Cyberbullying. School shootings. Bullying causing teen suicides. These topics have merited recent news headlines, but parents, students, teachers, administrators, and former victims of school bullying still experience discomfort in discussing these issues. In 2003, bullying survivor Jodee Blanco told her harrowing story in Please Stop Laughing at Me, laying bare how she endured physical and emotional abuse, and how she eventually recovered. Since technology, particularly social media, has increased the incidents of bullying, Blanco has updated her book to include information on cyberbullying and provide additional resources for parents and teachers. While Please Stop Laughing at Me does not thoroughly address every bullying issue — and the reader may not agree with all of Blanco’s conclusions — it does provide valuable information on an often ignored subject.
Blanco devotes the majority of the book to describing how students — and in some cases, even teachers — bullied her from elementary school through high school. Reading her accounts of being cruelly taunted and physically assaulted makes for a horrifying read, and she holds back no details. While her well-intentioned parents try to help by taking her to psychiatrists and contacting the schools, they seem powerless to stop the constant abuse. When her mother and father tell her to simply ignore her taunters, Blanco concretely summarizes why this advice almost never applies. “Why must Mom continue pushing her grown-up logic on me?” Blanco asks. “Kids simply don’t think that way. Adults perceive the act of ignoring someone as a sign of power. Teenagers think it spells weakness with a capital W” (p. 194).
As the story progresses, Blanco narrates in aching prose her desperate attempts to fit in. She describes how she wanted to strike a “Faustian bargain” to let her have friends, even for one day. “All the cool people will race to share their secrets with me, and I’ll be the first person to be invited to the big party on Saturday night,” she writes. “In exchange, after my twenty-four hours are up, I let them do anything they want to me: beat me, spit at me, call me names . . . I would pay that price just to know the ecstasy of being liked and accepted for a single day” (p. 192).
Virtually everyone can relate to those feelings, but her pain and anger exceed a teenager’s typical insecurity. One can sense her rage, even now, when she describes undergoing psychotherapy: “It seems that if you are mean or cruel to another kid, that was ‘okay’ because it was just a normal part of growing up. If you are on the receiving end and allow it to bother you, you were the one who needs help. What kind of logic was that?” (p. 87)
Once Blanco graduated from high school, she experienced success in college and later established her own public relations firm. After deciding to go public with her story, she started a program, It’s NOT Just Joking Around, which involves speaking at schools throughout the country and leading seminars for students, teachers, and parents; even what she terms “Adult Survivors of Peer Abuse” attend these sessions, often telling their own stories.
Perhaps the most controversial points in the book occur at the beginning and end, where she describes how she attended her high school reunion. Her former tormentors suddenly become good friends, although she offers few details as to how this suddenly happened. She recommends “facing your fears” by attending such events, although it is doubtful that this advice would benefit all readers. Can former victims really become friends with someone who once relentlessly verbally and physically assaulted them? Blanco neglects to answer this question.
Please Stop Laughing at Me should be read by various groups — students in grades seven through twelve (certain scenes concerning sex, violence, and drugs may not be appropriate for younger audiences) will learn about how seemingly harmless “teasing” can damage someone for life. Bullying victims will relate to Blanco’s experiences and perhaps feel comforted by her pronouncement that “we’ll graduate soon and the wounds we’ve sustained at the hands of our classmates will eventually heal and become scars” (p. 212). Parents will not only gain insight into how their bullied children feel, they will learn to spot signs of abuse in their children and to deal effectively with the situation. The book also offers an opportunity for parents and their children to discuss bullying and for parents to teach their children not to victimize others.
Teachers and school administrators should also read Please Stop Laughing at Me, as it serves as a guide for identifying students who may be bullying victims. By looking into the mind of a victim, teachers and administrators will be better equipped to establish their own anti-bullying programs and better handle difficult situations with students and parents.
Unlike the 2003 edition, the 2010 version includes a reader’s guide offering additional resources for schools and parents. In addition, she explains her It’s NOT Just Joking Around seminars, providing information that may help schools form their own anti-bullying programs. While the book cover proclaims that this new edition includes information on cyberbullying, Blanco addresses the issue in only a few questions during an author interview. This vital issue deserves its own chapter and should be explored more thoroughly in future editions. Blanco relies solely on her own experiences, which is understandable, but it would be interesting to have a psychiatrist weigh in on why certain students bully others, or how victims can be affected into adulthood. The healing process is surely more complicated than Blanco describes, and an expert’s opinions on how such students can be helped would have been incredibly useful.
Blanco states that when one suffers abuse, “you can do one of two things. You can learn how to turn your pain into purpose and make a difference in the world, or you can allow it to extinguish the light inside you” (p. 213). Indeed, Please Stop Laughing at Me demonstrates just that, as Blanco clearly turned her negative experiences into a force for good. While her story — and recovery process — may not apply to everyone, it provides a valuable illustration of the long lasting damage bullying can inflict on someone. If nothing else, Blanco’s book may inspire other Adult Survivors of Peer Abuse to come forward with their stories, and elicit productive dialogue with all affected parties on this important issue.
For more information on Blanco and It’s NOT Just Joking Around, visit her website.