October 8th, 2010
10:27 AM ET

Crystal Bowersox: 'Just Imagine…'

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/10/08/art.crystal.cnn.jpg caption="Crystal Bowersox: 'If you, or your child is being bullied, I encourage you to take the battered mind and spirits, and lift them up.'"]

Crystal Bowersox
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Bullying is in our schools, and it's online. Why do kids do it? What can be done to put an end to it? Don't miss an "AC360°" special report in collaboration with PEOPLE Magazine, "Bullying: No Escape," all this week at 10 p.m. ET on CNN.

Bullying is not acceptable at any age, for any reason. To my adolescent mind, the reasons why my peers treated me poorly were cruel and insignificant; and mostly for reasons that were completely out of my hands. I experienced what seemed like constant emotional bruises and jabs, repetitive negative verbiage, name calling, and harassment not only within the walls of my home, but also in the halls of my school. I understand that growing up is tough for everyone. It's not an easy task for pliable minds to weave through the labyrinth known as puberty. But there are lines in this human experience that are not meant to be crossed so furiously and frequently.

I was often picked on for being poor. My brothers and I were part of the low-income school lunch programs, so our lunches were free. My clothes were never name brand or new, and usually rust stained due to hard water. I remember feeling so proud of myself for making the junior high school swim team, then hassled for attending meets wearing a used Goodwill suit because we couldn't afford the team ones and gear. In the winter season, I smelled like a camp fire and kerosene because our mother would use anything to heat the house, i.e. kerosene heaters -pluming smoke into the middle of the living room, or old shoes or garbage to stoke the wood-burning stove in the kitchen. My home life was beyond humble. At school, I was punished for it. I was also taunted by a few students for being diabetic. I was diagnosed at the age of 6, so these taunts started early on and were usually based upon fear and/or curiosity. Literally, students used the word, "Diabetic!!" as an insult among sneering and scoffing when I would eat something in class. I later learned to manipulate my health to miss school, because I dreaded being there so, and the hospital felt safer than home.

There are a few incidents that I remember quite vividly. I've managed to let go and block out a lot of things, but this one has stayed in my mind. School had just let out. I was headed to the bus, when I was suddenly pelted with ice. A few of the Varsity jackets had taken snowballs dipped them in water, which then turned into baseball-sized hail, and began stoning me. In pain, I tried to throw the ice-snowballs back, to no avail. I went home that night with my body and my spirit, black and blue.

There are far too many incidents to relive and write, but I will tell you this: the abuse that I encountered while attending public school drove me mad. I remember feeling suicidal all of the time, between dealing with a brawling, unkempt home life and the bullying at school. A pivotal moment for me was when I had learned to tie a slip knot, and spent a few hours staring at a noose. I had hung the rope over a rafter in the barn. I just stared at it, wanting to slip it over my head with almost every fiber of my being, but couldn't bring myself to do it. I felt that I had no place in the world, or even in the cafeteria until I was invited to sit with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) kids. There I was accepted, straight, poor, diabetic, and all. I saw and heard some of the most demeaning things from other students directed at these kids. Immediately through association, I was branded and sent to slaughter, as well.

I left public school in what was supposed to be my junior year. My grades had fallen so much that I was held back. I had been playing gigs and shows around town through all of this, and music and writing was my only passion, love or friend. I was approached by a teacher who was working at the Toledo School For the Arts, a Charter school that was in its first experimental year. My father and I jumped at the idea of attending a school where kids played guitar in the halls before class, or were graded on their level of creativity and inventiveness. Not only did TSA offer me a place I could fit in, it offered me hope.

Even at TSA, it was hard to do well due to stress at home and illness, but I was a much happier and hopeful. Music and art were my saviors, and my parents and teachers knew it. And despite some lingering behavior issues, I excelled at the classes I was most interested in. When I was about 17 1/2, a light bulb came on above my head. I realized that when you turn 18, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Bullies are no longer bullies; they can be legally punished for harassment and assault. Your parents can no longer tell you to go to your room if you chose to be independent and live elsewhere. When you act out of frustration and participate in self-destructiveness, you are the only person being defeated. I moved to Chicago, where the streets made me even more aware of how much bigger the world is than high school, and of all the limitless, positive, and productive possibilities in life just waiting to be seized.

If you, or your child is being bullied, I encourage you to take the battered mind and spirits, and lift them up. In light of the recent youth suicides, I beg for parents, teachers, and students to take responsibility and open your ears and eyes, and your hearts. It is imperative that a child or adolescent's cry for help be heard, no matter how silent it may be. Empathy and sympathy are characteristics that one embodies early in life and they begin in the home. We can only hope that the lessons we give to our young ones will be carried on throughout their days and years. Apathy and antagonism, unfortunately, are also sprouted from the very same seeds. Our children need to understand how their actions, inactions, and reactions will affect the chain of life's events not only on a local level, but also in a global way. There are adults who still do not understand how it's all connected. .

In this life, we are only victims if we allow ourselves to be. You may say I'm a dreamer, but dreams can become reality if we project love, acceptance, tolerance, kindness: if only EVERYONE did this –

Just imagine…

-Crystal Bowersox

Filed under: Bullying • Opinion
soundoff (108 Responses)
  1. Christine

    I am a middle school teacher. Any of our teachers would step into a bullying situation when we see it. It is hard, though, because the kids say, "we're just playing around" or "I'm just kidding" or"it was a joke". We may not know the kid who is being bullied, so it is really hard to tell if it really is bullying. Telling adolescents what not to do needs to be replaced with letting them practice what is right to do. Bullies may be transferring home issues where they are the victims to someone who won't defend them self. What resources do schools have left to help a dysfuntional family? How does that fit into the pressures of NCLB? Maslow would say the emotional needs would come before academic needs.

    October 8, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  2. Anita

    Anderson, Thank you for this series on bullying. Last year, my daughter witnessed a bullying act in re to gay slurs. She told me they were saying bad things about her friend. I went to the high school principal. He afforded me some time, but nothing concrete was done. I applauded my daughter, who was a senior last year, that she did the right thing and to stand up for others that do not have a voice. I am so sorry for these just stupid things that are happening to our young people and affect them through their lifetime. Not fair. Thanks and keep up the great reporting.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  3. Terri

    Hi Anderson. I'm watching your program on "Bullying..." with Crystal Bowersox. Dr. Phil was saying that what is needed is an actual curriculum in schools on Bullying. That, I agree, would be a good thing. As a teacher I can tell you that my concern is it will not happen in most schools. There is such a tremendous focus on academics that other classes like Art, P.E. and Music are being cut. With all the pressure to perform better on standardized tests, there isn't even enough time to teach the academic core subjects anymore. Sadly, I just don't see it happening. There isn't time to fit it in in most schools.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:53 pm |
  4. jerry bigness

    I feel that the reason people do not report the bullying is their upbringing. I was always taught to treat people the way you want to be treated, and that is how I brought my children up. I stood up against bullys all through school, and one of my children was in the principles office in first grade for standing up to someone bullying his friend. He did the right thing, regardless the schools consequences and I told him that. If every parent taught their children "treat people the way you want to be treated" then this problem wouldn't exist.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  5. Kathie

    Good for you Crystal for sharing on this important subject. You are making the world a better place. I want to submit an idea. In corporate america we are required to take courses on harassment and it is made clear you
    can be terminated for that type of offense.
    Why not include a harassment course in the high
    school curriculum which is required and then
    make the kids sign a pledge not to bully as Dr Phil suggested.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
  6. Dennis

    One problem in the schools is that teachers are not only complacent with the bully's the encourage them to target individuals.
    AS in my post a few days ago, I was one of those 'targets'.
    Other teachers are also 'just standing by' doing nothing.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:46 pm |
  7. Kate

    As a teacher at a middle school I can only say, WE NEED HELP. Safe and Drug Free schools money was cut to zero – we can't convince our administration to provide training – we are experiencing suicide at the HS level (3/150 students last year at one grade level).

    October 8, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  8. Melissa Collins

    Here in Floyd County Ky, we have a 0 tolerence for bullying. All schools should have this.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  9. John from Bucks County PA

    Bullying will continue to get worse until parents, schools and law enforcement start to take bullying seriously.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  10. Julie

    I listened tonight about the schools are not doing enough. It is not the responsibility of teachers to raise responsible children / young adults. Schools are not free babysitting / child rearing institutes!


    Parents are not taking responsiblity for raising their children. I feel parents need to be held more accountable. Children today are not raised to take responsiblity for their actions.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  11. Donna Ries

    I knew you went through a lot when you were young, but even I didn't know it was that bad for you and thankfully you showed everyone how much better you are for not ending your life so soon. Good for you, you are an inspiration to others like you.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  12. Mary Lutack

    WOW!!! Crystal Bowersox, what a wonderful, heartfelt testimony and encouragement to all....that was BEAUTIFUL!

    October 8, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
  13. Vicky

    Anderson. Bullying has been accepted in America for too long. Bullying starts at home because parents allow brothers and sisters to bully each other and it follows them to schools whether victims or bullies. Also, teachers and co-workers are often times bullies and since it's has been accepted for too long, it has become part of life. If parents listened to their children, perhaps there would less suicides.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
  14. teresa, ohio

    Wonderful article, Crystal. Aint no education like being raised in a poor family, I mean that from experience. I wouldnt change that for anything.

    Something you wrote, and others embrace, too, bothered me: "we are only victims if we allow ourselves to be". Crystal, your abuse stopped ONLY when you left that school environment. Most kids dont get that other school choice. And then when you turned 18 you realized that you were an adult and could take matters into your own hands.

    Most children under 18 REALIZE that they are somewhat helpless. Oh, they could become the bully, but at what cost? If one is not a bully, it is hard to hurt people. Abused ones just wonder: why are they doing that and WHY WONT ANY ADULTS HELP?

    So, why wont the adults help, particularly at school?

    October 8, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  15. Irene

    The discussion about bullying is limited to the victim, the victim’s parents and the school responsibility. I think the homophobic parents, religious and political leaders, and the “macho beer belly types” who stereotype the “weaklings” are also molding the attitude of the bullies. The bullies are also the victims of their society, and especially of their own home environments.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  16. Liane

    I was bullied from 2nd grade all the way through 12th. My parents would tell me to ignor it. When we moved, they said it was a chance to make a new start and get away from the bullying. I tried to fit in. I tried to talk back. I tried ignoring. I tried to be invisible. Nothing worked. I was sick. I was suicidal.

    When I finally graduated, I realized it wasn't me, it was them. Years later, one of the instigators apologised in tears for what he put me through. That helped some.

    I've taken that pain and used it to make myself stronger. Nothing can be as bad as that was. I lived through it, and I can live through anything. I can do anything.

    I still hate the people who caused me so much pain. The best revenge I can have is to make myself better than they are.

    I pray for bullying to stop.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  17. fay

    what about the teachers that bully the student and the students bulling the teachers

    October 8, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  18. chrissy

    Chrystal Bowersox said it...."there are adult bullies too!"

    October 8, 2010 at 10:23 pm |
  19. chrissy

    Anderson...school administrators and teachers are the ADULTS that teach our children along with the parents what is right and wrong...most kids learn by example...soo..i think we as adults need to think about what kind of messages we are sending our kids. I know from having 3 children in school, and being a school board member how adults treat each other. And bullying happens when you have a different point of view not only when you are homosexual. I remember when I was in school...in every classroom the "golden rule" was in every classroom..(do unto others...) I think we as adults have forgotten that phrase.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  20. Patricia E Cook

    First to Crystal – you are so beautiful, so talented, and so courageous – I am very sad that there were people who were cruel to you. Thank God you were able to maintain that enviable spirit that one can see in you and through your music.
    Parents who think the victims of bullying will
    "get over it" are wrong. Parents who don't recognize the seriousness of bullying are in denial. If they don't get treatment for their bullying children at an early age, they face a lifetime of dealing with a person who is mentally ill. Children who are bullying need treatment. A person who can only find satisfaction or happiness at the expense of others, hates himself. He is mentally ill. Schools and parents need to be proactive.

    October 8, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  21. Fatina

    It happens all over the world, I was bullied by my classmates in primary school, Its a bad memory, but I kept it as it never happened.Kids should be strong enough to fight back, and then you can find a stronger new life. You can kept in a secret and removed it from your memory like I did, or you can stand out and make your voice louder, as Chris Armstrong did. But please,please do not end your life. You never know how life would be nice if you stops everything. Trust me, its just for high school or university school, just couple of years, after that, you will find a better life, stronger personality you have.

    October 8, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
  22. Allie Gross

    Very powerful and very touching.

    October 8, 2010 at 7:55 pm |
  23. Mike

    Extremely well written Crystal.

    You have already become such a great role model for diabetics, single moms and now for kids who get bullied. I feel very proud for you. To come from the childhood you had to where you are now in such a short time is amazing, maybe destiny...

    Looking forward to your CD. Your an amazing artist and even more amazing person.

    Thank you Crystal, for being you.

    October 8, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
  24. Davina Peters

    Beautifully written and spoken.

    October 8, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  25. Sue R. Canton MI.

    Thank you Crystal for sharing your story. When were born into this world we don't get to choose are parents,family,or what type of environment were going to live in. So many of us can relate to your story. I'm happy to see that CNN/Anderson Cooper has been airing this series on bullying. It's time that people are made more aware of how much more serious the bullying has become. With so many young people committing suicide or contemplating it,,,If this series can save the life of one human being then you have accomplished a lot.

    October 8, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  26. Billy Z.

    Crystal, Thank You for Sharing Your Heart and Experiences. God's Grace and Protection was There With You All the Way. Though at Times You Felt like you had no Where to turn to,or to go His Loving Hand Was Guiding and Bringing You Through The Fire. I am so Glad You Are Experiencing a Much Better Side of Life Now. The Experiences We Go Through in Life Help us to Be Strong and Able to Help others Going Through Similar Trials. You Are A cHosen vessel of The Creator To Spread Healing, Reconciliation,and Love to Those That Desperately Need it.God Knows That You Are a Worthy Messenger To Encourage and Edify Those in Need. God's Grace Abound and Folow You Always 🙂

    October 8, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  27. Christa

    Crystal, what an honest inside look at your life before stardom. It pains me to think of the torment that you and may others like you have and will continue to endure. You should be very proud of yourself for speaking out and trying to invoke change. You are very talented and I hope that this inspires the youth to still dream of a better future.

    October 8, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  28. Jessica Diana Castro

    The stars unite us. When will society learn to accept and embrace each other's differences. If the world was full of people with the same characteristics then the world would be a boring place.

    October 8, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  29. Darlene

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your straight forward honesty of your unfortunate childhood experience will be used for the better good of helping and healing so many children.

    I saw your gentle soul on stage every week but saw your strength as well. I Hope to see more of your strength as you continue your journey in music. You were my favorite from the very beginning and are even more now.

    Thanks for using your voice to make the change in helping all those children that aren't allowed to stand up for themselves.

    October 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  30. Kim

    Im buying this young Americans CD's before she even thinks about the next song she sings on top of a Public Educational School bus packed with politicians and school teacher's and the school counselors as her dancing team ! Where is the law about 15 students per class room ? Budget cuts hampering counselors from spending time with students."Mony,Mony"...Wooly Bully ,Yo No Bully ! Be aware of the superficial media reports that don't go thoroughly into the subject because of their own budget and producers purse strings. So far pretty good CNN !

    October 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  31. Tony S

    there was a reason that I was drawn to Crystal right from the very first time I saw her on idol.Something unique and different,and not just unique and different musically,although she is certainly that as well.This article shows a woman who is concerned with a hell of a lot more than her position or standing in the world of music,she had always stated that she wanted to use whatever celebrity she had received from Idol to somehow help people in whatever way she could.What a thoughtful,heart wrenching,and amazingly well written essay from a remarkable young woman.It's impossible in my opinion not to like her.

    October 8, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  32. Dawn

    If I didn't admire you before, I certainly do now. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope everyone who hears or reads this will have a talk with their children, or friends. I think it's time we start to truly teach empathy, tolerance, and acceptance to our children. So many times the bullying nature of children can be traced back to their homes. Enough is enough.

    October 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  33. Tim

    Great girl. Great attitude. Great artist. Great article.

    October 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  34. Ella

    This is one of the most moving pieces I have ever read. How this little star was forged through such pain and sorrow makes me think and wonder and hope. Her message is one for everyone.

    October 8, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  35. Helen K Kreller

    Anderson, I find myself reflecting a great deal on Cyber-bullying...as a technology teacher...I am just wondering...have we tripped over our Freedom of Speech amendment to include "everything is allowed to be said, no matter who it hurts?". I know we need to teach our children, family and friends the "just and moral" path...yet the media seems to give a voice to those who who do not follow that path...as a Technologist...I ask myself...What have we done...opened a technological Pandora's Box??? Your show and interviews really make me ponder...Thank you, Anderson and the 360 Team.

    October 8, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  36. Elaine in Geogia

    The gay bashing and bullying is fueled by the current toxic political environment and the talk about homosexuals from the religious right. This is trickling down to the students and young adults who are misguided. I pray that we can be a nation of kind and accepting people, rather than the one that currently exists.

    October 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  37. Miriam Aregullin

    Thank you to Crystal Bowersox for sharing her story. Bullying happens in our schools every day wether we want to admit it or not and I believe that us, parents have to take responsibility for our children's actions; good and bad. And what is more important we have to teach our children to become responsible for their own actions; just because they are children, just because they are teens does not mean that they don't know that bullying is wrong. If you teach them better, they should know better.

    October 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  38. natalie

    Thank you for sharing this. You are right that sympathy and empathy begin in the home. If only everyone practiced this.

    October 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  39. Sandy

    It is no surprise there is bullying in schools. Bullying is pervasive in American society.
    In the workforce, supervisors and administrators are allowed to bully employees and use retaliation to demonstrate authority when met with any resistance or question. Children learn by example and bully bosses are just another aspect in our society that displays
    little compassion or respect for the individual.

    October 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  40. Linda Cobb

    I admire Crystal,not only for her music, and her obvious honesty on this subjest, but for overcoming the obstacles she has to get where she is today!. I said from the first moment I saw her audition for AI that she would win.And she is so obviously a winner!.. Congrats, Crystal.. I knew you could do this..

    And for you, Mr. Cooper, you are a respected reporter in my house. There are few of you left.. Keep up the good work..
    Sincerely, Linda C.

    October 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  41. Dawn

    What a wrenching and heart-warming story. Kids have targeted and bullied other kids for ever, the cruelty is beyond imagination for those who have not seen or been a victim of it. I'm so happy you were able to rise above it. Thank you for sharing your experience, I hope it will be helpful to others who find themselves in a similar situation.

    October 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  42. Amanda

    What a thoughtful, meaningful article. I hope your words get to the minds that need it the most!

    October 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  43. Scott Miller

    No kid should go through this!! Thats why I'm apart of the STAND Strength Team! We do anti-bully/cyber-bulling and accepting others, school assemblies! We have seen young people change as a result of our assemblies!

    October 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  44. Julie

    Crystal, you were my favorite contestant on American Idol last season. I knew there was something special about you and now this article confirms it. I'm so glad you were able to overcome the brutality of your childhood. But you are stronger because of it! Bravo!

    October 8, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  45. MrDuffin

    I love Crystal's voice and her personality. She seems to very aware to the sufferings of others and wants to help in any way she can. I think she will do well in her career and in life because she is a good and talented person.

    October 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  46. jack clark

    i love you crystal you r so right just imagine. Keep doing what u r doing, u touch my heart and i will touch someone and so on. life will get better. A fan forever

    October 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  47. Faith

    Crystal, I don't think anyone has said it better than you just have. You are living proof to these kids that you can get through it and life can and does change for the better. Thank you for sharing your story. I pray that it makes a tremendous impact on all of those that are enduring the unnecessary bullying that is becoming worse every day. We are all children of God, and regardless of our lifestyles or where we come from, no one should feel less than the next because of it.

    October 8, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  48. Jake

    Such a powerful read! I've always been a fan of this girl! Love her so much!

    October 8, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  49. Sherry Schuerman

    Wow! Such poignant words from such a young human being. We could all learn something from this eloquently spoken young lady. Crystal, you are wise beyond your years my dear. And, you are now in a position of importance and fame, and able to speak to millions of young people. My suggestion is that you not only get your point of view out to the masses in your songs, but that you visit as many public schools as you can and deliver this very important message.

    October 8, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  50. marie

    Wow. I wish I were articulate enough to tell you how deeply this touched me. I am so sorry that you had to endure so much for so long. I think the world is lucky to have you raise the bar for us in how we treat each other.

    You have a beautiful spirit and know it will serve you well.

    Thank you for your words.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:57 am |
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