Connor Finley knows what it is like to be bullied and feels the angst of others who deal with bullies.
The Pine-Richland High School senior thinks someone should stand up against bullying—so he has.
In September 2011, Connor started the It Gets Better Project—Stand for No Bullying with a Facebook page that now has more than 600 members.
Its mission is "to stop bullying in the world and in our school ..." with a goal of getting more people to join and see that bullying can be stopped, according to the page's mission statement.
Connor said the Facebook page is a place "for people to release their feelings."
"Just be yourself. It doesn't matter who you are. It matters that you are alive on this earth," Connor said.
Among the diverse posts, a Girl Scout recently asked Connor if she could speak to him about bullying. She is doing a bullying project for her Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouts.
Melinda, who lists herself as a member of the Class of 2015 at the University of Northern Iowa, said she is in a group called SAVE—Students Against a Violent Environment—that tackles issues like bullying.
"A lot of the time, people don't step up because they don't know how to," she posted.
"Chrissi" talks about the problems her autistic brother has at school because of bullying.
"I want to know what you would do in my situation?" Chrissi asks in her post.
Sophomore Paris Fields, who joined Connor for this interview, said she was bullied to the point that she did not want to go to school.
"I became really quiet," she said.
In fifth grade, someone slammed her into a brick wall, she said.
"One dude picked on me constantly and got others to pick on me," Paris said. "People have said (untrue) stuff about me on Facebook."
Connor said there are different types of bullies in school—some are verbal while others are confrontational.
The verbal bullies "use the Internet to post comments about other people," Connor said.
"I hate that," Paris said. "They attack people (saying) 'You stole my boyfriend,' 'I hate you,' 'You're ugly'."
A fistfight last year stemmed from Facebook posts, she said.
Asked if some of the behavior might be learned from TV reality shows, Paris answered:
"It's where they get some of the insults."
"I have been bullied in the past. It starts in school. I've seen so much—bullies and bullying," Connor said.
Paris said some bullies are "people that feel insecure about themselves."
But the meanness of bullies can turn into a group mentality—if one person in the group does not like you, the whole group turns, she said.
"It's not fun," Paris said.
Connor said he actually feels bad for bullies sometimes because he looks at their lives and realizes they may be going through the turmoil of their parents' divorce or other hardships.
"Some just do it to do it," he continued. "They scrutinize everything you do."
Paris and Connor lament that Pine-Richland's anti-bullying policy does not do enough to stop bullying.
Teachers will tell bullies to stop, but that does not stop the behavior, they said.
Bullies need immediate consequences—being sent to the principal or having parents called in, Connor and Paris said.
"You have to force people to stop it," Connor said. "You can't just say, 'Stop it' and let it go."
Connor said he was bullied by a clique, who threw rocks at him. But things have "gotten better, surprisingly. The bullying slowed down ... I am grateful for that."
Paris said bullies have thrown paper at her, as well as handing out verbal abuse like making fun of her for being short.
Ironically, her friend is now being bullied for being tall, she said.
If some girls don't like you, they get other people to hate you too, Paris said.
When she got to high school, she and her mother worked with the guidance department to ensure that the students who had severely bullied her in middle school were kept out of her classes, she said.
Connor said his middle school years weren't so bad because he was friends with the principal, Dr. Kathy Harrington, who has since retired. He and a couple of other students had lunch with her nearly every day, he said.
"People knew that I was really good friends with the principal," he said, which meant they knew something would happen if they bothered him.
"I don't think people realize how bad it can be," Connor continued.
He and Paris said it can ruin lives.
The bullying gets worse as you get older, Connor said, because by the time kids get to high school "they know all the names to call you."
Facebook and Twitter make it easier to spread the word.
"They post things about you ...all this stuff that is really mean to you," Connor said.
Paris said two girls might call each other names on Facebook and one tries to resolve the problem by sending a private message.
The recipient will post the message for all to see and write something like 'Haha. Pathetic. I'm never going to be friends with you,'" Paris said.
From where does all this meanness come?
"It's a mystery," Connor said. "I'm certain they have gotten bullied" earlier in their lives and now they bully.
Connor sees the Facebook page as a beginning that could morph into other things, like establishing a charity to raise money for anti-bullying efforts or providing speakers to talk about bullying.
"I'm trying to stand up for what is right," Connor said. "People need to know that bullying is a big issue. You only need one person to start a movement and that is basically what I did."
Have you experienced problems with bullying? Tell us in the comments.
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