Coming to school with his hair dyed bright yellow, Jonathan Terry probably should have expected a little teasing. Still, it hit him hard when a boy at school started calling him "pee-head."
"Yes, it bothered me. He did it on purpose to get to me," the 11-year-old Laurel boy said. How did it make him feel? "Mad. Angry."
Some teasers may think they're just kidding around and that their targets can take it, said Jonathan and four other campers at Camp Sonshine in Silver Spring who agreed to talk to KidsPost about teasing.
But when joking crosses the line into meanness, the kids said, the jokes might as well be a punch in the stomach.
It has been several years, for instance, since a girl teased Meg Kelly for drinking some Sprite. But Meg's voice still chokes up a little bit when she recalls what the girl said.
"She told me I have to go on a diet," said Meg, 11, of Rockville, who remembers telling an adult and bursting into tears.
American kids rate bullying and teasing as their biggest problem, according to a survey of 8- to 15-year-olds published in 2001 by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Studies have found that 15 to 25 percent of U.S. students are frequently bullied and that bullying and teasing seem to peak in middle school.
No Cut-Downs Allowed
Asked whether they've ever been teased at Camp Sonshine, this group said no.
"There's a rule here: no cut-downs," said Chris Granzow, 11, of College Park.
But it seems to have happened just about everywhere else. At school, one of Alex Terry's friends mocks him "whenever I get a B-minus and he gets an A."
"He says he's smarter than me," said Alex, 11, who is Jonathan's twin brother, "or that I'm so dumb."
Alexandra Tyminski said it happens when she's playing basketball.
"If I wasn't doing well, one of my friends will say, 'You can't do this, you're no good, you really need help!' " said Alexandra, 10, of Silver Spring. "My mom and dad told me not to care about it. So I had to just put up with it. But it hurt."
The Terry brothers know a boy on their school bus who makes a kind of choking, gulping sound in the back of his throat, and he always was being teased for it. Kids would imitate the sound. "Even the teacher would just tell him to cut it out sometimes," Alex said.
They shouldn't have been so mean, Jonathan said: "He can't help it."
"One time, this one kid was really making fun of him," said Alex. And the boy being teased "just punched him. He just couldn't take it, he's been going through this all year."
Sometimes, teasing leads to more trouble. Some of the campers had heard about a recent case at Bull Run Middle School in Prince William County. Police there charged a 12-year-old boy with bringing guns and ammunition to school and planning to shoot students who teased him. There were news reports that kids often mocked the boy about his weight and said things like, "Where do you get your clothes, Wal-Mart?"
Taking It Personally
Controlling the problem, the campers said, is trickier than it sounds. No cut-down rules can prevent obvious meanness, but you can't stop kids from . . . kidding.
"And sometimes, you're joking around with people and you see, somehow, they're taking it personally," Chris said.
Sometimes even parents take their teasing too far.
Alexandra said her dad has a running gag about how she's going to end up, as an adult, working at McDonald's. "He'll say I'd better learn to say, 'You want fries with that?' I know he's just teasing. I know I'm not going to have to work there. But it just kind of makes me feel . . . bad."
-- Fern Shen