News Kids and Teens Magazine

October 2010


 By Laurie Wink

A group of students attending a summer camp in Michigan learned some unusual skills. They found out how to stop bullying behavior, including their own.

They are among a growing number of teens who are learning to be part of the solution to bullying by forming Stop Bullying Task Forces. The teen task force approach was developed by Hey U.G.L.Y. (Unique, Gifted, Lovable You). The nonprofit organization is dedicated to empowering young people ages 9 to 19 to counter issues such as bullying through self-esteem building programs.

Dalia Vitkus, an MA in Criminal Justice and counselor for the Lithuanian Sea Scouts works with 15- and 16-year-old girls. She initiated Hey U.G.L.Y.’s Stop Bullying Task Force Program with her group at summer camp and was amazed to see how quickly the girls were able to apply their new anti-bullying skills.

“There was a bullying situation occurring with the younger girls at camp,” explained Vitkus. “The 10- and 11-year-old girls were picking on others, being mean and unfriendly. One of the young girls was even brought to tears. My newly formed Stop Bullying Task Force presented a one-hour session of what they had learned about bullying to the young girls. The bullying stopped and they are now able to help their peers see that bullying is not cool.”

In another incident at camp, a Stop Bullying Task Force member named Vicky stood up to some boys who were being disrespectful to adult leaders, and his behavior was beginning to spread. According to Vitkus, the boys, surprised that one of their peers was standing up to them, listened to Vicky, changed their behavior, and everyone was able to relax and enjoy the gathering.

“She was so excited to tell me how it worked,” said Vitkus. “It was something she had ownership of.”

After completing Hey U.G.L.Y.’s three-hour Stop Bullying program, Vicky said it taught her that everyone is different and that’s okay. She is more aware of not using her first impressions to judge people.

“How we differentiate ourselves among others is really the way we connect,” Vicky said. “All of our unique qualities are what bring us together, and makes us friends in the end.”

Vicky said her Hey U.G.L.Y. Stop Bullying Task Force talked to the younger girls about how they were all sisters and needed to respect each other. They taught the younger girls about the importance of teamwork and kindness in a group.

“After playing some fun team building games, you could see a massive improvement with the girls’ attitudes towards one another,” Vicky said.

Vitkus’ task force, who named themselves “Keepers of the Baltic” and all other task forces who complete Hey U.G.L.Y’s program become certified to teach younger kids and conduct stop bullying presentations. They also receive a copy of the Stop Bullying Handbook, a T-shirt, certificate and office Stop Bullying Membership Card.

Betty Hoeffner, co-founder and president of Hey, U.G.L.Y., partnered with students and teachers to create the “Hey, Stop Bullying Emotional Learning Activity Plan (ELAP) that Vitkus used to facilitate the training. Hoeffner and her founding task force created National Stop Bullying Day which is celebrated annually on the second Wednesday of February according to Chases Calendar of Events.

The easy-to-use and quickly assimilated program was designed to give teens a voice against bullying. It’s been successful because students teach each other how to stop bullying and give each other courage to be part of the solution.

“The teens empower themselves to take action against bullies, whether they are the victim or they see someone else being victimized,” said Hoeffner who is the author of the Stop Bullying Handbook-A Guide for Students and Their Friends. “They also are able to curb their own bullying and self-bullying behaviors while learning what to do if they see bullying happen to someone else.”

“According to parenting expert, Dr. Michele Bora, “On a school campus we know there’s about 85% of kids we call bystanders. They’re the missing link, the silent majority.”

Hoeffner wants to mobilize the Bullying Bystanders by uniting them through Bullying among kids is nothing new, but Hoeffner said it has grown into one of the most critical issues facing students at all grade levels throughout the nation. She cites a CDC report that shows 864,000 students staying home one day a month because they fear for their safety. Another national survey of students in grades 6-10 shows 13 percent reported bullying others and 11 percent reported being the target of bullies.

Bullying can take the form of name calling, pushing, and dirty looks, fighting and spreading rumors. Experts say the facts are troubling, because bullying too often leads to violence, loss of self-esteem, depression and even suicide.

No one understands the critical need to stop bullying more than Hoeffner who almost lost a teen to suicide.

“Not only are the bullied suffering, but also the bullies,” explained Hoeffner. We designed our program to help both self-discover ways to feel good about themselves and each other.”

“I believe that by providing kids the opportunity to experience the Hey U.G.L.Y. Stop Bullying Program, they can be empowered to respect others and make better choices,” noted Vitkus. “This program can work as a tool to prevent kids from seeking crime and becoming entangled within the Juvenile Criminal Justic