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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I could have been one of those outcast teens who shoot classmates when I was younger. Like them, I felt that I did not belong within the confines of my school. The torment started in the eighth grade and continued through my senior year of high school.

I was taunted by nearly everyone in class, made fun of because I was unpopular, and made to feel small and insignificant. I remember walking up the sidewalk to school, palms sweating, stomach in knots, knowing once again I faced another day trying to make myself as invisible as possible. It rarely worked. My tormentors always managed to use me as their whipping boy.

There were times I would lay my head on my desk, tears streaming down my face, the other kids laughing and making jokes about me. Not once did a teacher or principal come to my aid. It was as if my feelings were unimportant, or they had a mind-set that "kids will be kids." I struggled through school and kept my grades as high as possible under the circumstances I faced daily.

So why did I not take vengeance on my classmates with the nearest weapon? The answer is simple: My parents were always there for me. They were aware of my problems at school. Every day they listened to my fears and concerns, and reassured me that I was a special person and the taunts meant nothing with regard to who I really was. They cried with me, held me and listened to every word I said. They encouraged me to become my own person and to never let anyone tell me who I was or was not.

I'm saddened when I hear about young outcasts who can't cope being driven over the edge. These lives are cut short because nobody intervened when they saw what was happening. I wish I could tell them how important they are and what possibilities life has in store for them. I know what that would mean to them because I know what it meant to me.

Every day I thank God for giving me such wonderful parents. They understood and didn't ignore the fact that their son was in pain.

It took years of struggle to get past those horrible experiences in school, but I finally accomplished it. Today I am a successful, well-adjusted human being. My only regret is that I have no fond memories of high school.

Abby, until we recognize the true impact of teasing in our schools, this situation will continue to occur. Please ask your readers -- parents, teachers and even students -- to be sensitive to that young person who needs support through troubling times. They might save someone's life -- perhaps even their own. -- FORMER OUTCAST, WEST VIRGINIA

DEAR FORMER OUTCAST: I applaud you for having survived your devastating teen-age years, and for so successfully overcoming the systematic trauma you experienced. While it may appear to be a bloodless crime, people who destroy the self-esteem of others with cruelty and ridicule are really committing a violent crime. To ignore it or tolerate it is to aid and abet it.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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