Almost 3 days have passed since Katie Couric’s “Katie” show on October 2, 2012 about “Bullying: A National Epidemic”. By now Katie Couric’s San Diego guests Katie Uffens, her mother Giselle Uffens, West Branch’s guests Whitney Kropp, her mother Bernice Kropp, and her audience have moved on.
By having had legal analyst Dan Abrams and psychologist Jennifer Hartstein on the “Katie” show, Katie Couric not only personalized the topic of bullying but also provided the studio and television audience with legal and psychological advice. However, none of those shared experiences and advice from the “Katie” show will make a difference in the life of children with special learning needs or children that are unique unless the show’s meaningful message can continue to be heard.
How did Whitney win the fight against her bullies?
1. Feeling the pain
When 16-year-old Whitney Kropp first found out on Facebook that her nomination to the homecoming court was just a big joke, she was devastated, crushed, had thoughts of suicide. “I felt like, you know, I should just end my life right here, right now. In this situation I thought I was not worth anything in anyone’s eyes.”
Like her daughter Whitney, Bernice Kropp was devastated. “My heart broke…. [unable to continue to speak for a moment]. Because of the actions of a few people I could have lost my daughter.”
During the “Katie” show, Whitney’s and her mother’s tears clearly reflected the anguish that results from bullying. Being able to feel that pain, acknowledging it, and sharing it, is a crucial step in dealing with a bullying experience. Unless a pain is felt and expressed, it easily can become a catalyst for an action turning inward (suicide) or an action turning outward (bullying others).
2. A parent’s advice: How was your mom able to help you?
After Whitney’s and her mother’s emotional sharing with the “Katie” show audience, Katie Couric asked Whitney, “Your mom was amazing throughout this process. How was your mom able to help you, Whitney?”
Whitney: “My mom has actually given me a lot of good advice throughout this and plus she helped me, you know, figure out, like, things I can do with my dress, hm, ways to actually get my hair done and just was really there for me.”
Katie Couric [to Whitney’s mother]: “In the force of this, Bernice, you convinced Whitney to take part in the homecoming festivities. Why do you think that was an important thing for her to do?”
Bernice: “She was just so excited about it from the beginning of the school year. About getting to go to the dance and, you know, the game and the dance and everything and I just thought how awful for a bunch of kids to take that away from her. You know, you should go and you should do it. Who cares what those kids think.”
3. Teens need to hear/feel support but make their own choices
No matter how well-meaning a parent’s advice is, part of a teenager’s life is learning to make one’s own decisions and learning to think about the consequences that those decisions might bring. No matter how much parents wish that they could take their teen’s pain away, the reality is that even learning to deal with bullies is part of growing up. As Whitney’s story continues, the importance of that process for a teen’s personal growth becomes clear.
After Bernice’s words, “Who cares what those kids think”, Katie Couric commented: “And that was a really brave thing to, to say and certainly a brave thing for you [directed to Whitney] to do. But Whitney, were you really at first, like, mom, are you out of your mind?
Whitney: “Hm. No. I wouldn’t think that because one, my mom is not nuts – [Katie Couric and the audience laughed and Katie Couric said: “You are probably one of the few teenage girls who would say that about her mom.”] Well, the reason why I’m not saying that is because my mom has actually been supportive with not only me, but like with the rest of the family. So I’m actually glad that she had encouraged me to go because I actually did have a blast.”
Katie Couric: “Well, at first though, when she [your mother] suggested that as a possibility. You must have had to mull it over, right?”
Whitney: “I had to think about it overnight. Because, you know, I thought what are the outcomes of me going. Like, am I gonna get even teased about it. Am I gonna get threats or have people tell me to get out of the dance? So it took me a little bit to think about it. But, I’m, like, why even, you know, not even go. I mean, it’s just, be – to their [the bullies] eyes, they got what they wanted; to feel, to have power in them.
Katie Couric: “And, so you thought, – I’m not gonna let them win.You’re gonna go, right?”
Whitney: “I’m like, you know, I’m not this little dog toy that you just throw around to give to your dog. I’m not this joke that you people think I am. And – ashamed of them for even thinking that. Cause now, with this going on, I feel a lot stronger than I have ever been before.”
The above conversation between Katie Couric and Whitney during the “Katie” show was insightful because it shows a teen’s thought process of coming from “Why me?” to “I feel a lot stronger”. This thought process of one teen, based on a mother’s support, might just be the necessary thought process for any teen in order to successfully deal with a bullying experience.
4. For every departure, there is a new arrival: Where the power of parents ends, the power of a community begins
As teenagers break away from home, a part of a natural process of becoming an adult, they are not just departing from one world but also arriving in another world; the world of a local, national, and global community.
Katie Couric: “And were you worried, Bernice, about having Whitney go to the game or go to the dance and be, you know, ostracized or teased or worse?”
Bernice: “Yeah, I was. I was, when she told me the next morning that she was going. I just thought, oh, oh no, OK I told her, I said, that’s fine if that’s what you wanna do. And in my head I just thought [took a deep breath] – I hope this goes good. If it doesn’t, we’ll just, we’ll have to take care of it at the time. You know, we’ll have to console her and do what we have to. But – [swallows]”
Katie Couric: “When you talked about being supported by people all around you. And, in fact, your town of West Branch, Michigan, population 21,000, really rallied behind you once they heard your story. Let’s take a look….”
In the video that followed, Whitney’s and her mother’s surprise at the support provided by the community were heart-warming. After Whitney’s older sister Olivia, a senior at Whitney’s high school, had posted something on a Facebook page about how her little sister was being treated at school, a chain reaction of kindness began that eventually led to Whitney’s story getting national attention.
Whitney received from the community:
- 126,000 Likes on Facebook with supportive comments from across the world
- supportive letters arrived from all over the country
- flowers arrived from Beijing, China
- local businesses asked what they could do and donated a beautiful gown, footwear, a tiara,
- another local business took care of hair, nails, make-up, turning Whitney into a princess
- another family donated dinner at a fancy restaurant for the big night
- a couple from Washington DC donated a stretch hummer limousine
For Whitney, the support was overwhelming. Despite her last minute fears about what would happen, it was that kind of community support that gave her the courage and the strength to walk onto the football field in front of the whole student population. She was greeted with applause and admiration by her peers.
Katie Couric: “But this really is a Cinderella story because after hearing about what happened, her town rallied and made sure she’d become the Belle of the Ball….She walked right across the football field looking awesome.”
In her final words to Whitney and Bernice, Katie Couric said, “I really comment you [to Bernice] for taking action the way you did and encouraging Whitney. And Whitney, I comment you for having the guts and the strength to go and face people that were being cruel to you and for, you know, for telling them that they are not going to define you as a person.”
5. A teen’s identity and strength: The Power of Compassion
Children should never be defined by the action of others but through the actions of parents, siblings, and a supportive community. What children learn at home from their mothers and fathers is what they take with them into the wider world. Even though Whitney’s mother, Bernice Kropp, was “scared to death” of what might happen to her daughter once she walked onto that football field or into the homecoming dance, she had already given her daughter everything that she needed.
During the entire “Katie” show it was evident that Whitney was defined by the strength and values of her mother Bernice.
Katie Couric to Bernice Kropp: “Whose responsibility is it to stop bullying in general?”
Bernice Kropp answered:
“I think it’s everybody’s responsibility. I hear a lot of, you know, it starts at home, it’s the school’s fault. No, you know what, we can be awesome parents but when our kids walk out of the house and into the world they’re gonna do what the world lets them do. So I think everybody needs to pay attention to it. The teachers need to pay attention, you know, everybody. It’s not just what happens at home or what happens at school. If we don’t all start rallying together to take care of these kids, we’re never gonna get control of it.”
Katie Couric: “Now, what about investigating this [the bullying] and try to figure out who was behind this and why this happened to Whitney. I understand you didn’t want that to take place. How come?”
Bernice Kropp answered:
“When I talked to the superintendent, it was 4 or 5 days after the incident happened and at that point we had a lot of media attention. And I just, you know, I saw the attentions that she [Whitney] was getting and how hard it was for her with getting a positive feedback. And I thought if the names of these kids should ever get out, I couldn’t imagine how devastating that would be to these kids. You know, they would be getting a negative impact and how awful, you know. So if you don’t investigate, – you don’t know, I don’t know, and it can’t go anywhere, you know.“
While there are many instances were bullying needs to be pursued and the bullies made accountable for their actions, in Whitney’s bullying experience, the justice did not have to come from any superintendent, any school, or any police, but by the compassion of a family and a local, national, and global community.
This deep sense of compassion for others expressed by Bernice Kropp (even for her daughter’s bullies) is a compassion that is desperately needed for special education students and for any unique individual. The power of compassion as a force that is stronger than bullying is hopefully the lesson and the lasting legacy of Tuesday’s “Katie” show that will live on long after the show has been forgotten.
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