If you’re living with a serious health condition, you face challenges that your friends can’t even comprehend. You’d think your classmates would cut you some slack. Sadly, that is not the case. Being teased for a difference that already limits you is just mean, but we all know that kids can be cruel. Study after study after study backs this up, showing on average that young people with disabilities and health problems are 15% more likely to be the victims of bullying than their healthy peers.

Most studies show it’s about being different. “Unfortunately, children who stand out in any way, because of their health, their race, their orientation, or anything else that distinguishes them from most kids in a school, can find themselves a target of bullying,” said Mark Schuster, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, in an article for The Center for Advancing Health.

The fact is that adults should be taking care of you at school and ensuring that you aren’t the victim of bullying due to your illness. But the fact ALSO is, that’s not always what happens. You may need to address your own bullying, even if it’s by helping a trusted adult appreciate the extent of the problem. I know it’s not fair! But it’s also the truth. Here is a list of ideas that you can use to keep from being a victim of bullying.

  • Bullying is NOT YOUR FAULT. Many young people who are bullied feel ashamed and the shame keeps them from telling trusted adults. Being bullied doesn’t mean you’re weak and asking for help doesn’t mean you’re helpless. Sometimes a trusted adult can help you solve the problem, even if it’s just talking through your best course of action.
  • Stand up not only for yourself, but for others as well.
  • Find time to talk about the school day with a trusted adult — not just about any bullying that may be going on, but just about the day and how you feel about it. Keeping this line of communication open will help you use it when you need it most.
  • Tell the truth as you see it. Any bullying is bad enough to be taken seriously. There’s no need to describe a push as a punch, or make interactions seem any worse than they really were.
  • Learn more about your illness or disability. If your are confident in explaining your health challenge or disability, you will be better equipped to help others understand, even bullies.
  • Instead of just putting your head down and taking it, be proactive in trying to resolve the situation. Keep your trusted adults informed, but do everything you can do on your own — knowing that adults have got your back if you need it!
  • It may be easier to talk about a problem once you’ve had chance to get your feelings out. Consider talking to a counselor, either inside or outside of school, or try getting your feelings out through art or writing before starting an emotional discussion with a supportive adult.

As much as we wish school would just handle the people who bully you because you’re different, that just might not be the case. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but you may have to help your school take the problem seriously, either by working proactively with your bullies or by helping trusted adults see the extent of the problem. By addressing your bullying, you can help to create a community of tolerance for yourself and for others with a difference, be it illness or anything else.

Sheri Sobrato
Sheri is a 30-year brain cancer survivor and founder of the nonprofit Digging Deep.