Bullying is a big problem in this country. All to often we hear stories of young people who succumb to the stress induced by the constant physical or emotional abuse inflicted by their peers.
Some turn their pain inward and become depressed or withdrawn, sometimes hurting themselves through drug abuse, or in the extreme cases by taking their own life. Others lash out at society by becoming bullies themselves or arming themselves with weapons and a deadly plan to inflict maximum pain and damage on those whom they blame for hurting them. The numerous mass shootings on school campuses over the past 20 years show just how far some will go to enact revenge.
A study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that both bullies and their victims live with an increased risk of depression, panic disorder, and behavior, educational and emotional problems, according to a report from HealthlineNews.com. Bullying affects nearly 30 percent of children in grades six through 12.
"Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. Victims of bullying are at increased risk for emotional disorders in adulthood," the study authors said in a press release. "Bullies/victims are at a higher risk and are most likely to think about or plan suicide. These problems are associated with great emotional and financial costs to society."
Psychologists and other experts say the best way to combat the harmful effects of bullying is to confront the practice head on. But that doesn't necessarily mean being confrontational with the bullies themselves.
One teenager in New Jersey found a creative, even humorous way to strike back at bullying, and she's becoming quite the sensation on Facebook for her approach.
It all started when the 14-year-old discovered a message -- "Carleigh's (expletive for rear end)" -- spray painted on rocks at a local beach. But she didn't let it get her down. Instead she took control, reports USA Today. And her response has resonated with people around the world who are calling her a role model, not just for fellow teenagers, but also for women generally.
"I do believe body image is a major issue with girls and I hope that just one person feels better about themselves after they see my story," the girl said in a statement her family released to the media and posted on her mother's Facebook page.
It was through that same social media page that she sought to fight back and turned the message into a positive, her mother wrote. The teen posed next to the spray-painted stone in her bathing suit with her behind facing the camera and a broad smile as she looked over her right shoulder.
"She decided that she was going to be stronger than hurtful words on the concrete and that she was going to be proud of her figure," her mother wrote in the July 6 post that she made in an effort to support her daughter. The post has been shared more than 5,800 times.
"She also told me that she feels complete sympathy for teenagers across the country who face this every day," her mother wrote. "She understands and wants all of them to find strength inside to rise above the nastiness and be empowered by who you are, how you are made and what is in your heart."
This response to bullying speaks to the girl's positive self-esteem, Dr. Ramon Solhkhah, chairman of the psychiatry department at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, told USA Today. He said the response mirrors advice he would give others in the same situation.
"Confronting bullying head on is usually the right response," he said.
Others are praising the teenager as well.
"You should be proud of who you are and how you handled this situation. You are such an inspiration to others who are being taunted by bullies," one poster wrote on the Ashbury Park Facebook pages.
"So pleased that she is a sensible young lady," wrote another. "She is beautiful inside and out, not to mention about 100 (percent) more sure of herself than the cruel person who spray-painted the vicious message."
Solhkhah praised the girl's mother as well: "Certainly, having your mom supporting you speaks volumes. Kids that are not handling bullying well often feel like they are alone," he told USA Today.
We would like to offer our own words of praise for this resourceful teenager and her mother. Both exemplify the creativity, intelligence and maturity needed to stop bullying in its tracks in a proactive, non-combative way. Hopefully others will learn from their example and find more constructive ways of dealing with bullies and the emotional toll they inflict.