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When my daughter Morgan was eight years old, she became terrified of school. I found out it was because she was being bullied.
I was so anxious about her safety
Morgan began having stomach spasms and panic attacks. She felt too sick to eat dinner. Our pediatrician prescribed antidepressants and suggested that we remove her from the school. When I dropped her off in the mornings, I felt as though I could barely breathe—I was so anxious about her safety. But Morgan didn’t want to leave. She felt it was unfair to have to leave her school because one person was pressuring her out.
In the early days, she was very fragile. Our first challenge was to protect her, to let her know that she was valued. And heard. And believed.
Our next challenge was getting the school administrators to listen to us. They didn’t want to acknowledge any issues that would make the school look bad. But we were careful not to attack the school or the bully. We wanted to attack the issue.
I delved into research to understand Morgan’s rights and the legal protections against bullying. To fight for her, I needed to be informed. When we went to meet with school officials, I brought a three-ring binder.
Helping others was a way to release some of the pain
At first, we were really alone. Other parents were afraid to stand up with us. Even though they experienced many of the same things, they feared retaliation against their children. Gradually, we drew support, and the larger community rallied behind us.
We worked with Morgan to make sure she had a voice in all of this. We came to realize that she could use her voice for good and help other kids who have been bullied. Helping others was a way to release some of the pain.
Morgan’s journey has shaped who she is. Other kids now come to her in crisis. These kids are self-harming, or having panic attacks. She’s able to offer them encouragement because she’s been there. She served on the Kentucky governor’s task force to study bullying. She testified before the Kentucky legislature to support a bill that defines bullying. The bill now protects 640,000 public school students in the state. The Hasbro Toy Company just named Morgan one of their ten Community Action Heroes.
As a mother, my joy comes from seeing Morgan learn the difference she can make. She struggled at first to find her voice. But now, she knows the power of standing up. And when she does, she continues to build her resilience.
Susan Guess is SVP and marketing director for Paducah Bank. She earned degrees at Murray State and the University of Louisville. She is an anti-bullying activist: she and her daughter, Morgan, successfully lobbied for a law to protect 640,000 Kentucky students. They have started the Guess Anti-Bullying Fund and have been recognized nationally for their work.
Image Credit: Whitney Curtis/The Verbatim Agency for OptionB.Org