- Faith & Family
Bullying has become a nationwide concern, particularly with newer forms of communication including the Internet and texting, that have provided greater opportunities for young adults to attack, taunt and humiliate their classmates. Its impact has been devastating for some children with suicide being their only means of escape. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, violent crimes committed in schools, and the rate of homicides in schools have declined significantly since the early 1990s. But all is not well — every 7 minutes a child in bullied in the U.S.
With these and other contrasting yet disturbing statistics in mind, community leaders, elected officials and educators recently participated in a roundtable discussion following the viewing of a new documentary entitled “Bully.” The documentary follows high school students in Georgia, Iowa, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma during the 2009-2010 school year. The film focuses on the tragic deaths of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley — victims of bullying who later took their own lives.
The documentary highlights the following:
• 4.1 percent of students ages 12-18 who were bullied [289,000] reported bringing a gun, knife or other weapon to school;
• 7.4 percent of students who were cyber-bullied reported bringing a weapon to school;
• About 25 percent of all high school students were bullied at least once during the school year;
• About 7 percent of those harassed were bullied online.
This writer knows full well the impact that bullying can have on young minds. As a former high school instructor at an all-boys Catholic institution, one of our students put a gun to his head after suffering constant harassment by his classmates. All indications show that technology has taken bullying to a new level. Just last month, an eighth grader in New York, Kardin Ulysse, was blinded in one eye during an attack by seventh graders — yelling anti-gay slurs and punching him in the face. Ulysse wore glasses. And a seven-year-old boy in Detroit was found with a belt around his neck — he had hung himself from his bunk bed, unable to deal with being picked on and harassed by other children.
Numbers in M-D County
It’s difficult to determine if bullying has increased or if more cases are now being reported. But according to Suzy Milano, director of mental health and crisis management services for Miam-Dade County Public Schools [M-DCPS] and Ava Goldman, administrative director for the office of special education and educational services, M-DCPS, it’s important to look for warning signs.
“The emotional and physical safety of our students is our first concern — that’s why we are looking for as many ways as possible to raise awareness about school violence and intimidation,” they said. “A generation ago, bullying took place in the hallways, classrooms or the cafeteria. Today we have cyber-bullying with which to contend. Facebook, texting, the Internet and other forms of communication allow for bullying to take place faster and at a much larger scale. The messages reach more children and more can get involved. We are clear that bullying is a detriment to any child’s education.”
New counseling initiatives and requests for parents to report any suspected cases have assisted County employees in targeting bullies and those who are bullied.
“We have a comprehensive policy and specific procedures that must be followed whenever a report comes in about school violence,” Milano said. “There are actually more resources available than parents may realize: one can give tips anonymously; there are boxes prominently displayed in every school where one can report bullying and principals address it every morning during announcements. But there are some signs that parents can look for: 1) Child is reluctant or upset about going to school; 2) Child displays significant changes in their behavior; 3) Child expresses constant sadness or depression; and 4) Child is alone often during school and may appear be socially excluded.
Changing the mindset
State Representative Dwight Bullard sponsored House Bill 213 in February 2011 — an anti-bullying proposal that redefined the term “bullying” to include emotional hurt and prohibited bullying or harassment of s student or school employee by use of any computer, computer system, etc. that is physically located on school property, regardless of ownership. Bullard participated in the recent roundtable.
“Everyone needs to see this documentary as it brings to light and humanizes the issue of bullying,” he said. “The bill that we passed last year now allows us to go after those who participate in cyber-bullying. We have to help the kids who are being picked on as well as those who are doing the bullying.”
State Senator Oscar Braynon, another participant, said he thinks educators and parents must be more intentional about identifying and ending bullying.
“There are some children who are different due to physical abnormalities and birth defects and that often makes them easy targets,” he said. “But bullying has become meaner, more violent and with the social media, it can cast a much wider net. This is no longer just an example of kids being kids. We need all of our teachers to see this documentary, we need to talk more with our parents and we need to ensure that educators are being trained regularly so they can detect bullying before it gets out of hand.”
High school intern Calvins Jean-Son contributed to this story.
By D. Kevin McNeir