When 10th-grade student Pearl Benjamin from Camden Hills Regional High School began her writing career a few weeks ago, I wondered if she would get beyond the school shootings and continue to give us a commonsense view of the world from her perspective.

This week, Pearl did just that. In her Camden Herald column (if you don’t get the Camden Herald, you can find Pearl’s column online at Village Soup), she writes about bullying, getting into the mindset of “modern bullying,” an “emotionally complex” kind that is unlike the bullying past generations dealt with, attacking a person’s psyche, rather than a physical beating or threat.

Masked as poking friendly fun, she contends it intimidates those already anxious about not being good enough and blames academic competition and awards, in part, for the paradox.

She says bullying is the biggest problem in education today, pointing to nearly 1 in 3 students reporting it each year; sometimes reaching the point where suicide becomes an option and way out, and a way to get noticed.

What I like about Pearl is that not only does she have questions, she proposes solutions, pointing out that we need “educators to better understand what bullying looks like today, who start taking their students seriously when issues are reported,” and we should “provide mental health and supportive resources for everyone as a key to preventing not just bullying, but the severe anxiety and depression that comes with high school. Finding a way to make sure every student has access to resources will provide support in this dangerous yet opportunistic time of our lives and will not only improve our educational culture, but save lives.”

Bullying is not new, but the way kids bully today, and the effects of bullying on this generation are. I remember bullying of both the physical and emotional kind, but don’t remember student suicides as an issue 45 years ago; that seemed to start about 20 years ago, perhaps as the pressure to be smart, good at something and popular increased.

While some of this is new, we can learn from past generations. While Pearl postulates that awards and academic recognition reinforce negative feelings in those who don’t win, it goes deeper and starts with the expectation that we are all winners; participation awards tend to confuse rather than promote one’s self-esteem and are not the answer.

It is a shame if today’s generation gets its self-esteem from being the best at something; the idea should be about giving your best and finding a niche for yourself that feeds your soul.

I never won anything growing up and understand the need and desire to be recognized for achievement. I wanted to find something to be the best at, something that would get accolades and some notice, but there was no obsession to it. In the meantime, the job was to figure how to fit in, how to make friends,and how to survive this “dog-eat-dog” world during the teen years.

If feels like Pearl’s generation lacks patience; perhaps the pressures put on them are more, perhaps parents continue to be “helicopter-parents” – earlier generations didn’t try to fix everything and keep their children out of harm’s way, to the detriment of the child.

Remember the butterfly story; the wistful person watching the butterfly get out of the cocoon can’t stand to watch the butterfly struggle, helping it out by breaking off a piece and making it easier for them to escape. Soon after, a predator devours the butterfly that is unable to fly away because its wings weren’t fully developed; wings are strengthened by the process of getting out of the cocoon – nature’s way. Sometimes human compassion collides with nature and bad things happen.

Common sense says attack the problem of bullying from all fronts. Pearl wants more counseling at schools and for teachers and administrators to talk less and do more. Let’s also address the underlying problems of self-esteem and children's feeling like they need to win an award when they just need to find their authentic self and figure out where they fit in.

Being a square peg in a round hole is a bad feeling, but honoring your rebel spirit and finding your own unique way to shine, regardless of awards, will fill you up.

When my children were finishing their schooling at Camden Hills, the “Diversity Coalition” was beginning; it was a way to honor those who didn’t fit in – when “misfits” unite, they are not “misfits” anymore.

Honoring each other is where we start.

“I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies.”

— Pietro Aretino, satirist and dramatist (1492-1556)