was a healthy outlet for that aggression. In college, I refused the opportunity to join a fraternity even though I was approached by several because of fears that I would continue to be bullied in some way or other. I sometimes got into fights or drank too much.

The emotional scars from bullying sometimes run deep and can affect a person's life profoundly.

But today, the level of mistreatment by bullies seems amplified compared to what I experienced.
There are just so many more ways today to mess with someone besides calling them names to their face or making a prank phone call.

Now there's the Internet, with web pages, email and other avenues to inflict pain. And it can end in tragedy.

Old fashioned in-school bullying is definitely still around, but it seems there's more violence.

It's only one example, but the recent story of 11-year-old Matthew Mumbauer from Massachusetts really affected me. Matthew was thrown down a flight of school stairs by someone who had been bullying him for some time. Poor Matthew tried to finish his school day with a collapsed lung and by the end of the day was paralyzed because of swelling on his spinal cord.

Matthew had told adults that he was being bullied but nothing changed for him until it was too late.

I want to say to all those who are being bullied right now in school: you are not alone. It happens a lot more than some people think. Studies have shown that 15% to 25% of U.S. students are bullied with some frequency. (Melton et.al., 1998; Nansel et.al., 2001)

You shouldn't feel ashamed of the way you are being treated. Shame causes a victim of bullying to allow it to continue. You need to remember that it's not your fault you're being bullied! Stop ignoring it and tell an adult. Tell your mom or dad, tell your favorite teacher at school.

Just make sure you tell someone and make sure they listen and help – it's the only way that the bullying will stop. And remember that revenge is NOT the answer. Be proud of who you are and don't stoop to a bully's level.

For us adults dealing with the effects of bullying, remember that you, too, are not alone. I believe it is essential for bullying victims to acknowledge to themselves what happened to them and how it has affected their lives. It's also important to forgive the person who bullied you and get on with your life.

I had long ignored my feelings about my mistreatment. But at my 20th high School reunion, when I confronted one of those bullies with what he did and had a chance to discuss it, iI found it easy to forgive him, and I felt great afterwards. If you have the opportunity to do that in person like I did, that's great, but even if you'll likely never see them again, it's never too late to forgive and move on.

If you're a parent, a good starting point is to talk with your child about bullying. You might learn some things you didn't know about your child's experiences in school.

Let your child know what to do if he or she is a bullying victim, or witness. A quick Internet search will provide you plenty of sites offering advice. And check what anti-bullying policies and prevent efforts your child's school works with.

We will never end school bullying completely. But if we focus on it as a community, we can prevent the kind of violence and anger we see in so many students today. That would take teachers, school administrators and parents of bullies, victims and bystanders alike getting together to head off the violence.

Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. HSR Fan

    Thanks for the post. I do think that there always has and always will be bullying in school due to human nature and instincts. Children are a blank canvas and operate on instinct until they are shown right and wrong by their parents and mentors. Stopping it before it gets too far is a shared responsibility. I do have one question for the author however. Are the people who watch the bullying and allow it to happen just as guilty as the bullier? If so, his childhood experience not only angered him but made him seek that acceptance and validation he missed so much in school. Anyone who watched his show saw Glenn stand idle while another member of the cast was mercilessly bullied for three weeks by a bunch of adolescent adult men. He said nothing while this happened and even took an active part in the bullied's isolation. It was sad and unfortunately shaped my opinion of Glenn in a negative light. So Glenn, is bullying bad only when it's against you or is all bullying wrong? Your silence spoke volumes about your character.

    April 23, 2008 at 10:35 am |
  2. KC

    When I was in school I was bullied because I am disabled. It came to a point that one of my bullies tried to kill me by making me drink orange juice laced with cleaner. After I was rushed to hospital I had enough and brought charges against her. She was later found guilty and had to serve time in a juvenile detention centre. Years pass and I'm pretty much over what had happened to me when one day I saw my bully enrolled at the same university as I was. I first went to the dean of the university to have her removed from campus because of my intense fear of her, and when they denied my request I went to the crown and asked for a restrainingt order. I got it and she was quickly removed from the school. I made sure that my incident was posted in the school newspaper and that everyone knew who she was. She later learned that it was me who had her removed and subsequently expelled from university because my story was showing the school in a very negative light. She never apologised to me for what she did and I doubt she has changed since we were kids. All I can say is that bullies deserve what maladies that come before them, they don't deserve second chances because alot of them cause harm that cannot be fixed. Even though I don't think about the girl who bullied me that much anymore, I do wonder what I would say or do if I did see her again (lets hope not I'm in a different part of the country than she is) I may just get another restraining order against her because deep down inside I am still that child that is very much afraid.

    April 23, 2008 at 1:29 am |
  3. wfbdoglover

    From a parent who's child is being bullied – thanks for speaking out on this issue.

    April 22, 2008 at 6:57 pm |
  4. Tammy

    I am glad this post is up. I think bullying happens because parents allow it to happen (as in they bully themselves and teach their kids through modeling that it's o.k.). I think kids get pressured into bullying. I think kids see bullying as a part of being in high school (my students tell me this all the time). I think it's possible to survive being bullied (I was in elementary and with parent and family support overcame it). I think teachers, administrators, and school counselors play a pivotal role in accepting or not accepting bullying in their schools (I create safe zones in my classroom and did as a counselor in the parochial system, discuss the issue, and confront bullies on their behaviors in conferences so that they get help). I think those same school personnel can help kids survive being bullied (I listen and explore complaints, I have worked to help heal damage caused by bullying, and I still make sure bullies are disciplined as much as the system allows). I think we all have a responsibility to say bullying isn't acceptable in schools, on playgrounds, on TV, in movies and music videos, at home, in sports, and in our relationships. As long as our nation allows it, it will continue. When we stop enabling it, the behaviors have a chance to stop.

    April 22, 2008 at 5:25 pm |
  5. Genevieve M, TX

    I think that parents and school administrators need to work together to stop bullying in school. Apathy from either of these parties, and the bullying continues.

    I have never been bullied nor bullied anyone when I was growing up, but I have observed these bullies in action and the effects on their victims. I was a bystander until one day in sixth grade when one of these bullies attacked my best friend. One day while “waiting in line” during lunch time, two “mean girls” teamed up on her. The called her terrible names and yanked at her hair. I ignored the name calling, but when I heard her yelp- it was too much for me to tolerate. I turned around, pulled my friend behind me (to protect her) and began to physically assault the two bullies. The fight ended when two teachers pulled me off the girls. The girls had numerous bruises, cuts, and one had a broken nose- I did not get hurt, only ripped the hem of a shirt I was wearing. In the end I was not punished, however, those two girls were suspended from school for the rest of the year.

    Looking back, I realize it was foolish for me to get into an altercation with two people at the same time- as I could have been seriously hurt. I also realize now, that if the school staff had “taken care of” these two girls, this fight likely would not have happened. Many students had complained to teachers about these two individuals and nothing was ever done- until that fateful day in the cafeteria.

    What’s really annoying is that many of these bullies grow up to be adults who bully others.

    April 22, 2008 at 5:04 pm |
  6. Kent, Illinois

    I have a child in preschool. He has to deal with bullying on the school bus by older kids and also kids at school. It is a terrible problem. As a parent of a child that is not a bully, I am powerless. I cannot ride on the bus to school and have to rely on the teachers to stop the bullys at school.

    Solution.....................Sorry, I have no idea.

    April 22, 2008 at 3:20 pm |
  7. Jane, Detroit, MI

    It's the parents that are responsible for this mess we're in. Many of today's parents are raising tomorrow's drug addicts and criminals. Many of these parents don't get involved in disciplining their children, and teaching them core values. If they believe their child can do no wrong, then wrong is all they will do. We're heading to a more violent world in the future, if today's parents don't get their act together soon. Ask a kid today why they did something wrong, and they usually say they don't know or they don't care. This represents poor core values and judgement, to fault of the parents. It's time to put an end to violence in schools, and at home, or our future will be in jeopardy.

    April 22, 2008 at 3:01 pm |
  8. Mr. J

    Bullying will continue as long as we still allow hasing in our scools, and other organizations. With all the violence on vidio games in the movies and this cage fighting what do we expext. We need to start in preschool with a no tolerance approach on not showing respect to everyone and everything. When a child messes up the parent must make them know what they did wrong not condem the one who brings it to there attention.

    April 22, 2008 at 2:18 pm |
  9. Doug Pierson Tohatchi, NM

    I am a retired Special Education Teacher with over thirty years of experience. Am I surprised. No. Bullying was common when I was in school 50 years ago. It is more common now. It is in inner city schools, white middle class schools, rural schools and schools that serve minorities like reservation schools. Administrators and teachers most frequently turn the other way. There are some who believe that it is OK because it will make the child being bullied stronger. What needs to be done is more than just calling the school. If the taunting is racial or sexual in anyway file charges. Push to have bullying declared a crime and punishable under law, if not the child, then the parent. With Internet bullying now it was way out of control. It needs to stop or at least be slowed down. I think that enough people banded together then something would be done.

    April 22, 2008 at 12:40 pm |
  10. Bev Tn of Tonawanda NY

    Glenn: Great article. I, too, was the subject of taunts, name-calling, etc., and at the same time had a large circle of friends. However, to this day, (I'm 58 years old) I STILL remember the name-calling and the feelings of hopelessness and self-loathing as a result of the bullying (from girls and boys). Good luck to you in the future.

    April 22, 2008 at 12:15 pm |
  11. Mom2DRescue

    We have had bullying issues at school with all of our children. The first time it was by a child who had flunked grade twice. Large for his size to start with, he towered and intimidated the rest of the his 5th grade school mates. The teachers looked the other way many times. I found out the bully was stealing my son's lunch every day, was punching in the stomach for fun and routinely pushed him so hard he fell to his knees and had the injuries to prove it.

    But it was when they pushed my son while he was riding his bike that brought us to the principal's office. They posted teachers along the bike trail after that. But the damage was done. My son has back injuries and back pain ever since.

    I could go on to tell you about the two younger bullies that would follow my children almost to my door while trying to kick them. Approaching their mother helped not a bit. She thought her kids were right to defend themselves. It was not until one of the bullies physically attacked my son that I could do anything about it. The principal took all the right steps and those kids stayed away but not before threatening their parents were going to kill us. They mother drove a hummer and would often purposely block my way on our small neighborhood streets.

    We recently got involved again when one of our son's was "depantz" in school by a couple of bullies who had been teasing him for the entire year. We talked to the principal and the bullying has stopped.

    I urge parents to talk to their kids and to not hesitate to contact the school at first sign of bullying.

    April 22, 2008 at 12:12 pm |
  12. Kristien,Antwerp, Belgium

    Hi Glenn,

    I too know a thing or two about being bullied as a child and now, more then 20 years later, I'm still affected by it.
    Being bullied about the way you look really impacts the way you see yourself and more importantly maybe, the way you think others see you. Taking a compliment is hard when you're convinced that they must be lying...
    The hurt doesn't stop when the bullying does, no matter how much you want it to!

    Glenn, I wish that bullying would be taken more seriously and that schools would really try to eliminate it.

    Thanks for letting me vent! Kristien

    April 22, 2008 at 12:10 pm |
  13. Michael, NC

    that is a powerful post man. I have not heard of that case involving Matthew. That is such a horrible story.
    In school, I was with the "in crowd" and saw a lot of bullying. I can honestly say that I have never been one to demoralize or put down other students for the sake of embarrassing them, but I know people who did, and it makes me feel guilty for not stopping it from happening. It really does happen WAY too often, and gets out of hand in many cases.
    I am currently typing an english paper about bullying and guns on campus, and I am glad you brought this article to the table, it will be a big influence on my paper!
    Thanks again for such a good post.

    April 22, 2008 at 12:03 pm |