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Retired Brainerd teacher fights bullying with children’s book

Charles Butenhoff self-publishes “Kryptonite for Bullies,” an illustrated book for parents, children and pre-teens intended to "develop character traits to enhance self-reliance and deter bullying behavior from others.”

Children's author and Illustrator Charles Butenhoff autographs his book "Kryptonite for Bullies" for a boy as others talk in the background.
Children's author and Illustrator Charles Butenhoff autographs his book "Kryptonite for Bullies" for Drew Dorn Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Baxter. The author has drawn upon his many years as an art instructor to create the book to help children deal with bullies.<br/>
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER — Charles Butenhoff’s first book is a very personal one.

The retired Brainerd art and special education teacher self-published a children’s book about bullying based on his time in the classroom as an educator and his own childhood experiences.

“The constant that hasn't changed for probably over a century is that bullying is here to stay,” Butenhoff said Thursday, Jan. 20.

Lord of Life Lutheran Church purchased “Kryptonite for Bullies” for use in its Sunday school classes, and he spoke to parents and their children Wednesday at the Baxter church.

And when the advent of social media arose, bullying just became magnified.
— Charles Butenhoff

Butenhoff taught 25 years in Brainerd — and 10 years in Monticello before that — before the 62-year-old husband and father of three retired from the profession in 2016.

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“Of all the things that were constant in the ever-changing world of education, that was bullying. And when the advent of social media arose, bullying just became magnified,” Butenhoff said.

Children's author and illustrator Chuck Butenhoff reads to 5th and 6th graders Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022 at Lord of Life Lutheran Church.
Children's book author and Illustratior Chuch Butenhoff talks about his book Krytonite for Bullies to 5th and 6th graders at Lord of Life Lutheran Church Wednesday,, Jan. 19, 2022 in Baxter.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Education released the first federal definition of bullying, which includes three core elements: unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition or high likelihood of repetition of bullying behaviors.

“When I was teaching my students, I would always have conversations about how to deal with whatever the current bullying crisis was for a kid or classroom of kids or group of kids,” said Butenhoff, who lives in rural southern Aitkin County.

About 20% of students ages 12 to 18 experience bullying nationwide, according to StopBullying.gov , a federal website about bullying and its harm on victims.

“When I would always talk to them about it, I had these ideas in my head about how to convey it to them in a way that middle school kids would understand it,” Butenhoff said. “And so that's how I came up with the idea to use the kind of the framework of kryptonite from the comic books of Superman.”

Kryptonite is the fictional crystalline material from Superman’s homeworld of Krypton that has the power to render the superhero powerless.

“It's written in a kind of Marvel or DC Comics-style for the illustrations. And then the writings of it are in rhyme, kind of like what Dr. Seuss would do,” Butenhoff said of his children’s book.

“‘Kryptonite for Bullies’ will help your child find the right people in their lives and develop trust in others while they gain patience, believe in gratitude, and build courage, integrity, and humility,” according to an overview of the 34-page paperback available online at BookBaby .

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“I basically broke it down into six traits that the kids could learn or have in their behavioral system to help them combat bullying,” Butenhoff said. “And in the back of the book, there are a set of guidelines for each trait that parents and teachers and kids can talk about.”

Butenhoff said he believes bullies don't become bullies usually without being bullied themselves at some time in their life and everyone has experienced bullying to some degree.

“People are going to experience it whether you want to or not, and my book is more about when you do experience it, how are you going to handle it, how are you going to deal with it?” Butenhoff said.

Among students ages 12 to 18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, 15% were bullied online or by text, according to StopBullying.gov .

“My family and others that were similar to mine were constantly bullied about being poor … all the things that come with being judged by others,” Butenhoff said. “In my senior year, I moved five times — just in my senior year.”

Research indicates persistent bullying can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior, according to StopBullying.gov .

“It's tough for some kids to find something to be grateful about or to be thankful for, so we have — just like anything else — we have to teach kids to look for that, to look for the little things in life,” Butenhoff said.

Types of bullying

According to StopBullying.gov , students ages 12 to 18 experienced various types of bullying, including:

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  • Being the subject of rumors or lies (13.4%),
  • Being made fun of, called names or insulted (13%),
  • Pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on (5.3%),
  • Leaving out/exclusion (5.2%),
  • Threatened with harm (3.9%),
  • Others tried to make them do things they did not want to do (1.9%), and
  • Property was destroyed on purpose (1.4%).

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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