What do a high school student and a WWE Superstar have in common? They both know bullying when they see it – and they see it constantly, whether at school or in the comments on social media.
Recently, Boys & Girls Club teen and anti-bullying advocate Dejae and Titus O’Neil, WWE Global Ambassador and Boys & Girls Club alum sat down to talk bullying.
How Bullying Affects Students
“I was bullied as a kid,” says Titus. “Being poor and growing up, we didn't always have the best clothes. I also wore glasses and got picked on in numerous ways, from jokes to fights to everything in between. As I got older, I grew a very strong distaste for bullying, just because I didn't understand how people could be so cruel.”
Now, Titus serves as a bullying prevention advocate, helping educate Boys & Girls Club youth on standing up to bullying through Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s partnership with WWE and the Be A STAR bullying prevention program.
For high school teen Dejae, bullying started early, too – and lasted. “I was bullied at a young age, from second through fourth grade, at least,” she says. “I cried a lot because I was picked on and I really didn't know why. It took me years to tell a teacher. And the only reason it stopped was because I went to an adult and got help.”
When Dejae joined the Boys & Girls Club of the Hatchie River Region in 2015, she found caring mentors and a bullying prevention program she wished she had while being bullied at school.
As a teen ambassador of the Be A STAR program, Dejae serves as a bullying prevention coach and role model to her peers at the Club, modeling tolerance, kindness and acceptance while educating younger Club members on recognizing and responding to bullying. “It feels good to help other kids learn the importance of not being a bully,” she says. “And helping other kids has taught me to be better myself.”
Changing Mindsets from “Snitching” to Saving Lives
Dejae’s experience waiting years before telling an adult she was being bullied is not unusual. According to Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s 2022 youth data, the majority of youth (67%) report that when something goes wrong in their life, they try to keep people from finding out.
Plus, going to an adult to report bullying has age-old social connotations – tattling, snitching, etc. – that can make young people put their social standing before their mental health, physical safety and more. But bullying prevention advocates like Titus and Dejae are working to change that mindset.
“If somebody's getting bullied, you actually could end up saving their life by telling,” says Titus. “The bully could hurt the person, or the person could turn around and hurt themselves simply because they're tired of getting bullied and they've cried out for help in the wrong places. Being able to go and tell a trusted adult might very well save somebody's life. You might save someone's mental health space. You might put somebody in a position where they feel empowered to use their voice.”
The urgency of telling someone about bullying before it goes too far hits close to home for Dejae. Recently, she lost a friend to suicide after he experienced repeated bullying at school and felt hopeless. “He was a really sweet guy. Very smart,” she says. “But I feel like if somebody had done something sooner, then he would still be here, you know?”
How to Handle Cyberbullying
In recent years, as kids and teens spend increasingly more time on screens, cyberbullying has become a primary form of bullying. “It's very easy for people to be cruel or rude online,” says Titus. “But it's equally as easy for us to deflect it. I always tell people that if someone doesn’t know you personally, don't take it personal.”
Titus and Dejae’s main tips for handling cyberbullying include:
Know the signs of cyberbullying
Block bullies online.
Check in on friends who may be receiving any negative online interactions.
If you or someone else is being bullied, tell an adult.
On social media, kids often see cyberbullying happen in real-time. Dejae notes it’s important to check in on a person who’s being cyberbullied to let them know they’re not alone and that cyberbullying is unacceptable.
“Cyberbullying could be like on Instagram, Facebook, anything. And it could just be in their comments saying rude, horrible things to them,” she says. “For me, I would probably text them or call them, and say ‘Hey, it's okay. You know, they're just words. They don't mean anything. They just want to be mean to someone.’”
Titus adds, “Conversation is the biggest key. It’s important to say, ‘hey what’s going on?’ if their mood is off. Hopefully you can address it with them as a friend and then tell a trusted adult the situation. And remember, there's a block feature on each and every one of those apps.”
Bullying Prevention at Boys & Girls Clubs
Boys & Girls Clubs play a special role in the lives of America’s kids and teens, with trained, caring staff who get to know young people on a daily basis during the critical “in between” time between school and home. Club staff regularly check in on Club members’ stress, self-esteem and mental wellbeing, and know how to spot the signs of bullying.
The Be A STAR bullying prevention program at Boys & Girls Clubs equips kids with the knowledge and skills to build their emotional intelligence, regulate their emotions and learn how to safely express their feelings. Young people learn the most common forms of bullying they might come across, as well as specific guidance for what to do if: you feel you’ve bullied someone; you are the target or victim of bullying; you witnessed bullying.
The importance of anti-bullying programs also stems from giving kids a judgment-free forum to discuss emotions and bullying openly, share their experiences and build empathy and community. When a celebrity and former Club kid like Titus O’Neil shows up at a Be A STAR rally, young people see that most people have experienced some form of bullying and realize there’s strength in talking about it.
For Dejae, becoming a bullying prevention advocate for her Club gives her pride. “I know it feels really bad to be bullied – it made me feel disappointed, hurt, sad,” she says. “It feels good to know I can help other kids.”
Titus’ biggest piece of advice for kids and adults alike? “In a world in which there's so much negativity out there, speak up and treat others with kindness.”
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