The life of a teenager is a difficult one. You’re subject to the rule of parents and teachers, you have limited freedom, you’re forced to spend the majority of your life at school, and through it all, you have to figure out how to navigate the treacherous waters of social pressures and constructs. Those factors on their own are enough to overwhelm anyone; add bullying to the mix and life can get tough quick.
Cameron Sanford realizes that teens have more than enough on their plate without having to deal with bullying. As a former 4‑H national healthy living youth ambassador, he’s invested much of his time and effort into bullying prevention. A 10-year 4‑H alumnus from Crockett County, Tennessee, he currently serves as youth correspondent advisor for National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) and national spokesperson for The Great American NO BULL Challenge. Add that to his workload at the University of Memphis in Tennessee, and his work at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and he has quite the full plate himself. Nonetheless, Cameron made time to answer some of our questions about bullying.
First, what is a bully? The stereotype is a physically domineering playground oaf taking kids’ lunch money. Is that pretty accurate, or are there other forms of bullying?
Cameron Sanford (CS): That is the stereotypical bullying we all think of, but one of the least common cases in today’s youth environments. The largest form of bullying these days is cyber bullying, which gives the bully a shield to hide behind. They can post mean comments on social media from anywhere without looking their victim in the eyes.
In your opinion, why do bullies bully?
CS: The biggest message I try to convey when facilitating workshops or speaking to youth is that we do not know what is going on in others’ lives. This goes for both the bully and the victim. Some people bully because they think it’s funny to see others in pain, some because they have been bullied and want to see the “other side,” and some people use bullying as a coping mechanism. I am not saying this gives anyone the right to bully, but I do like to point out that “bullies” are people too. We have to learn how to work with them to find the cause of the bullying and help both people involved.
What tips could you give someone who is the victim of bullying?
CS: Talk to someone! It seems so easy, but even I struggle with this simple task. I like to keep everything inside my head. I don’t know why, but at some point, I realized I just need to sit down and talk to someone about everything that is going on. Everyone has that one friend, teacher, coach, guardian, or mentor that you feel comfortable going to. Go to that person and just ask if you can talk. It might be one of the hardest things you have ever done, but you will feel so much better afterward. Also, many people believe that writing offers the same release as talking. Through writing, you can express your feelings on paper rather than having to verbally communicate them.
Bullying seems to be an epidemic problem found at every school in the country. Can we make a difference?
CS: When I started my 4‑H journey, I remember wanting to make a difference in the world, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to do that.
It wasn’t until many years later that I found my answer. We had a former 4‑H member from our community commit suicide. Soon after the tragedy, I dedicated the remaining years of my 4‑H career to help fight bullying and promote suicide prevention.
A few short years later, I decided to apply to become a national healthy living youth ambassador for National 4‑H Council. I felt that it could be my way of making a difference. Working for two years with amazing organizations like The Great American NO BULL Challenge, NOYS, Cartoon Network, W.S. Department of Education, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Biggest Loser, StopBullying.gov and Facebook, we reached nearly 10 million youth from across the world!
I was facilitating an elementary school workshop when one boy came up to me and said, “Cameron, I have been mean to this kid in my class because he is quiet. I didn’t know me being mean to him could hurt his feelings that much. Now I know. When I grow up, I want to be just like you and teach kids not to bully!” Those words from a 4th grader let me know for sure that I had made a difference!
The most important lesson I learned in 4‑H is no matter your age, no matter who you are, you can make a difference. Too often, adults perceive youth as little people who cannot impact society. Individuals who say that have likely never met a 4‑H member! We are the future, and as President Bill Clinton once said, “If every kid in America were in 4‑H, we’d have about half of the problems we’ve got.”
You’re clearly passionate about taking action to impact the world in a positive way. Any final words of wisdom for 4‑H members out there looking for their calling?
CS: You never know the difference you can make until you take the first step towards making that impact. Take the step, be the change agent in your community and express your passions! Today, as 4‑H members, we are tomorrow’s leaders. We will be the doctors, lawyers, senators, presidents and so much more. I believe in you, 4‑H believes in you, YOU believe in you!