It's an alarming trend with a heartbreaking end: We're talking about bullying. The National Education Association says 160,000 kids miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. And a growing number become victims of "bullycide," or suicide prompted by bullying.
The school yard has always been a breeding ground for bullies. But in this age of violent video games and mean-spirited reality shows, the harassment some kids now suffer is more intense...and the consequences of their abuse are increasingly tragic.
A study by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that one out of four kids in America is bullied and that 85 percent of the time, there is no intervention.
More powerful than the statistics are the faces of the kids who could no longer bear their torment. They are victims of bullycide.
Could their deaths have been prevented? Perhaps.
The most important thing to help prevent bullycide is for parents to know if their child is being bullied.
That starts with recognizing the warning signs: If they seem more sad or down or withdrawn. If they have less interest in activities that they used to enjoy or if they want to start avoiding things, saying that they don't want to go to school. Or, if they start making physical complaints: More stomachaches, headaches, that sort of thing.
Any child can be victimized by a bully, but those who are obese or have a disability are 63 percent more likely to be bullied than other kids.
Often times, when people are bullying, they're doing it to get a response out of the person that they are bullying. So, the best thing to do initially is to ignore it. But if it becomes a problem, more serious measure need to be taken.
Sadly, that did not happen for Brandon, a 14-year-old Pennsylvania boy. He never told his family or school officials that he was being bullied and ended his life by stepping into the path of a big rig.
Kids who are gay or appear to be gay are frequently targeted by bullies. In Massachusetts, 11-year-old Carl hanged himself, no longer able to endure months of bullying by kids who suspected he was gay. In Alabama, 16-year-old Whitney was at a party with heavy drinking when someone "outed" her. A drunk boy became enraged that there was a lesbian in the house.
Whitney said: "He dragged me outside, took my clothes off, started pushing me. People started spitting on me. I was kicked. I was called a lot of derogatory names including dyke, even fag at one point and all I remember after that is passing out. And when I woke up, I was in a dog pen and I couldn't find my clothes. People were still around me - probably about 12 people. Laughing."
Whitney continued to be harassed in school and became depressed. She tried to kill herself but, fortunately, her attempt at suicide was unsuccessful. Today, Whitney is a political science major in college. She's put the trauma of the past behind her and is a confident young woman who is comfortable with her sexuality.
Jill Rigby Garner believes it's important that children learn to treat everyone with dignity. She is the founder of Manners of the Heart, a non-profit organization based in Louisiana. Her group conducts special school programs promoting respect for self and others.
Kids aren't any safer from school bullies when they're at home. A growing number of students are becoming victims of cyber-bullying – online bashing meant to threaten or humiliate someone. The damage cyber bullies can cause is no less real than face-to-face bullying. Here are some warning signs to look for:
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