It's a common feeling for many children in our nation. Too common.
They're afraid to get on the school bus. Afraid to walk to school. Afraid to run into the wrong person in the hallways between classes. Afraid to tell anyone they're afraid.
They're being bullied into a life of unhappiness.
This has been a long-standing problem, one far older than our nation, for that matter. Since Cain struck Abel, there have been predators who have physically and mentally abused others to get what they want when they want it.
And this thuggish behavior isn't isolated to physical intimidation. The federal government's Department Health and Human Services reports that in 2006, a survey of children in grades 6-8 found that 11 percent had been victims in recent months before the survey of "cyberbullying" -- targeted for ridicule through electronic means, such as social network pages and cell phone texts. Two percent said it had happened to them two or more times.
Also disturbing, 18 percent of those sixth- through eighth-graders admitted they had recently cyberbullied someone else, and 6 percent said they done it two or more times in the months just before that survey was conducted.
So, we know there is a problem. We've known it all along. The question is, what can be done about it?
In school, which for most children is their first real exposure to society outside the safety net of their families, the idea of telling on a bully can be almost as bad as the victimization itself. The admission that a kid needs help from someone in a position of authority can get that child labeled a snitch and it usually carries a stigma with the student's peer group.
Adults, also, often tend to accept the notion that kids should learn "to work these things out" without adult involvement, largely because that was how they learned to deal with it themselves.
The cycle is learned behavior, with research suggesting that the roots of the problem are homegrown, especially in homes where abuse and violence take place.
"We know that the hurt and pain from bullying lasts long after the bullying itself takes place," HHS Secretary Kathleeen Sebelius said in March at a White House conference on bullying. "Students involved in bullying are more likely to struggle in school, use drugs and alcohol, and have physical and mental health issues that can linger well into adulthood.
"Young people who do the bullying also pay a price -- they are more likely to be violent as adults and get involved in criminal activity. Even bystanders, the young people who are witnesses to bullying, are more likely to become depressed and anxious, and feel unsafe at school. Bullying is not just another stage of development and it should not be accepted by anyone, anywhere, at any age."
Last week, Albany was privileged to be visited by Darrell Scott, whose family has brought the issue of bullying to the forefront in America.
Scott's daughter, Rachel, was the first student killed 12 years ago in the infamous Columbine shootings.
"If you want to change your life, you don't have to wait for someone else to do it," Scott told Albany leaders and educators last week. "You can change your life today by looking for the best in people."
Scott and his family have taken his 17-year-old daughter's inspirational writings and used them to create Rachel's Challenge, a program that has reached 15 million people across the U.S. The program brings communities together to prevent teen bullying and violence.
"Bullying is not an education problem or a health problem -- it is a community problem," Sebelius observed in March.
And if there is a solution, a way to end bullying, that is where it will be found. Not just at school, not at the police station, not at the court house. It will be found in the community -- the community that joins together and decides it will no longer tolerate bullying, and that it will no longer allow a child to be victimized and feel alone and hopeless.