Between the years 2012-2014, Kurt J. Kolka wrote a series of news articles on the subject of modern bullying. This was partly due to the fact media reports of bullying and child suicide were growing and he also had been bullied for about 10 years as a public school student, a problem which was never resolved. In August 2014, Kurt published a book on bullying called "Bullying Is No Laughing Matter" through Front Edge Publishing LLC. The book featured comics and stories of bullying by well-known cartoonists.
To Kurt's amazement, many people came forward to share their bullying stories with him, including childhood neighbors, who he did not know were being bullied at the same time as he was.
Kurt has also put on anti-bullying presentations for both parents and kids. He continues to enlighten people today through articles, personal appearances and book signings.
A website for the book, "Bullying Is No Laughing Matter," was created by Read the Spirit, LLC. It features comics and testimonies by a variety of cartoonists from varying backgrounds.
Bullying leads one survivor into a counseling career
By Kurt J. Kolka, (Published Jan 16, 2014)
GAYLORD — In the year since she began her private practice in Gaylord, Kristin Lubs Eagle has seen a number of clients who suffer from the affects of bullying.
As a counselor, she can empathize with what they are going through. Part of what led to her to her career is the fact she was bullied herself.
“It was in fourth grade,” Eagle said. “I grew up in Elmira and went to (Elmira Elementary School).”
She was tall for her age and a boy in her class began calling her “Mama Moose.”
“If it had been a one-time event, I probably would have forgotten it,” Eagle said. “But he kept doing it.”
According to experts, one of the hallmarks of bullying is the target is repeatedly harassed by the bully. The constant attacks wear down the victim.
“Our self-esteem is in a constant state of flux,” Eagle said. “It can be elevated or even crushed, depending on those who interact with the victim. I was embarrassed by what he was saying, so, I couldn’t tell my parents.”
She already felt awkward about being taller than other kids. His words amplified those feelings.
“Our culture also tends to place a lot of blame on the victim in situations like these,” Eagle said.
She did eventually tell the playground supervisor, who happened to be the boy’s mother. The mother, however, passed off her son’s behavior as simple teasing.
While the boy didn’t stop, the bullying then became more covert.
Eagle began developing physical symptoms because of the stress of having to see the boy every day and his repeated taunts. Stomachaches became a regular occurrence, keeping her out of school.
Her experience finally reached its pinnacle when the boy took her yearbook photo, altered it to make her look like a cow and passed it around to other students.
Psychologists have noted the victims of bullying tend to develop a pattern of feelings: frustration, hurt or rejection and fear. When they are unable to vent these feelings, the feelings lead to the secondary emotion of anger. During this phase, the target may withdraw, during which they either suppress or repress their feelings. This can sometimes lead to sudden outbursts.
If the situation is not resolved, the anger becomes bitterness or resentment, which then can lead to depression. It is at this stage when the affects of bullying may become deadly.
Eagle’s parents became concerned with a change of attitude toward school and her repeated stomachaches. They arranged for her to speak with the school counselor, Robin Little. While Eagle didn’t reveal who was bullying her, she did tell Little about the incidents. Little was able to help Eagle better deal with the situation.
“People need outlets — whether it’s sports, art, music,” Eagle said. “One of the ways I try to help others in counseling is through art journaling workshops. First, it helps them get their feelings out. Then, this helps us take a look at what they are dealing with from a different perspective.”
Family and friends can have a huge impact of the targets of bullies, as well. Just showing the victim that others care for them and want to spend time with them can help them keep going and prove not everyone feels the same way about them that the bully does.
Everything became easier when Eagle attended middle school in Gaylord and she had a larger well of people to draw friends from. Yet, even then, some of the effects from that fourth-grade year persisted.
“Other people often referred to me as being the shy one in the family,” Eagle said. “Really, it was anxiety which held me back. Life was different after I dealt with that.”
Eagle went to counseling years later and her positive experience with that in dealing with results of having been bullied, led her to becoming a counselor herself.
“Counseling is a great tool,” she said. “We can develop these false thoughts and we need to see outside of this. A counselor can help.”
Taking that step toward getting counseling is huge for people, notes Eagle.
“It takes a lot of trust to go for help,” she said.
Eagle says dealing with the affects of bullying takes time. The length of time it takes for a person to be able to deal with what they have gone through often depends where they are at. Victims who are still in the anger phase will take less time dealing with the issue than someone who has progressed to the depression stage.
A person’s individual psychological makeup also has an impact on how bullying affects individuals. There are those who can let another person’s comments roll off their back. Others take them in. Learning to deal with bullying and the bully requires knowledge and practice for those in the latter group.
People are hearing about bullying regularly in the media today, usually after something horrific has occurred. Yet, it doesn’t have to reach that point.
As Eagle says, victims of bullying need to report it immediately. Parents and other adults who work with children need to investigate sudden changes in their children’s demeanor. Help is available for children and adults who have been affected by bullying — no matter how many years have passed.
Eagle has her own website for her counseling services, www.pointofpeace.com, and has written some blogs on bullying in the workplace to assist those dealing with that issue.
Gaylord man comes to grips with being bullied as a youth
By Kurt J. Kolka (Published Oct 17, 2013)
GAYLORD — "I’m gonna get you!”
Those words from a sixth-grade bully echoed in the mind of Tim Morgridge for three decades, impacting his life, choices and relationships.
The bully never harmed Morgridge physically, but those threats kept haunting him.
“You’re always looking back behind you,” notes Morgridge, a 55 year-old Gaylord resident, about his reaction to the childhood threats.
In school, Morgridge was shy and always had a love for art. He became known at Gaylord High School as Elbow Joe, after a cartoon character he created.
When it came to the bullying incident, he kept it to himself. The feelings of perpetual fear it caused grew over the years. Other negative comments people made to him also added to this emotional burden he carried.
“I never felt like I was good enough,” he said.
He went on to art school, but the feelings of inferiority led to drug and alcohol abuse.
“I married my (now) ex-wife and her dad was a preacher,” Morgridge said. “When I was about 21, this one Sunday he did this sermon on the mind of an artist. I felt something pulling at me (spiritually).”
Shortly afterward, Morgridge gave his life over to Jesus Christ.
His father-in-law became his mentor in faith. When Morgridge had a question, instead of giving him a simple answer, his father-in-law handed Morgridge a Bible and concordance and told him to look it up for himself. His confidence grew and he even gave a sermon at one point.
Then, his father-in-law became ill with cancer and soon passed away. Faced with more pain, Morgridge returned to drinking and drugs. Despite various attempts to stop, he just couldn’t completely break free of his addictions. In time, he and his wife divorced. His life fell apart.
“Every time I started being successful, I would sabotage it,” Morgridge said.
After having spent many years in the South, Morgridge returned to Gaylord and ended up in the hospital because of his addictions.
At that point, he felt God saying to him, “You know, Tim, you can keep going in this direction or you can follow me. You need to decide.”
A short time later, a friend, Gary Chappell, talked to Morgridge about the Celebrate Recovery program, a biblically based, 12-step program aimed at helping people recover from all kinds of “hurts, habits and hang-ups.”
“Everybody has hurts, habits and hang-ups. This is a program for everyone,” Morgridge said.
The program was created to help people struggling with issues such as relationship difficulties, dysfunctional families, anger, depression, anxiety, perfectionism, sexual addictions, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, chemical dependency, co-dependency and other types of emotional/mental struggles which people tend to keep hidden.
The program asks participants questions and helps them to take an inventory of their lives.
Celebrate Recovery was created by the Rev. Rick Warren (author of “The Purpose-Driven Life”) and the Rev. John Baker to assist people in experiencing healing by sharing experiences, strengths and hopes through group interaction. However, while sharing is encouraged, it is not required.
Morgridge says it was the program’s questions that helped him to realize how significant of an event the sixth-grade bullying had been.
Once realizing where these feelings came from, he could then deal with them, forgive those involved and realize that others’ words didn’t make him a bad person.
“I don’t beat myself up anymore,” he said.
Today, Morgridge is a maintenance person for a local apartment complex. In his spare time, when he can find it, he still enjoys drawing and painting.
He has even illustrated a book called “Eaten” by author Charles M. Bump.
He has become one of the leaders in the local Celebrate Recovery program in Gaylord. He is also a volunteer member of Northern Michigan Substance Abuse Services, which provides peer recovery coaches for those trying to stay clean from drugs and alcohol.
He also has a soft spot in his heart for those affected by bullying. Whenever he sees it happening, he steps in to end it, talking to both the bully and the victim.
Morgridge says bullying is a serious problem today. Kids are still afraid to tell adults. Adults tend to deny that it goes on until something serious happens.
“Bullying is like this big pink elephant that everybody sees but nobody wants to talk about,” Morgridge said. “It’s like child abuse used to be.
“(As adults) we see things differently than a child. We have many things going on. If we have problems going on in one area, we can say, ‘OK, but that’s just one area.’ If a child is struggling with a term paper, it’s huge to them. School is their life. Adults forget that.”
Morgridge says he’d like to see a support group eventually set up for kids or teens as a way for them to get their feelings out regarding issues like bullying.
The local Celebrate Recovery group meets from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays at CrossPoint Church, 1499 M-32 East. Participants spend an hour eating and enjoying each other’s company, another hour in music and a lesson, and the final hour in discussion, with men and women in separate groups.
Baby sitters are available for parents. All area adults are welcome to attend. Guests do not have to be affiliated with a church or have any religious belief.
More information can be found on its Facebook page, Celebrate Recovery — Gaylord, Michigan.
A counselor’s advice for bully victims: Don't suffer in silence
Kurt Kolka (Published Oct 31, 2013)
GAYLORD — In her experiences helping others as a counselor at Catholic Human Services in Gaylord, Pam Morgridge has found often those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction will note having been bullied as a key factor in why they began experimenting with substances in the first place.
When it comes to bullying, Morgridge says both children and adults should “act immediately.”
The counselor has seen the impact bullying can have on lives.
Its effects on children and teens can be spotted early. Short-term effects of bullying can include depression, anxiety (especially related to activities with others), low self-esteem, trouble sleeping including nightmares, physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches, bedwetting, drops in grade average and higher absentee levels from school.
Bullying, however, isn’t just a school issue.
Bullying can occur anywhere children or teens gather. It can happen at sporting events, club meetings, religious gatherings and in a family’s neighborhood.
The longer bullying is allowed to go on, the more drastic its effects become. Longer-term effects on the victim can include chronic depression (possible thoughts of suicide), post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia (perceiving certain environments as dangerous), generalized anxiety disorder (excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry about everyday things), panic disorder, self-destructive behaviors such as cutting, anorexia, bulimia, obesity and higher risk for alcohol and drug abuse.
While bullying has always been an issue with children, the tactics used can change from generation to generation.
“It’s less likely the kid on the playground trying to get someone’s lunch money,” said Rance Charboneau, officer with the Gaylord City Police Department. “Today, bullying is much more covert. It tends to be not one kid bullying another. Often it like a group of girls bullying one girl.”
Rather than fighting, a lot of physical bullying today is likely to involve quick actions that aren’t likely to be caught by adults. Common types of physical bullying are hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping, pushing, taking or breaking someone’s things, and making mean or rude hand gestures.
Most of today’s bullying, however, tends to be verbal or social rather than physical.
Verbal bullying is very common and includes teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting or threatening to cause harm.
Social bullying involves using other people in the bullying. This would include leaving someone out on purpose, telling others not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone and embarrassing someone in public. Often, people do not recognize these actions as a form of bullying.
Cyberbullying is part verbal and social, combining the word tactics used in verbal bullying with the humiliation aspect of social bullying.
Perhaps the most difficult issue with solving the bullying problem is the victims often don’t speak up. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has concluded less than 40 percent of those being bullied will tell anyone.
“Kids don’t want to be targeted,” Morgridge said. “They may fear more bullying will occur as a result of telling someone. It’s also an issue of low self-esteem. Instead, victims tend to isolate themselves. They may also find it difficult to trust others enough to report it.”
Morgridge says because of the silence of victims, adults really need to be involved. Those who work with children should watch the interaction between them.
According to the U.S. government Web site, StopBullying.gov, children who are bullied often have certain risk factors. These include:
• Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school or being unable to afford what kids consider “cool”
• Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
• Are depressed, anxious or have low self-esteem
• Are less popular than others and have few friends
• Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking or antagonize others for attention
However, the Web site also reminds people even if a child has these risk factors, it doesn’t mean that they will be bullied. And even kids without these risk factors can be bullied.
“If you see bullying occurring, act immediately,” Morgridge tells parents. “Separate the children. Get the bully away from the victim.”
Adults should address the bullying behavior and tend to the victim. Let the victim know they are OK.
“The more the victim can talk, the better,” Morgridge said. “Counselors can help them develop some tools to deal with the situation.”
While counselors can be very helpful, just getting the victim to talk to adults about the problem has tremendous benefit. If the bullying happens in school, Morgridge encourages the parents and victim to talk with school counselors and work out a plan.
Morgridge says one of the best things parents, youth workers and school administrators can do is encourage the children and teens themselves to become involved. Children who step in and stand with the victim can usually defuse the situation. Then, report the incident to an adult.
“Again,” Morgridge said, ”act immediately.”
School works through challenges of curbing bullying
By Kurt J. Kolka (Published Oct 22, 2015)
JOHANNESBURG — Danica Nowak, guidance counselor at Johannesburg-Lewiston High School, is part of the team whose responsibility it is to handle bullying situations, especially the victim's needs. The principal handles disciplinary action with the person doing the bullying.
Nowak says she helps the victims to work on their self-esteem, teach them to stand up for themselves and work with them to develop new strategies of dealing with the problem, should it arise again. School administration also advises teachers to be on the lookout for potential problems.
"There are various techniques students can use to deal with bullying, and we explore what will work best for that particular student," Nowak said.
At JLHS, Nowak and Principal Curt Chrencik usually become aware of bullying issues by the students themselves. It's usually not the parents. Sometimes the victim will report the situation. Other times a bystander will.
"We always tell students, if they see someone being bullied, to first say something to the bully to get them to stop," Nowak said. "Then, walk away with the victim and contact an adult if needed."
Bullying education is part of Johannesburg-Lewiston's health program, which students are required to take. Through the classes an emphasis is placed on respecting others.
"That's the biggest way parents can help with this issue," Nowak said. "They need to teach their children to respect others at an early age."
It is easy for dislike of another child to become social bullying. Nowak says it is common to see children ignoring a certain child on purpose. When Nowak sees this, she makes sure she steps in to talk about what is happening.
Identifying bullying is not always an easy task, however. Teachers and administrators are not always aware of relationship histories. When bullying behavior is observed, school administrators must learn whether this is just some one-time event or has it been ongoing between the students.
Sometimes, even friends can become involved in disagreements that escalate. Other times, what appears to be bullying may be just friends fooling around. Understanding the relationship can make a difference in how the situation needs to be handled.
Bullying is defined as any behavior or gesture — written, verbal, graphic, physical (including electronically transmitted acts) — that is intended to harm another person.
Matt's Safe School Law, signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011, requires schools to investigate all reports of bullying, fill out reports on the incident and seek help for those involved.
"The teachers and faculty here care about students and whether they are safe," Nowak said. "It's important that students and parents report bullying to us, so we are aware of it and can handle the situation."
Matt’s Law changing schools’ bullying policies
Kurt Kolka (Published Dec 3, 2013)
GAYLORD — Local school districts have been making changes to their policies since Matt’s Safe School Law was signed into law two years ago this month.
Not only does the law require schools to have an anti-bullying policy but the policy must be submitted to the State of Michigan.
The establishment of the is law has meant sweeping changes for schools across Michigan.
“We have had an anti-bullying policy for many years,” said Brian Pearson, director of curriculum of special education for Gaylord Community Schools.
“We always made changes as needed with that. But this new law meant setting that aside.”
Pearson said adopting Matt’s Law meant identifying specific staff members at each school in the district and having them undergo extensive training with experts in the field. Then, those designated personnel were put in charge of training other members of the staff. Not only were teachers trained in what to look for, but any school personnel who interact with students, including bus drivers.
The anti-bullying policy within the school system is an ongoing program. The schools are not only to hold general assemblies annually but the designated staff members also make presentations to students in individual classrooms.
“The Board of Education adopted the policy,” Pearson said. “General guidelines were created for all of the principals to follow when dealing with the situation. The principals must act within those guidelines when addressing these cases.”
Once a bullying situation has been investigated and discipline has been handed out, the counselors at the school are to follow up with students involved, both the victim and the person doing the bullying, to make sure both are progressing in positive directions.
“Gaylord Community Schools wants to make sure its schools are safe and nurturing environments for all students,” Pearson said.