When Alexandria Rizik was 17, one of her cousins committed suicide after being bullied. The tragedy opened her eyes to the horrors of bullying — and she wanted to do something about it.
So Rizik, an Arizona high school student, started the organization Save a Soul, Save the World, a website where teens can share their bullying experiences in a place where they can feel comfortable. She has also gone to schools to talk about the effects of bullying. A major part of her campaign is using social media — Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — to spread her message.
“I couldn’t handle hearing anymore tragic stories about kids, teenagers and young adults ending their lives, so I created this website,” Rizik said in an email.
Rizik is part of a nationwide trend: students creating their own anti-bullying groups and providing resources such as websites.
In the digital age, it can be hard to find a place where a teen can feel safe. Many find solace from organizations started by people their own age who understand what they’re going through.
The issue of bullying, documented in books such as Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon and Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Agression is Bad for Everyone by Susan Eva Porter, remain serious. According to Bullying Statistics, about 4,400 people commit suicide because of bullying every year. This number has risen steadily in the past decade, in part due to the growing number of places away from school that students can be bullied such as social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Ask.fm. The latter is a particularly problematic because teens can post anonymously without any consequences.
At Concord High School in New Hampshire, the bullying happened mostly online. An anonymous Twitter group bullied students. So sophomore Maria Wilkinson started the club “Everybody Love Everybody” as a way to end the bullying at her school.
With the help of her principal, Wilkinson planned an assembly about the effects of bullying and got over 600 students to sign a pledge against bullying. Wilkinson hopes that her club will show students that bullying isn’t something that should go unnoticed. “We all know, I know, Mr. Connolly [her prinicipal] knows, we’re better than this, and we can make a change,” said Wilkinson said in an article that appeared in the Concord Monitor.
Irena Yang, 16, has been a victim of bullying. For Yang, a Los Angeles native, it was mostly in the beginning of middle school. It started out as just side remarks in the hallways but then turned into something more.
“It really takes a toll on your confidence, especially as you are growing up and trying to become your own person,” said Yang.
Luckily for Yang, a peer counseling club at her school was there to help. This program, run by the students, lets students talk about their problems in a safe environment with their peers. The program is popular at her school. “A lot of people appreciate what this club is doing,” said Yang, “and so do I.”
So what can be done about bullying?
“[Unfortunately], I believe that their will always be bullying because there will always be insecure kids who feel the need to pick on others,” said Rizik, the Arizona student. “But I also believe that if our generation stands together to make bullying socially unacceptable in our society, we can drastically decrease the statistics of bullied victims and bully-related suicides. I want to be able to say I helped make a difference with this epidemic.”