Randee Nelson was bullied.
At the time, she didn’t know that the words, “I’m prettier than you are,” and “You’re not my friend anymore,” would hurt so bad.
“As children, we don’t think about the long-term effects words can have on others, which I believe is why we say the things that we do and act the way we do,” she wrote. “I was bullied as a kid and looking back on all of the mean things that my friends and I experienced, I believe that they were only the beginning of a long journey of self-discovery and hardship.”
Now in high school, Randee turned to self-destructive behavior to relieve the demons in her head. Her experience with bullying started in elementary school. By the time she entered middle school, she had begun cutting herself to ease the pain.
She is not the only teen to tell this story.
More than 40 percent of eighth grade students have suffered bullying on their school campus in the past year, according to the annual Youth Survey, compiled by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.
The statistics for Gila County students are even worse, with almost 50 percent of eighth-graders experiencing some sort of bullying on campus.
Perhaps surprisingly, bullying and harassment peaks in middle school and declines during the high school years.
Tragically, the bullying does not stop once the student leaves campus.
It continues in the form of online and cell phone harassment.
The Youth Survey showed that a third of the middle school students have been harassed online or through electronic devices and that number increases for Gila County eighth grade students to 35 percent.
Bullying does not stop with friends, however. In Randee’s case, the cruel treatment continued into her first relationship. For two years she dated the same boy, but when it ended her ex left a scar with his words.
“I could say that the relationship ended on a good note, but that would be lying. At the end of the relationship, I was told two things that a girl never wants to be told by the person she plans on spending the rest of her life with, ‘You’re gaining too much weight,’ and ‘I don’t love you anymore.’ I was crushed,” she wrote.
Those words unleashed in Randee another wave of self-hate, which turned into an eating disorder.
While Randee experienced verbal abuse, teens across Arizona report that one in 10 have been physically assaulted by the person they dated.
Sadly, the number of spouses abused in a relationship only increases as people age. A United Nations report found that around the world, one in three women experiences abuse in a relationship regardless of their age, education or socio-economic background.
Randee has decided to turn a corner in her life. “It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized I was going to lose everything if I didn’t work hard to change the way that I was behaving,” she wrote. “This struggle is mental and is not one that vanishes overnight. It is something that is continually on your mind every single day and is a constant battle.”
In her senior year she has found a kindred soul in Anna Roberts. Anna also turned to cutting to cope with the school and family bullying she lives with every day.
Both girls, with the help, support and permission from George Connelly, a Payson High School art teacher and the administration, made a presentation to the student body at the recent Health and Awareness Day assembly.
As word spread around campus about the tough topics Randee and Anna would address in their break-out session, the presentation was standing room only.
They found they did not suffer alone.
“There are kids worse than us,” said Anna.
Bullying in School Survey Gila County Arizona
Felt unsafe at school
8th – 11% 8th – 9%
10th – 5 % 10th – 5%
12th – 5% 12th – 4%
Carried a weapon at school
8th – 11% 8th – 5%
10th – 12% 10th – 5%
12th – 9% 12th – 6%
Threatened or injured at school
8th – 17% 8th – 11%
10th – 11% 10th – 9%
12th – 5% 12th – 6%
In a fight at school
8th – 25% 8th – 18%
10th – 12% 10th – 10%
12th – 9% 12th – 7%
Picked on or bullied at school
8th – 48% 8th – 40%
10th – 33% 10th – 28%
12th – 15% 12th – 18%
Harassed or mistreated online
8th – 35% 8th – 29%
10th – 31% 10th – 28%
12th – 25% 12th – 21%