Uplifting Youth: Champions of Life Program Tackles Bullying Through Boxing

Boxing. It’s all ducking and weaving and throwing punches, right?

Not for the New Jersey Give a Kid a Dream Founder and boxing coach Jacklyn Atkins.

For Atkins, what goes on at Gleason’s Jersey Shore in Long Branch, NJ transcends teaching the discipline and work necessary to become a boxer. The real heart of her Champions of Life program is centered around learning how to care for one’s self, both mentally and physically, and participate positively in the community.

So when Atkins read a recent article in a local paper chronicling the alarming rise in bullying among young children and teens, it made her heart ache. She already knew too many were suffering from bullying, but this article confirmed her greatest fear – it’s only getting worse.

The Problem

Bullying is a pervasive issue that affects millions of children and adolescents worldwide. In the United States it’s a significant concern, with recent statistics showing an increase in prevalence and impact on the physical and psychosocial wellbeing of both victims and perpetrators. Already a troubling problem for youth before the Covid lockdowns and social isolation, the problem has only increased.

According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), approximately 20% of students aged 12-18 reported being bullied (physical and emotional) at school during the 2019-2020 school year. Post-pandemic, that number has doubled, with a staggering 40% of students reporting they’ve been victims of bullying, according to an article from Axios published in the fall of 2023. 

Furthermore, with the rise of technology and social media, cyberbullying has increased at a similarly alarming rate. The Cyberbullying Research Center reports that nearly 36% of middle and high school students in the U.S. have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lives. This form of bullying can occur through social media, messaging apps, and online gaming communities, making it challenging for victims to escape the harassment.

A stunning news brief by the the Pew Research Center published in November 2023, backs up these somber statistics, reporting that bullying is the #2 concern parents have for their children, outranked only by potential struggles with anxiety and depression. And kids who already feel marginalized by their socio-economic circumstances, race, religion or how they identify, feel the effects of bullying more often and acutely.

The Impact

It’s well known that bullying often has devastating effects on the physical and psychosocial wellbeing of young children and adolescents. Research has consistently shown that victims of bullying are at a higher risk of experiencing a range of negative outcomes, including physical health effects like headaches, stomachaches, and sleep disturbances, psychological effects including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and suicidal ideation, negative academic consequences and social isolation. 

And what about the bullies themselves? It’s not as widely discussed, but bullies also experience negative consequences as a result of their behavior. Research has shown that individuals who engage in bullying behavior are more likely to experience behavioral Issues such as antisocial behavior, substance abuse, vandalism, and physical aggression, as well as poor academic performance. They’re also less likely to form healthy relationships and maintain employment in adulthood.

The Solution: Champions of Life at Work

Addressing bullying requires a comprehensive approach that involves collaboration between schools, parents, policymakers, and community organizations. Some strategies have been proven successful across all demographics, such as implementing anti-bullying policies and promoting a positive social climate at school and in other community settings, supporting victims and perpetrators with counseling and peer support groups, and engaging parents and guardians. 

In recent years, more and more competitive sports organizations are being recognized for their ability to reach young people where they are – including at school and sports. These organizations provide kids and families with support and practical solutions to the pain and trauma caused by bullying. Witness the recent commercials highlighting the NFL’s Character Playbook project. 

So, how does someone whose bio includes declarations like, “Being caught in the wake of her energy will make a champion out of you,” respond to this pernicious, pervasive threat to her young students and her community? 

You start something. Something good. 

And that’s just what Atkins did.

Atkin’s mission-focused work led to the Champions of Life program, offered through the New Jersey Give a Kid a Dream Foundation, an organization with home bases in Long Branch and Atlantic City. This partnership also makes possible Atkin’s Girls in Gloves, a program empowering young women and girls for the challenges they face in the ring and life.

Champions of Life, like all of Atkin’s programs, centers around teaching kids and adults how to gracefully and confidently conduct themselves in threatening situations. As bullying is a clear threat, Atkins uses the opportunity she has to interact and influence the kids in her gym to punch through the stigma and shame of bullying and foster honest, safe discussions among those kids and their caregivers. Through informal conversation she encourages those in the program to name the problem and impact, then identify solutions and put those solutions to practice. 

In this video, we captured Atkins as she talked to her kids about the impact of bullying and owning their power to push back against the trauma. 


For information on bullying prevention, visit these resources: 


Committee for Children

Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center

For more information on the Champions of Life program, contact njgakad@gmail.com

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