Xpress, the Coolest Section of the St. Petersburg Times, is the home for features, news and views of interest to young readers. Most of the work in Xpress, which appears on Mondays in Floridian, is produced by the Times' X-Team. The team of journalists ages 9-17 from around the Tampa Bay area is selected every year at the end of the school year to serve during the following school term. The current team of 12 was chosen out of 150 applicants. Watch for X-Team application forms in Xpress during the month of May.
Read the reviews by Xpress Film Critic Billy Norris
She stood up for herself
For Jodee Blanco, school was hell. As a social outcast, she endured years of abuse. Today, she speaks out against bullying.
By JACKY JOHNSON
Published July 28, 2003
Jodee Blanco, 39, is now a consultant, educator and author who works with schools. Read the Xpress review of her book Please Stop Laughing at Me here.
Most people remember high school as a carefree time between teen and adulthood. Jodee Blanco remembers it as a nightmare.
At the hands of her peers in schools in Chicago's south suburbs, Blanco was beaten, spat upon and abused for most of her teen years.
"You know the (book) Carrie (by) Stephen King? Well, what I went through in school made that character's experiences look like a Disney flick," she says 20 years later.
The abuse started in elementary school when Blanco befriended a disabled girl and was teased and taunted about their friendship. As she moved from school to school to escape the abuse, some new event would spark more harassment.
In her eighth-grade biology class, a classmate hurled a dissected pig at her chest, splattering blood and formaldehyde into her nose and mouth.
In another incident, a group of wrestlers held her down and shoved fistfuls of snow into her mouth until she couldn't breathe.
"One of them said to his buddies, "Hey you guys, I think she's gagging.' They gave each other high-fives, ran off and left me there," Blanco remembers.
In her new book, Please Stop Laughing at Me, Blanco recounts torment from being burned with cigarettes to being stoned by a group of boys. She bravely describes the daily ridicule of being considered an outcast. She explores the reasons for peer abuse, including the mistakes that parents make and tactics for kids who are suffering today.
"Ninety-five percent of the kids who are picked on by the cool crowd all have one big thing in common: They're all nice, sensitive kids and they're not comfortable putting other people down," Blanco says.
Blanco, 39, is now a publishing consultant, educator and author/professional speaker who consults with schools on antibullying initiatives. She is working to get her message out. "I always tell people that standing up for yourself in the moment abuse occurs is your human right; seeking vengeance later on is a mistake."
In a recent telephone interview, Blanco answered some questions about abuse.
Xpress: Why did you decide to write this book?
Blanco: . . . When Columbine happened and I watched it on the news like everybody else, all of America felt terrible for those kids who got killed. But for a split second, my heart went out to the assassins. I could identify with their pain; I understood the rage that would make them want to do something like that. And so, that's when I knew that I had to come forward with my story.
Xpress: How were you different from your bullies?
Blanco: I was different from the popular kids at school. I wasn't a jock, I wasn't a burnout, I couldn't do the things you had to do to be cool. I didn't want to smoke cigarettes in the girl's (bathroom), I didn't want to make fun of the chubby girl or the geeky guy with glasses. I spoke my mind if I saw a bunch of kids picking on an underdog . . . Well, when you're independent like that, and you're your own person, it often makes you the target of abuse . . .
Xpress: Did your parents unknowingly contribute to the problem?
Blanco: Absolutely. Even the most loving of parents can make the gravest of mistakes. My parents loved me desperately, but they made typical mistakes that a lot of parents make. For one thing, they would tell me, "Ignore the mean kids and they'll go away. Don't give them the satisfaction.' Well that's imposing adult logic in a teen circumstance . . . What my parents should have told me is, face the bullies in the eye, and with as much strength and as little emotion as you can handle, tell them to leave you alone.
Additionally, what I always tell parents when I give speeches is, "Fix the problem, don't try and fix your kid." There is nothing wrong with your kid to begin with. It's all the things that are right about your child that are making them a target in the first place.
Xpress: What helped you make it through high school without getting into drugs, (successfully) committing suicide or doing any of those other things that some teens fall into?
Blanco: It was tough. A couple of things. One is that, my parents are very loving and I had a lot of emotional support from them. And they were smart in that . . . they got me involved in activities outside of school . . . I got involved in the foreign language club, at a local church, at the community theater group for kids. So I was able to make some friends, totally outside of school, and that kept me sane.
Xpress: Do you believe that bullying occurs more in the United States than in other countries?
Blanco: No, it happens everywhere. In fact, Sony Corp. has just bought the Japanese language rights to my book and is going to be publishing it in Japanese because bullying and peer abuse is one of the biggest social problems in Japan. It's also a huge problem in the United Kingdom.
Xpress: Has what you endured strengthened your character? If given a second chance at high school would you still want to be a part of the "popular crowd?"
Blanco: "Being abused the way I was abused gave me two great advantages in adulthood. No. 1, I have no fear of rejection at all. I already faced the worst of it when I was a teenager, so there is nothing anybody can do to me now that will hurt as bad as what happened to me then.
No. 2, I'm a really good friend because my entire childhood I had no friends, so as an adult, when somebody's nice to me I never take their kindness for granted. I work extra hard at my friendships because I remember a time in my life when I didn't have any.
Xpress: How does bullying affect a person's personality?
Blanco: Bullying either will make you hide inside a shell . . . and you'll never live up to your potential, because all your life, you'll see yourself the way your tormentors saw you. Or you'll become someone like me: the overachiever . . . You keep trying to achieve stuff because you want to compensate for the fact that deep down, you don't like yourself because nobody liked you when you were young.
Xpress: Do bullies realize how much damage they do?
Blanco: . . . The bullies don't even remember what they did, because in their mind, they were just kids being kids. . . . The popular kids don't remember it because they weren't targets of it. The only people who remember it are the victims. And when they try to explain how bad it was, everybody thinks they're exaggerating. They are the only ones who can see the ghost of the scars that were inflicted upon them.
- Jacky Johnson, 15, will be a sophomore at Seminole High School.