Even more than author Ellen Hopkins’ beautiful prose, the way she cuts into the heart of a character gets us every time. Her newest book, RUMBLE, is a gritty, realistic and heartbreakingly honest look at 18-year-old Matthew Turner. He loses faith in his parents, his friends and his future when his younger brother commits suicide after having been bullied. RUMBLE was so powerful, we reached out to Ellen for her thoughts on increasing bullying awareness. Here’s what she shared…

COULD YOU BE A BULLY? by Ellen Hopkins

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Okay, I’m going to ask some questions. They’re kind of personal, but don’t worry. You’re probably reading this in your room, where no one will hear your answers or see if you nod your head.

So here goes.
• Does it make you feel better about yourself to put someone else down?
• Have you ever acted on that?
• Have you ever called someone “fat,” “ugly,” “stupid” or some variation on those?
• Have you ever called someone names without provocation (just because)?
• Would you be more likely to attack someone verbally online than in person?
• Would you be more likely to attack someone verbally if a friend (or more than one friend) were encouraging you to do so?
• Have you ever joined in when one of your friends was calling someone else names, either face-to-face or online?
• Do you think it’s cool to be a “mean girl?”

If you answered yes to any of those, you might be guilty of bullying.

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One in three U.S. students say they’ve been bullied at school, which is where most bullying happens. Cyberbullying—where the harassment takes place through social media—is on the rise, sometimes with serious consequences.

In real life, bullying has victims…

Sladjana Vidovic’s family moved from Croatia to Ohio when she was a little girl. Her family called her witty and charming, but schoolmates made fun of her accent, threw food at her and called her names like “Slutty Jana.” She received late-night phone calls telling her to go back to Croatia or she’d be dead in the morning. After years of daily torment, 16-year-old Sladjana tied one end of a rope to her bedpost, the other around her neck, and jumped out her bedroom window. At her wake, some of the mean girls responsible for the harassment walked up to the casket and laughed.

Twelve-year-old Rebecca Sedwick plunged to her death from a cement factory tower after being terrorized online by as many as 15 other girls, spurred on by a 14-year-old who was angry because her boyfriend used to go out with Rebecca. Police say she turned Rebecca’s best friend against her, and the two engaged in a campaign of harassment through online message boards and texts; one message said she should “drink bleach and die.” After Rebecca’s death, the 14-year-old posted, “Yes, ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA and she killed herself, but IDGAF [I don’t give a ___].” The two ringleaders were arrested and charged with felony aggravated stalking.

Of course, not all bullying ends with the victim committing suicide, but there are other consequences. Kids who are bullied are more likely to suffer depression and anxiety, health problems and decreased academic achievement. Bullying has also been linked to most school shootings.

Some people try to justify bullying as just “kids being kids,” or insist it is an intrinsic part of human nature. But while, technically, people are animals, we possess a higher intellect, and don’t have to find excuses for our irrational behaviors. We own compassion, too, and can rise above an impulse to be aggressive or hurt someone who’s different or weak.

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So what can you do? First, resist the urge to call someone names, even if it might make you feel better about yourself in that moment. Step back and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Avoid the pack mentality; refuse to join a friend or friends who attack another person. If you notice bullying at school or online, don’t just observe silently. Take a stand against it. Report it. Invite the victim away. Let her know she’s got an ally, and if others join you, together you are force for good.

Being a mean girl doesn’t make you cool. It just makes you mean. You have the power to change the world for the better. The strength you need is inside of you.

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Ellen Hopkins is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Crank, Burned, Impulse, Glass, Identical, Tricks, Fallout, Perfect, Tilt and Smoke, as well as the adult novels Triangles and Collateral. RUMBLE is her latest YA novel. Ellen lives with her family in Carson City, Nevada, where she founded Ventana Sierra www.VentanaSierra.org, a nonprofit youth housing and resource initiative designed to help highly motivated young people build solid career paths toward a more positive future. Visit her at www.EllenHopkins.com.