Jodee Blanco used to be the kid at school no one ate with at lunch. She was the kind of student other kids, for some reason, directed untold amounts of torment on.
She was held down and had snow jammed into her mouth. She had great gobs of spitballs laced with glue shot into her hair. She had her favorite clothing items stuffed into urine-soaked school toilets. It was a common day for her to have other kids tell her that the world would be better off if her mom had died during pregnancy so she was never born.
Blanco was friendless and isolated from the world. She prayed for her own death.
For a district that experienced a rash of student suicides at the start of the millennium, those thoughts and actions are no laughing matter. Blanco, then, was a fitting speaker Thursday at St. Charles Unit District 303's latest installment of Parent University.
Blanco, an Orland Park native, is the author of an anti-bullying best-seller titled, "Please Stop Laughing at Me." Blanco immediately reached out to all the victims of bullying in the audience.
"If there's anyone in this auditorium, of any age, who's ever felt like a ghost in your own life, invisible, dismissed, excluded, forgotten, overlooked, lonely ... there is nothing wrong with you. There never has been," Blanco said. "It's what's right about us that often makes us a target of others' cruelty. We are overlooked and forgotten and bullied because who we are inside is so far above the crowd that they haven't caught up yet. It's the people who deny you that need to change."
Then it was time to educate parents. Blanco told parents at the forum everything they've said to their bullied children is wrong. And everything they've done to stop their children from being bullies isn't working.
Blanco said the first most common mistake is telling a child to ignore the bullies and the bullies will leave them alone.
"The more you ignore them the meaner they get until they get a response," Blanco said. "Telling a child to ignore the bullying is telling them to be a bystander in their own life. The single most insensitive thing you can say is leave them alone and you'll be left alone. We don't want to be left alone."
The second common mistake parents make is telling children the only reason they are bullied is the bullies are jealous of them, Blanco said.
"I looked around and saw the kids who were tormenting me were the most popular kids at school," Blanco said. "They looked great and got invited to everything. Why are the victims always the ones who have to rise above it? I don't care why they bully me. I just want their friendship. I want their acceptance. We don't care if those mean kids are jealous of us. Tell us something that can get those kids to like us."
Blanco also told parents to not try to empathize with a child by relating your own bullying stories.
"We don't care about your childhood," Blanco said. "We don't care at all."
What parents should do is really listen to what their child is saying, Blanco said. Don't judge or interrupt. And then show a willingness to find a solution at all costs. Promise to take action where an immediate measurement of success or failure can be discerned. Finally, the key to improving a bullied child's life is not to end the bullying; it's to end the loneliness.
"It is not the incessant abuse that drives us to suicide," Blanco said. "It's the isolation. The first thing you've got to do is get your kid an interim social life, a place where they can make new friends in a new group of people."
Blanco advised finding a park district sport or public library activity at least two towns away where a fun activity involving other young people can be selected. In that action will be the opportunity to create a new group of friends.
"As they make and forge new friendships, what their classmates are doing will become less and less important," Blanco said. "It will buy you the time you need to deal with the school."
Parents can learn more about Blanco's methods on her website, jodeeblanco.com.