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It’s time to get serious about bullying | Guest Column
On Sept. 12, another young child committed suicide after being bullied. She was a 12-year-old girl who had a falling out with her friends over a boy a year ago. The bullying was so difficult she changed schools, but the cyberbullying continued to torment her until she took her life.
In August, a Connecticut boy shot himself with the family gun after the first day of his sophomore year. He had been bullied because of his small size. And just last spring, a young girl in our area killed herself after being bullied in person and online.
Bullying is not simply “kids being kids.” Psychiatric Times cites bullying as a major public health problem with devastating consequences. Today, when drama happens at school, it passes seamlessly from the lunchroom to the chat room, and before long it seems everyone in a social circle knows about it. Kids can’t leave bullying behind at the playground anymore because it follows them home in social media, texting and/or phone apps.
According to the most recent Healthy Youth Survey given to sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students, 24 percent of local students reported being bullied in the past 30 days. That’s a lot of kids being hurt and a lot of kids doing the bullying. Bullying tends to peak in middle school years, but can happen anytime, and it’s slightly more common among girls.
VICTIMS, BULLIES AND BYSTANDERS GET HURT
Victims of bullying are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, today and as adults. Kids who are struggling with bullying may have changes in sleep and eating patterns, and a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Bullied kids also have more health complaints and lower academic achievement. Researchers estimate that on any given day, 160,000 children miss school because they’re afraid of being bullied.
Those who are bullied also may retaliate, sometimes through violence. In fact, a study of school shootings in the 1990s found that 80 percent of the shooters had a history of being bullied.
But it’s not just the victims of bullying who are being hurt. Studies published earlier this year in JAMA Psychiatry found that those who bully were more likely to abuse substances as a teen or adult, have anti-social behavior and be involved in criminal activity as an adult. Even bystanders can suffer with increased mental health problems.
TALK WITH YOUR KIDS
Schools are trying to respond to bullying with education and awareness programs. But it’s hard to manage when so much bullying is via electronic communications and away from school.
Parents can monitor social media and phone use, but it’s most important to be responsive to your child; encourage your son or daughter to tell you when another child is being hurtful, either physically or emotionally. Let your child know that you are there to help.
Dismissive statements like “It’s no big deal,” will discourage your child from talking to you, since bullying is a very big deal to a child. And kids who don’t have support at home for problems like bullying are at increased risk for suicide.
It is just as important to talk to your kids about not bullying others, and the devastation it can cause. Don’t tolerate name calling or your child putting down another child. And let your child know that being a bully has negative long-term consequences.
Finally, help your child know what to do if he or she witnesses bullying or hear someone talk about suicide. Make sure that your child can name an adult that could be approached for help.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is the executive director of Youth Eastside Services.