Bully pulpit

A young actress and model has penned a book, informed by her own experiences, on how to prevent bullying

Multi-talented 17-year-old Dutch model Natalia Siam Van Der Bruggen has achieved much in her young life, most lately authoring an e-book tilted Bully Ben.

A victim of bullying, Natalia Siam Van Der Bruggen's e-book Bully Ben encourages parents to teach their children to prevent violence.

Born in Thailand, the eye-catching beauty -- who was given the middle name "Siam" by her Romanian mother in tribute to the kindness of Thais during their time here -- said that she decided to pen her debut book on bullying because it was bullying that landed her in a wheelchair for six months when she was just 11 years old.

The 175cm-tall woman, who presently resides in Sydney, believes the experiences recounted in the book will help both the victims and their families achieve a broader understanding of bullying and how to deal with it.

Interestingly enough, she wrote the book while recovering from the bullying incident, in Dubai. Explaining the circumstances that compelled her to write it, she recalled: "I saw other children going through bullying while I was recovering, so I wanted to help others through my own experiences, to show them they're not alone, and that they don't have to respond to violence with violence -- that you can confront bullies in a way you're comfortable with.

"I decided to title the book Bully Ben because the name was catchy and because of the double "B". My character would turn into a Brave Ben later on, so I though it sounded good."

Asked to comment on why bullying has become an increasingly explosive problem in schools, despite efforts to address it, she explained: "I think children at a very young age should be taught empathy and respect and responsibility.

"Usually in a bully these traits are missing. I also think that punishing bullies with detention or expelling them just prolongs the problem. I think they should have things explained to them so they can think for themselves, so that they truly understand that what they're doing hurts people and can have an awful aftermath."

Having studied in a handful of countries, Van Der Bruggen has found that bullying is a universal phenomenon and these encounters don't vary a whole lot from one country to the next. Not only is bullying usually the same everywhere, she said: "There will always be someone who doesn't agree or doesn't like you. One cannot please everybody."

In retrospect, she said, there was one thing she would have done differently. "I never asked for help, but if I were to go back, I would change that. I would absolutely tell an authority figure like my parents or my teachers, because they're there to help students. My book teaches children to not be afraid to ask for help from the adults around them."

After doing a television series in Dubai, Van Der Bruggen said the behaviour of her schoolmates toward her changed for the worse. They began taunting that she was not deserving of the lead role -- that she wasn't beautiful enough or special enough.

She addressed this onslaught with a game plan of her own: the book. "I decided to write a book to help others going through what I'd gone through, because I wanted to teach children from a young age to think for themselves and not have a pack mentality, to follow other ideologies, to be a caring, kind person."

Besides penning an e-book, the spunky teen also plans to read her true story to children in primary schools, and to continue speaking out against bullying wherever possible -- on television, radio and print media -- in the hopes of sharing her message to a wider audience. Van Der Bruggen also uses social media to connect with people who ask her advice.

Van Der Bruggen suggests teachers and school administrators take a proactive approach toward addressing bullying in schools, saying: "In my opinion, putting bullies in detention or expelling them will only make them angrier. The mentality a bully would have in detention is 'I'm going to get that person! It's all that person's fault I'm in detention!', which will potentially make them even more violent. I think instead the solution is to use counselling as a tool for revealing underlying issues the bully may have, and to fix them along with a counsellor and family members."

The message of her book is simple: bullies can be changed. No one is born a bad person, so everyone has a shot at choosing the right path. Her fingers are crossed that after the reader puts down her book, he or she will know what is the right choice and go on to take it.

Van Der Bruggen also believes that if she had not become a victim of bullying, she would not be able to relate to people who have. Her empathy comes from having been there, she said.

Her view of bullies has also changed through the years. Not only does she not think they are bad people; she sympathises with them by saying that their behaviour reflects the emotional baggage they carry. "I now understand every child can make a mistake and be very sorry for it, bouncing back as a valuable member of society and helping others, as my bullies have. They are now beautiful people and devoted members of society."

The teen model is also very clear on her future career path, saying: "I am now preparing for my final exams, and will hopefully study paramedicine, to dedicate my life to saving others. I could not see myself doing a job that doesn't involve helping."


Bully Ben

is available on iTunes. Proceeds from sales go the Fred Hollows Foundation (www.hollows.org), which helps prevent blindness.

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