In sixth grade, Paige Rawl told her best friend that she was born HIV-positive. Within days her entire school knew and Rawl’s life would never be the same. Cruel names fueled by ignorance and misunderstanding began to follow Rawl through the halls and it wasn’t long before the stress became too much. Then Rawl took control, taking a story that could’ve ended tragically and becoming a spokesperson for HIV, AIDs, and bullying. While traveling the country and lobbying for stricter laws to prevent bullying, the now-19-year-old Rawl also took the time to write a memoir aptly named Positive—a recognition of both her HIV status and her overall attitude towards the world around her. Here, Rawl shares a list of her seven best tips for helping kids deal with bullies and overcome negative experiences.
1) Tell a teacher, trusted adult, or administrator
It’s not right for anyone to bully for any reason, and it’s not something that should be handled lightly. Telling someone about what is happening is the first step. Parents, teachers, administrators, or counselors are all there to help you. Do not worry about the bully getting revenge, the adults in your life are there to protect you. If the first person you tell doesn’t listen, or dismisses your fears, tell someone else. Keep telling until someone does something about it.
2) Stand up for others
If you see someone else being bullied at school or anywhere else, then it is important to do what you can to stop it. If you feel safe in doing so, step in and tell the bully that what he or she is doing is wrong. If you don’t feel safe, find an adult and tell them what’s going on. Stopping the bully can quite literally save a life. That’s why speaking up against this behavior, even when it isn’t directed at you, is so very, very important.
3) Find a coping mechanism
Bullying is something that a person lives with for the rest of his or her life, and it can have long lasting effects on the victim. Even though I was out of the [middle] school where I endured the bullying, I was most in danger from bullying during my high school years because I hadn’t really dealt with what I had been through. Speaking and sharing my story became a way for me to cope with all that happened. Finding the thing that gets you through—whether it’s a sport or physical activity like dancing, a hobby you can immerse yourself in, or a counselor you can really feel comfortable unloading to—it is incredibly important to find that go-to thing that will get you through hard times.
4) Don’t react to the bullies
Bullies say and do things because they are looking for a response from you. If you get upset in front of bully or you say mean things back to him or her, then the bully is getting what he or she wants. But if you just walk away and continue to live your life the way you want to live it, eventually the bully won’t say or do the things he or she was doing. It is hard, and this shouldn’t be the ONLY way you deal with a bully, but it can certainly be PART of an effective strategy for getting bullies to leave you alone.
5) Don’t blame yourself
In the beginning, when I first began being bullied due to my HIV status, I would wonder whether I deserved what was happening. I brought myself down really low thinking that maybe somehow I did. But the truth was there was nothing wrong with me. No one deserves to be bullied for any reason—not because of what they have, or don’t have, or what they look like, or what they do, or anything. HIV does not define who I am. Be proud of the person you are despite what the bully says.
6) Find support
Pulling friends, family, and other kids that like the things you do in close around you can be a great support during hard times. Be sure you are surrounded by people you can trust, who you can talk to about what’s going on and express how you feel. During the bullying that I endured, it helped to know that I had my mother there to talk to, along with close friends who were on my side. It’s okay to reach out for help. If you look around, you do have people who love and care for you for who you are despite what the bully says.
7) Become an advocate
As someone who was bullied, I turned my negative experience into a positive by telling my story and speaking for those who don’t yet have the courage to do so themselves. I have chosen to take a very public stand against bullying. You can too. You can become an advocate against bullying by joining an anti-bullying group or helping to organize a bullying awareness and prevention campaign in your school or neighborhood.
Paige Rawl is an accomplished speaker and an inspirational figure for the tens of thousands of kids to whom she has spoken. Today, Paige is a national youth advocate, anti-bullying crusader, and powerful HIV/AIDS educator. Paige has been featured in multiple national media outlets, including USA Today, People magazine, Seventeen magazine, Nick News with Linda Ellerbee, the Huffington Post, and Poz magazine. Since Paige was eight years old, she has participated enthusiastically in pageants. Most recently, Paige was Miss Indiana Teen Essence 2011 and Miss Indiana High School America 2012. She is currently a student at Ball State University, where she plans to study molecular biology.