East Brunswick Boy Starts Anti-Bullying Campaign [SERIES]
From the time he was four years old, now 11-year-old Jonathan Seltzer endured years of being picked on, intimidated and bullied. "As a parent, it's hard enough to watch your child fall off of a bicycle or to get tackled on the football field or hurt, but to see your child being eaten from the inside out is very difficult to say the least," said Jonathan's father, Butch.
Armed with the state's new anti-bullying law and unwavering support from school officials, Butch and his wife, Dana have decided it's time to fight back, but they never realized how difficult that fight would be, "The school is doing its job in getting the anti-bullying message to the kids and it's still going on. When parents say it's kids being kids, it's boys being boys, well, there's another cliché too, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," said Butch.
"There have been four incidents this year alone and investigations have proven harassment, intimidation and bullying took place," said Seltzer. "We plan to file civil rights actions against the parents and the children in these cases." Why that extreme? "Because I just don't think that people are getting it. If we file civil actions, then maybe parents will begin to explain to their children that there are consequences and that it's not right."
Meanwhile, Jonathan continues to sing. He continues to post anti-bullying statuses on his facebook page. "My first post said, I want to make sure than every bully in the world hears that it is stupid, mean and ridiculous. This has to stop," said Jonathan. "I had so many kids respond to my post explaining how they too had been bullied, they too understood how I was feeling."
The more he read, the more confident he and his parents became that his message was beginning to be heard. "The principal told us that the bullying incidents have decreased considerably and he believes it's in direct correlation to Jonathan speaking out," said Butch.
The more he speaks, the better Jonathan feels about himself, "People can hate who I am. I'm just going to say you can hate my guts, I want to be best friends with you. I am the better person. I know who I am, you just don't know who you are," said Jonathan. "I want to see this through until bullying is no longer a problem for anyone."
Video by Dino Flammia
Jonathan Speaks To Board Of Ed About Bullying
He had been bullied for years and finally 11-year-old Jonathan Seltzer had enough.
The East Brunswick resident had been picked on one too many times. As he entered middle school this academic year, he was hoping the bullying would stop. But, on the second day of school, it started with derogatory comments from kids he didn't even know as he walked through the hallways. But rather than throw up the white flag of surrender, Jonathan decided to fight back. He went to a Board of Education meeting with his parents where he told his story.
"He talked about how he has stomach pains and how he cries and how he bites his fingers down to the point where they bleed," said his father, Butch.
The need to get out his message was much stronger than his fear. "Parents don't know how much the bullying affects kids. The idea that boys will be boys cannot stand," said Jonathan. When he was speaking, Jonathan noticed there were tears in the eyes of people in the audience. When the meeting ended, he couldn't get over the response. "People came up to me and told me they had been bullied too. I was able to see how the words I said affected them. At that point, I just said to myself, this is the beginning," he said.
A local newspaper happened to be in the audience and wrote an article on Jonathan's story. "He started getting letters from other kids who shared their stories and told Jonathan how they too had been bullied," said Butch.
With that recognition and sympathy and shared stories came power for Jonathan who has made it his goal to help others going through the same thing. "I'm me, deal with it. That has become my motto," said Jonathan. "When all of this started, I would sit in my room at night and try to figure out what I could do. I would constantly ask myself that question. The answer I came up with was to speak out about it."
"Speaking out about it and hearing from other kids who've gone through the same thing has helped me personally with my confidence and it has helped other people too. If just one bully understands my message and hears how stupid, idiotic and mean it is to bully, then it would be worth it. Everything that has happened up to this point and whatever continues to happen will be worth it," said Jonathan.
An aspiring actor and singer, Jonathan now uses his Facebook page to post inspiring videos of his singing and messages against bullying. He wants others to feel his strength and to realize that they no longer have to be victims.
Coming up tomorrow, the Seltzer family goes even further into their efforts to stop bullying.
Video by Dino Flammia
Bullying Begins And Jonathan Takes a Stand
We've all heard the tragic stories about young kids and teenagers being bullied to the point that they actually wind up hurting themselves because they just can't deal with the constant berating and torment any longer.
They are made to feel like their lives aren't worthy of living and that they have nothing to offer the world. They are dealing with so much pain that they feel like there is no way they can come out from under it. They often feel like they can't imagine a life where people aren't picking on them. One of the stories that received national attention involved Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who was videotaped during an intimate encounter with another man. Unfortunately, he committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. He was a young man, with the rest of his life ahead of him, whose life ended far too soon. As a result of his story and too many others like it, New Jersey has adopted some of the toughest anti-bullying laws in the nation.
It's a terrible tragedy when beautiful children are made to suffer such horrific pain at the hands of their peers. As the mother of a 10-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl, my heart goes out to these children and their parents who too suffer unimaginable pain as they watch their once 'happy-go-lucky' children start suffering from panic attacks, chest pains and stomach aches. The happiness they once saw in their child's eyes vanishes only to be taken over by a deep sadness and pain that any parent would take away in a minute if they only knew how. When I heard the story about this unbelievable 11-year-old boy from East Brunswick, I felt that I had to share his story. Over the next three days, you can hear my multiple-part series with Jonathan Seltzer.
Jonathan is not sitting down and taking it. He is not letting the bullies win. Somehow, somewhere, despite years of being the victim of multiple bullies, he has found the strength inside to fight back. When I sat down to speak with Jonathan, I was absolutely blown away by his maturity, his ability to articulate his story and his feelings, his strength and his determination to not only help himself handle this very difficult situation, but to help others in the same situation. Jonathan is now driven by his desire to keep other children from suffering the way he has. He wants to turn the tables on the bullies and make a genuine change not only in New Jersey, but nationwide.
It all started when Jonathan was 4-years-old. He went to a Jewish summer camp and didn't want to wear a yarmulke. When he arrived at camp, he was the only boy not wearing one. "As soon as I got to camp, all of the boys ran up to me and started yelling telling me I'm not really Jewish and I don't belong," said Seltzer.
That's when the bullying began. His parents, Butch and Dana, had no idea. "They would call me weird, they would say I was a girl and they would even call me gay. At the time, I thought it meant happy so I actually thought it was a compliment," he said.
He quickly learned the meaning and after being picked on relentlessly, he decided he didn't want to go to that camp anymore, so he moved on. An aspiring actor and singer, he went to a theater camp and began taking voice lessons. The bullying didn't stop. In fourth grade, he couldn't take it anymore and he finally told his parents. He was Vice President of his class at the time and he felt a responsibility to do something about it.
"He was actually mature enough to realize that if this kid was bullying him, then he must be bullying other kids as well," said Jonathan's father, Butch. "So, he told us, we took it to the school and it was addressed. The child stopped bullying him and it was at that point, I think Jonathan realized talking about it may help make a difference."
While that child stopped lashing out at Jonathan, others picked up where he left off. As he prepared to enter middle school this academic year, of course, he hoped that bullying wouldn't be a problem anymore. But, in the event it was, Jonathan mustered all the strength he had and decided he wasn't going to take it anymore. "I sat in my bedroom at night and I just thought to myself, if anything happens to me, I have to be the one to make a change," said Jonathan.
On the second day of 6th grade, it started. "A kid that I didn't even know walked behind me and said 'gay' as he was coughing," said Jonathan. It progressed from there. He started having full blown anxiety attacks, he didn't want to go to school. Singing had always been his escape and suddenly, he didn't want to go to chrous either. He was tormented with constant questions about his sexuality. He was constantly berated from his peers until he reached his breaking point, "All I heard was the laughing over and over and over again in my mind. I said that's it, this is ridiculous. It was like something in my brain just snapped," he said.
Jonathan is thankful for the good friends that he does have. "There are certain friends that have stuck by my side through everything. They have literally saved me," he said. They convinced him to start seeking help from school officials. He went to the Guidance Counselor, who took him straight to the principal. "I just told him exactly what happened and I said I just want to go forward from here." Going forward was exactly what he did starting with a speech in front of the Board of Education about bullying.
Coming up tomorrow, Jonathan's speech starts a chain reaction of responses from other children and the start of a grassroots anti-bullying effort gets underway.
Video by Dino Flammia