And, if you have a disability, like the nonhearing students who attend the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, bullying is almost a foregone conclusion.
Because the deaf community is relatively small, hearing people are still ignorant of it, says Marsha Miceli, the school's director of student development.
Miceli tells the story of going recently to a restaurant where she and a friend communicated using sign language.
"The waitress says, 'I have just what you need,' and brings us back menus in braille," she said, shaking her head. "It's 2010 and they still don't get it."
And ignorance can lead to bullying. When it comes to cruel comments, Tyhira Jones has heard them all - even though she's deaf.
"Hearing kids, they see my hearing aids and they say, 'What's wrong with you?' " says Jones, a freshman at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.
Jones, 15, vigorously signed through a translator: "They think I'm dumb. I don't like that. I was born this way."
For such students, the school for the deaf can be a safe oasis. But like students everywhere, they can be victims one day and bullies the next.
Especially when it's as easy as hitting "send."
Weapon of choice
It's no secret that cyberbullying, with its convenient anonymity, ranks as the weapon of choice for many kids to taunt, torment, and inflict pain.
And for deaf students, who, more than most, depend on texting, instant messaging, video phones, and social networking as communication tools, things can get out of hand quickly. To stop bullying before it becomes deadly, Miceli this year implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program schoolwide. The program has a non-bullying pledge that all students must sign and anti-bullying training for students, teachers, and parents. Especially parents.
Even though they might have a deaf child, a lot of hearing families never learn American Sign Language. They often use what Miceli calls "survival language" - bare-bones signing to communicate on the most basic level.
"As kids get older, they start acquiring language, and parents have a hard time keeping up," she says.
So the burden falls on the school - faculty, staff, and students - to watch for bullying behavior, stop it when it happens, and tell students in no uncertain terms that bullying will not be tolerated.
But bullying may not be that easy to spot. I mean, what parent hasn't driven herself crazy trying to decode her teens' abbreviated messages?
It's the same with deaf teens, who ascribe different meanings to their sign language. For instance, when kids sign something as innocuous as "go home," it can really mean a ubiquitous, two-word profanity that Miceli didn't realize until one of her students told her.
To Miceli's delight, after only a couple of weeks, the program has caught on. Students performed a skit at the school's anti-bullying kickoff rally, complete with a lively rap:
Our school rules are really cool. They don't allow bullying at our school. Students who bully, watch out, because you can't get by. Don't even start now! Don't even try!
And it looked even cooler the way eighth grader Daiquan Harris signed it.
Contact me at 215-854-4986 or Ajohnhall@phillynews.com. Read my work: http://go.philly.com/annette. Follow me on Twitter @annettejh