MILLINOCKET, Maine — Olivia Burleigh doesn’t like when kids trash talk.
So the 16-year-old Stearns High School junior established a Facebook page against it, and found that adults — large numbers of them — don’t like it either. Since its creation on Sunday, the page Burleigh created, with some help in its maintenance from her friend Sam Cote, “Learn to Love Yourself,” had drawn 3,323 people as of Wednesday afternoon, and the number keeps climbing, she said.
They created the page, Burleigh said, because “I have been bullied my whole entire life and I want to give everybody a chance to feel loved.”
It is, Burleigh said, partly a response to the new phenomenon of cyberbullying. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 9 and 35 percent of young people say they have been bullied or harassed through email, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites, blogs or text messaging. The percentage of young people who admit to being cyberbullies themselves varies from 4 to 21 percent.
One recent case resulted in felony charges on Nov. 1 against a former Orono High School student for an alleged series of harassing emails that the investigating officer called as “violent, disgusting and vulgar” as he had seen in 24 years of police work. The case is pending.
Burleigh has seen and experienced bullying in school and in other parts of her life, but she and her mother, 39-year-old Julie Pulkkinen of Millinocket, said that Stearns teachers have improved their response to bullying considerably.
There is no one motivator for Burleigh’s page, she said, except perhaps her disgust with bullying.
“There is bullying everywhere,” Burleigh said. “It makes me sick because there are so many hateful people out there. They don’t even know somebody and they feel like they know everything about them. I want to give everybody an opportunity to feel loved.”
The page, Burleigh said, is a place where people post their own pictures, offer reasons why they love themselves, and get positive reinforcement. They also relate stories of the bullying they have encountered and overcome.
Some of the stories are harrowing. One teen discusses how she suffers from schizophrenia, manic depression, bipolar disease, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. She said she was raped when she was 6 years old and has endured awful bullying ever since.
But the girl’s story drew compliments and thumbs-up from dozens of people who lauded her courage and beauty; precisely the kind of feedback Burleigh hoped page participants would get.
Pulkkinen said she is proud of her daughter for being so compassionate in creating the page.
“Some of those kids, I believe, don’t have anybody they can talk to,” Pulkkinen said.
“My daughter has fought with depression and things. We have gone through bullying terribly at school. She has a sister who is openly gay. I think the page is wonderful. It is a good way for kids to be able to express themselves and it is turned into more than just kids. We have a lot of family that are supporting her,” Pulkkinen added.
“Nobody is allowed to make hateful posts. If they do they will be deleted from the page. It is a place for people to open up,” Burleigh said. “I have had so many people message me and say they have changed their perspective or changed their lives.”
It also has become a lot of work, she said. Still, Burleigh plans to continue it, saying she believes she is doing some good.
“She started this for all the right reasons, no matter where it goes. She has such a big heart. We stand behind her 100 percent,” Pulkkinen said.
“It’s a hard life out there and I don’t think anyone should have to go through this,” Burleigh said of bullying.