On April 16, 2002, 14-year-old Jon Gettle left his home during the night, walked to his middle school and hanged himself in the eighth-grade hallway. He left a note saying, “Bullying is a problem.”
John was a victim of “bullycide,” a relatively new term used to describe bullying that leads to suicide. It was first used by journalist Neill Marr in his book, “Bullycide: Death at Playtime.”
According to the American Justice Department, one out of every four school children is abused by another youth. Seventy-seven percent say they’ve been bullied mentally, verbally and physically. Fourteen percent report having experienced severe reactions to the event.
Each day, 160,000 students miss school for fear of being bullied. Forty-three percent fear harassment in their school’s bathroom.
Bullying can be face to face, or can be done electronically through texting, e-mailing and social networking sites on the Internet.
Since the Center for Disease Control rates suicide as the third highest cause of death for youngsters between the ages of 13 and 18, bullycide is a phenomenon that cannot be ignored.
Boys and girls who are targeted by bullies generally share four traits. First, they behave in a vulnerable manner. Their body language indicates that they are helpless or will respond in a passive manner. When bullied, they become visibly frightened or cry, further encouraging their assailants.
They have few or no friends. Not only are they socially isolated, but they lack emotional and physical defenses.
They are not assertive. Children who bully seek out victims who are weak or easily dominated. Submissive targets are also less likely to tell someone about the assault.
Finally, they have low self-esteem or lack self-confidence. They may even feel that they deserve to be bullied.
Here’s what you can do if your child is the victim of bullying:
Be supportive and learn what you can about the behavior. Never tell children to ignore the bullying. That may actually allow the aggression to become more serious.
Avoid blaming the victim. Don’t ask, “What did you do to aggravate the other kid?” If your youngster already knew, he or she would have stopped doing it.
Gather information about the event. Encourage youngsters to describe who was involved and how and where each bullying episode occurred. Also, determine if other children or adults witnessed the incidence.
Empathize with victimized children. Let kids know that bullying is wrong, not their fault, and that you are glad they had the courage to tell you.
Enlist suggestions. Discuss together what can be done to alleviate the problem. Be open to a wide variety of tactics. Role-play possible strategies.
Keep your emotions in check. It’s normal to feel outrage. But overreacting can make matters worse and perpetuate your youngster’s feelings of helplessness. Stay calm and handle things rationally.
Contact the appropriate authorities. Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher or school principal. Or call the bullying child’s parents if the aggression is happening away from school. But make it clear you expect the bullying to stop. Be prepared to make follow-up visits if the behavior persists.
Teach safety strategies, such as seeking help from an adult when feeling threatened or eating lunch with the school counselor.
Help your child be resilient to bullying. Explore activities and interests both in and out of school that foster esteem and encourage interaction with like-minded youngsters.
Create a safe and caring home. Let kids know they are unconditionally loved and that you are available to assist them in whatever ways they need.
Signs of bullying
Is your child being bullied? Watch for these telltale signs:
Comes home with torn, damaged or missing pieces of clothing, books or other belongings.
Has unexplained cuts, bruises and scratches.
Has few, if any, friends.
Seems afraid to go to school, to walk to and from school, to ride the school bus or take part in organized activities with peers.
Takes a long, “illogical” route when walking to or from school.
Experiences a loss of appetite.
Has lost interest in school work or suddenly begins doing poorly in school.
Appears sad, moody, teary or depressed after coming home from school.
Complains often of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments.
Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams.
Appears anxious and suffers from low self-esteem.
For more information, go to: www.stopbullyingnow.com or www.parentsconnet.com/bullying.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com