Dear Parents,

Bullying isn't a "normal" behavior, and it's not just the kid on the playground stealing your lunchbox.

It's the raw, painful reminders that you don't fit in with the rest of your classmates -- that you're an outsider in a sea of unfriendly faces.

I should know. I was a victim of bullying. That's me at left, back in the day. Everyone probably thought it was just kids being kids, but it tormented me and warped my life for a very long time -- until I left for college.

Judging from recent research, I'm not alone. Experts say that as many as one in 10 children is bullied at school.

Maybe you read about the recent suicide of Tyler Clementi, a gay freshman at Rutgers University who took his own life after he was outed online by his roommate.

Though I'm now 23, my bullying started in the third grade, when I looked like this: young, innocent and -- I can see now -- defenseless.

I had just gotten those glasses, with the frames that seemed to overpower my face. They're what started it all.

First, it was about the glasses. Then it was my clothes. Finally, a really creative classmate chose to hone in on my "imaginary germs."

"Stacy germs, no take-back!" he loved to taunt.

What started out as harmless childhood teasing turned into full-on bullying. I had no idea how to stand up for myself. As my classmates rode me, day in and day out, I began to feel like I didn't belong.

What is so wrong with me that I deserve their mean and painful words? I wondered. When I went to the lunch table, they moved away, their eyes cast downward. I had never felt more alone or isolated.

If I were a different girl -- like 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, from South Hadley, Mass., who was at a brand-new school, in a brand-new country -- I don't know what the incessant abuse by the Mean Girls would have driven me to do. She had just moved to her new high school from Ireland, and was bullied to death.

When the mistreatment got to be too much, I went to a teacher. Sobbing in my chair, I told her the truth: I was being bullied. Could she make it stop?

She tried. The next day, the same teacher held a class meeting to explain to her students that their behavior was wrong.

Tyler Clementi sought help, too. But it didn't reach him -- at least not soon enough. He ended his life with this six-word text: "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry."

Even after I sought help, the bullying didn't stop. From third grade until the age of 16, I was bullied every day. I became increasingly walled off. In class, I would sit in the back, too afraid to say a word, in case anyone would laugh. I tried to become invisible.

Every day, the bullied shrink further into themselves.

Tyler, before he died, reportedly found solace in the violin. That, I can understand. I found my escape through books, the only place I could escape to. When I was reading a book, I wasn't being judged, teased or laughed at. I could lose myself and no one would bother me. Is that how Tyler felt when he was holding his bow?

One thing's for sure: I was one scared and lonely girl. Looking back, I wish I had known that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't the only one going through such a dreadful experience. That's why now, as a well-adjusted adult, I'm choosing to write this letter.

Parents, it's time to do something. Too many kids are dying because they don't feel like they belong. We all -- the bullies, the parents of the bullies, and those who need help -- need a serious change.

Forget everything you've read in the past, because let's face it: It's not working. There's no such thing as "normal" bullying. Your kids may not "know better."

If you or someone you love is being bullied, there are places you can go for help. Don't sit back and be silent. That, quite simply, doesn't work.

When I stop to think about it, I wish I could hug the young girl I used to be and tell her it would be OK -- that not only would it get better, she would go on to become a part of the world. Slowly I learned to make new friends -- people who not only shared some of my passions, but respected what I had to say. Sadly, it wasn't until I got to college that I finally felt like I, too, found a place where I belonged.

But not everyone who's bullied gets that far. It's time to care.


Stacy Lipson is a freelance writer who has written for Marie Claire, YourTango, Natural Health magazine and Metro Philadelphia. You can reach her at her website.