What is a bully? Pageant winner shares her personal story on school tour

Pageant winner Mikaela Carson toured two states sharing her anti-bullying message and organization ABLE — Anti Bullying Lifelines and Education — to help students deal with school bullies and to inspire bullies to change. 

Bernard Thomas, The Herald-Sun/AP
Miss Northeast Counties Mikaela Carson has been traveling in two states giving speeches during school assemblies about bullying. She's not the only pageant winner to take on bullying in schools. Here, Miss North Carolina Ashley Mills talks with a student at Hope Valley Elementary school in Durham N.C., during her anti-bullying tour in February.

Bullies are most-often thought of in a physical sense, a person who pushes others around and uses his or her size advantage to strike fear into others.

That kind of bullying continues today, and is joined by more subtle siblings that victimize many, and often without knowledge of those in positions to stop it.

Miss Northeast Counties Mikaela Carson knows this first hand. The Overland Park, Kan., resident said she was on the receiving end of social bullying throughout school. Good family support, she said, helped her through it, but when a family friend committed suicide as a result of bullying, she began to understand how widespread and deep the problem was.

"I realized how many people go through these things day, after day, after day," she said.

Carson participated March 17 in the Kirksville, Mo., St. Patrick's Day Parade and distributed material on ABLE — or Anti-Bullying Lifelines and Education — a grassroots effort she established to bring attention to bullying in its various forms and empower people to stop those behaviors.

"I want to empower young adults to not just say they won't be a bully, but understand when you see someone being victimized there is a moral obligation to help them," Carson said. "If you were in that situation, you'd want someone to help you.

"I really felt very strongly with my personal stake in this. It would ultimately be my goal that no one would have to experience the things that made my friend choose that way out."

Carson has presented at schools across Kansas and Missouri, working to educate youth on forms of bullying and related impacts. She closes each session by asking the students to sign an anti-bullying pledge in which they commit to be a "lifeline" to those in need.

"We hold to the belief that every individual has the right to live without fear of intimidation, slander or isolation regardless of their race, gender, religion, social standing, physical characteristics, sexual orientation or any personal traits or choices. We believe that we are indeed ABLE to make a difference and pledge to do our best in this endeavor," the pledge reads in part.

One student is invited to step forward at each presentation's close, to "get the ball rolling" and be first to sign the pledge. Carson recalled one such instance when a boy known as popular, athletic, and a bully, was the student who stepped up.

"For him to come forward and say, I know I've been doing this, I know this is wrong and I want to change my behavior now,' that's one of the most promising things I have seen," Carson said. "I really hope that him taking a stand would inspire others to do the same."

According to pacer.org, a product of the National Bullying Prevention Center, nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year in the United States, and 64 percent of those 13 million victims do not report the incidents.

One of Carson's top goals is to bring attention to social bullying, which she described as common among teenage girls. It often comes in forms like gossiping, spreading rumors, even hazing, with a group of people intentionally isolating another. In its most subtle forms, snickering while a person passes in the hall, or rolling eyes when looking in their direction, can all be bullying in this form.

"It's not necessarily physical contact, or name calling, but when you ignore or deny a person's existence," Carson said. "It can actually be more detrimental to self esteem than traditional forms of bullying."

Verbal and cyber bullying are other forms Carson notes, and said one of the most important things families can do to combat each of them is making it part of the conversation.

"The worst thing is silence," she said. "Silence is what allows these things to continue."

Carson is a nonprofit administration major at Lindenwood University. Her organization is online at www.able-antibullying.org and she can be emailed at mikaela.carson(at)yahoo.com.

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