HUNTINGDON, PA, March 31, 2012 - Jonathan Antoine’s reticent, self-effacing manner portrays the young man’s lack of self-assuredness, undoubtedly the result of the bullying he has endured. However, when Antoine sings, his voice resonates the phenomenally talented soul that lies behind the façade.
Antoine endured years of bullying about his weight. He said he has had weight issues a long as he can remember.
Fellow students began verbally abusing Antoine in elementary school; by high school, the stress from the experience culminated in a nervous breakdown in 2011.
To 17-year-old Antoine’s credit, he has not let the bullying from school classmates defeat him. He has overcome the taunts and social exclusion in the best of ways: he has succeeded by using the tremendous vocal gift that God has given him.
Antoine and Charlotte Jaconelli performed, “The Prayer,” on Britain’s Got Talent, wowing the audience and judges when they began to sing. Antoine’s rich, operatic voice even garnered praise from Simon Cowell, who stated, “You’re a future star.”
Cowell told Antoine’s partner and friend, Jaconelli, that she may hold Antoine back. Antoine retorted, “Well, we came on here as a duo and we’re going to stay a duo.”
A YouTube video of the pair’s performance on Britain’s Got Talent includes a short interview in which Antoine reveals how the bullying has affected him. “I’ve always had problems with my size since I could remember. When I was in … school, it damaged my confidence quite a bit. When people would say something to me, it would take a little piece out of me, in a sense.”
Antoine’s classmate and singing partner, Jaconelli, succinctly expressed her stance against such treatment. “I’m quite protective of Jonathan. If I was there and someone said something to him, I couldn’t sit there with my mouth shut … Before you make a judgment of someone, you really need to get to know them.
It’s not as cliché as judging a book by its cover; you’ve got to read what’s inside.”
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, bullying is a prevalent experience for children and adolescents today. “Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least ten percent are bullied on a regular basis.”
Bullying is not only disruptive to a child or young person’s academic and social life; it also undermines his or her self-esteem to the extent that many contemplate or commit suicide.
Hence, the reports about Antoine’s nervous breakdown from bullying are not surprising.
“I had a nervous breakdown back in October. At that point, I left the school I was at and rejoined the school I was at previously in the New Year … But then I couldn’t handle that either, so I’m currently not at school but still enrolled. Me and school just don’t get on. That’s just the way it has always been. I’ve never felt right there. Ever since I was quite small I’ve had weight problems, and the bullying was related to that. People would be nasty about my weight and say nasty words,” Antoine told Fox News.
Obviously, bullying needs to be stopped; parents, teachers - all adults need to take a proactive stance. Teenagers who have been bullied have developed such serious mental health issues that they have killed their classmates or themselves in schools across our nation. This, in itself, is enough to alert society that more needs to be done to be stop bullying at the first signs of classmates ostracizing or negatively focusing on a particular child.
Children are often “picked on” for being too heavy, too thin, too smart, too shy - anything that captures a bully’s attention. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry states in a report that bullies “thrive on controlling or dominating others. They often have been the victims of physical abuse or bullying themselves. Bullies may also be depressed, angry, or upset about events at school or home.”
The victims of bullying, the report goes on to state, are often targeted because they are “passive, easily intimidated, or have few friends.” As parents, we should not hesitate to take action if we suspect that our child is being bullied. Psychiatric experts also say that it is essential to respond in a positive and accepting manner if your child opens up to you about bullying. Focusing on a child’s inherent attributes and talents is imperative to building self-esteem, which can help him or her cope better if bullied. Again, Antoine exemplifies the unique talent that lies within each child. Whether your child is gifted in music, art, academics, sports, or any other endeavor, it should be the focus, not the child‘s exterior appearance.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry gives the following pointers to parents of children who may be experiencing bullying:
- Ask your child what he or she thinks should be done. What’s already been tried? What worked an what didn’t?
- Seek help from your child’s teacher or the school guidance counselor. Most bullying occurs on playgrounds, in lunchrooms, in bathrooms, on school buses, or in unsupervised halls. As the school administrators to find out about programs other schools and communities have used to help combat bullying, such as peer mediation, conflict resolution, anger management training, and increased adult supervision.
- Don’t encourage your child to fight back. Instead, suggest that he or she try walking away to avoid the bully, or that they seek help from a teacher, coach, or other adult.
- Help your child practice what to say to the bully so he or she will be prepared the next time.
- Help your child practice being assertive. The simple act of insisting that the bully leave him alone may have a surprising effect. Explain to your child that the bully’s true goal is to get a response.
- Encourage your child to be with friends when traveling back and forth from school, during shopping trips, and on other outings. Bullies are less likely to pick on a child in a group.
If enough adults take a proactive stance, perhaps bullying can be extinguished and replaced by positive interaction among peers. Maybe more children and teenagers will succeed as Antoine has and inspire others to do the same.
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