October is National Bullying Prevention Month. It’s a vital time, considering about 1 in 5 students are impacted by some form of bullying in the United States. The effects that bullying have on victims can be seen in poor test scores, lower self-esteem, and a sense of isolation from their peers. In light of this isolation, the National Education Association estimates that 160,000 students skip school daily to avoid intimidating attacks from other kids.
Even after school, the mental and emotional implications of bullying could linger on a victim’s mind for life. There are those who have been bullied so much that they feel they have no other choice but to take their own lives in an attempt to escape. In fact, recent reports suggest that suicide rates among 10- to 14-year-olds have grown more than 50 percent over the last three decades.
It is important to shed light on these issues, as uncomfortable as they may be. It can be difficult to view tragedies such as these and consider them on an introspective level. But if we have any chance of making a positive change on a large scale, then it will have to start from within.
Elijah Beniman, sophomore at Statesboro High School, is no stranger to the impacts that bullying can have on a person’s life.
“I was bullied in sixth grade,” Beniman said. “I’ve always dressed different from most of my peers. My etiquette is different. My parents just raised me to be a gentleman.”
In essence, some people found it hard to relate to Beniman, which caused him to become the target of unnecessary bullying.
“By me being bullied in middle school I would bully other kids. One time, I got in trouble for it and I got sent to in-school suspension. As I was sitting there in trouble, something inside of me really did change. I just wanted to be better,” he said.
After some soul searching, Beniman decided to change his perspective. He shifted his stance from bully to protector.
Beniman admitted that seeing other people becoming victims of bullying was hurtful to him. He wanted to do something to help, so he started a bullying prevention organization at William James Middle School. Since then, he has received four certifications in bullying prevention and leadership. He has also carried his organization to the halls of Statesboro High, where a Bullying Prevention Department was established in 2018. It has different facets, including an SHS bullying prevention course that gives certifications to students and is applicable to college resumes.
“The goal behind the department is to spread awareness about the effects of bullying and how it can lead to much bigger things,” Beniman said.
Recently, the biggest impact that bullying has had on Beniman’s life was the death of a family friend that lived in Alabama. She was 9 years old when she committed suicide from being bullied.
“When I heard about it, I was devastated,” he said. “I feel like that has pushed me even harder to make sure no one else suffers that same fate.”
These days, Beniman distinguishes himself in hopes of helping others.
“I’m pretty sure I’m one of the only students at school who wears a nametag,” he said. “I try to wear it every day so that students will know who they can come to if they ever need me for anything.”
Outside of school, Beniman has started a community organization dedicated to raising awareness for the prevention of bullying. Composed of 14 teenagers, Beniman Stops Bullying is designed to recognize, address and put a stop to bullying.
Reflecting on all of the momentum he has gained since sixth grade, Beniman feels that he has truly found his purpose.
“I don’t know what my future holds, but I know it is going to be something similar to what I’m already doing. My favorite part in all of this is the people. I love hearing their stories and trying to help them. As long as I’m doing that, then I know I’ll be happy,” he said.
Of course, Beniman wouldn’t be where he is today without a strong support system of his own. Special thanks go to a long list of his family and friends, the sponsors of his organizations, his principles and teachers, and his mentors for always leading him in the right direction.
To find out how you can get involved with the prevention of bullying, visit stopbullying.gov, and always remember, as author Jennifer Dukes Lee said, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”