It’s day four of six in our back-to-school series, and this one goes out to anyone who wants the wedgies to stop and just once would like to use lunch money for, well, lunch.

The start of school brings with it such a predictable familiarity: the bustle of hallways as lockers slam shut and kids move around, the ringing of bells to mark the hours, the school fight song drifting on the crisp morning air as the marching band practices.

And for you, it brings too many familiar sensations: The cool brush of toilet water as it swirls around your head and ears, the dreaded numbness of your biceps from unexpected dead arms, the haunting CRACK! as your glasses snap in the hands of a merciless brute. Yes, you are a bullying victim.

It’s never made sense. Why you? Is it your baby blue trapper keeper? Is it the notes your mom still puts in your lunchbox? Your Coke bottle glasses? Your too-short gym shorts? Your high-pitched nasally voice? What?

It’s all of these, but it’s also none of them. You’re a victim because the bully sees you as one and because you’ve obliged him. When classes began, you didn’t dread the ringing of bells, the wafting melody of the fight song, or the slamming of locker doors (unless you were on the wrong side of them, which has already happened entirely too much to you in your young life). You dreaded being singled out and picked on. You dreaded the teasing, the gibes, and the low blows.

So who’s going to stop it all? You’ve got three options, here, chief, so let’s explore them.

1. You can continue to take it. You’ve been doing that for years. How’s that treated you so far? You flinch at loud noises and wince whenever anyone moves in your peripheral vision. Yeah, you don’t want to take it anymore, so crank the Twisted Sister and get ready to weigh options two and three.

2. You can tell an adult. That’s the old standby for everyone who isn’t getting bullied. “Tell a teacher,” they always say, as if doing so will put a magical stop to all your problems. You HAVE told an adult, probably repeatedly. What do adults do? They ask for proof. They want caught-red-handed guilt before they’ll do anything to help you, and bullies are notorious brown-nosers, more than capable of ass kissing their way out of just about any disciplinary action.

Clearly your best option is…

3. Roll up your sleeves and quit taking it. You can stop bullying. All it takes is understanding what’s going on inside that bully’s brain. First off, he or she is probably lonely. That’s what happens to people who pick on as many people as they can. Remember, the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Just like that, you’ve got a few people who will vouch for you, even if they won’t necessarily go to battle with you.

Secondly, the bully probably doesn’t understand confrontation. All the victims have been so submissive that anything but an accepting whimper when handing over your lunch money would be completely unexpected and right out of left field.

Third, and most importantly, the bully is a coward. That’s why you get picked on when no one’s looking.

So what should you do?

Get picked on in the open. Let the bully start something with you in front of other eyes. It doesn’t matter whose. It can be a bunch of teachers, a bunch of strangers, or a bunch of your friends. Just make sure you’ve got witnesses.

Then punch the bully in the face.

Seriously. Just once. Right. In. The. Face.

This is where you need steely resolve. Close that fist! Lock that wrist! Get that thumb out from under your other fingers because that’s a good way to break it.

Then swing.

What happens next? Well, for starters, the bully will be stunned, even hurt. That jerk has probably never taken a punch before, so being on the other end of the rope will be shocking. Next, other people will step in before it gets out of hand. Schoolyard fights rarely last longer than 15 seconds before teachers step in. It’s a weird sixth sense they’ve all picked up through years of having their backs turned half the time. You might take a punch or two in all of this, but it will be worth it. You will be the kid who punched the bully. You will be the one who exposed the bully as nothing to be scared of. You will probably get suspended.

Yes, suspended. The most important thing now is to be reasonable and accountable. Don’t deny hitting the bully because everyone saw you do it. Simply explain why you did it. You’re tired of being passive. You’re tired of being a victim. You’re tired of no one doing anything to punish bad behavior. You took your lumps, and you’re willing to accept the penalty for your action. You’re going to need to go to the nurse because you didn’t get your thumb out from inside your fist like we told you to.

So take a few days off and work from home. When you come back from your sentence next week, much will remain unchanged: the bells will still ring, the fight song will still float on, and lockers will still slam open and shut. But that toilet water will serve only it’s intended purpose now, and your lunch money will remain your own.

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