The start of another school year fills some kids with dread. Being back in the classroom means facing their bullies once again.
So it’s a good time to catch up with Camille Paddock, to remind kids things can and do get better when they speak up.
Paddock, who turns 17 next month, was just a fourth grader when she developed alopecia areata. That’s an incurable condition where she loses patches of hair, and there isn’t anything she can do about it.
Despite knowing the hair loss was caused by a medical condition, certain girls were relentless in their jeers and jokes, Paddock recalls. This continued from one school year into another and another, until the day Paddock decided the only thing she could change was her attitude. Her silent suffering was over.
With the help of her mom, she set up a nonprofit and Facebook page — Cam’s Dare to Be Different — where she talks about bullying and offers support to other kids in the same position she’d faced. She makes herself available to talk or email other kids having a tough time.
Good things have happened to Paddock since she decided to end her silence. Now she’s regularly asked to give talks to students of all ages. The Huntley High School student — she’ll be a junior when classes resume — had given a talk to some incoming freshmen the day before I talked with her last week.
And it’s not just kids. She’s been asked to tell her story to administrators and teachers as well as to parent groups.
She urges kids to “stand up for themselves and find their passion.” If parents and school personnel need to be involved, make that happen.
Tough as it sounds, the first thing a person being bullied has to do is stand up to the bully. “Bullies are cowards. They bully because they are insecure or because they can,” Paddock says. Standing up to bullies “shuts them down right away.”
If other students jump in and let the bully know that behavior’s not cool, that helps quash it, too, she tells her audiences.
In her discussions with adults, she explains what to look for and what they can do to stop the bullying.
Kids often cry when hearing her story. Some ask if it’s true. (After all, what kind of wretched souls pick on someone with an illness?) It is. “There are a lot of emotions flowing out,” she says.
After listening to her, some who’ve been picking on others admit to Paddock that they hadn’t realized the impact of their actions. Even though hers is a hard story to tell, Paddock is glad to share it.
“It gives me a rush of adrenaline to inspire others.”
Other good things that have happened to Paddock: The Northwest Herald named her one of its Everyday Heroes. Paddock just was crowned Miss Huntley, which gives her another outlet for getting her message out. She’s writing a book.
One day she walked into a high school class and saw one of her former bullies. She reminded herself: “I’m not going to let her affect me anymore.” The class was fine; she forgot about that girl. If anyone was uncomfortable, it was the onetime bully.
Despite being busy with high school, Paddock will continue to speak out, because bullying is a serious situation. As she reminded an audience in one of her recent talks: “Words do hurt and they can kill.”
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