Hear Me Now: Bullying, cyberbullying and our children

Published:
Updated:

Kids in our community are taking their own lives. Bullying - in person and online - is a growing problem.

The only way to fix it is to work together: parents, schools and children.

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Special Guests & Speakers:

  • Dr. Bernadette Melnyk, PhD. - Vice President for Health Promotion, University Chief Wellness Officer & Professor and Dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State University
  • Pam Hartshorne - Columbus School for Girls Upper School Director
  • Mark Raiff - Olentangy Local Schools Superintendent
  • John Marschhausen - Hilliard City Schools Superintendent
  • Also, students from local schools share their stories - and what their doing to combat bullying

Resources

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The Bullying Gap

We hope this story is the start of a movement. A movement to end bullying.

In our four-part series on 10TV, Scott Light spoke with students, parents and experts about bullying and cyberbullying.

Teens open up about the effects of bullying and cyberbullying

We went to Chicago to talk to the leading expert in the country on the subject. Then we came back home here to central Ohio to talk to parents, educators and your kids.

Kids who told me that they don’t trust their parents or their schools to take away the pain and properly address a crisis.

The crisis is captured in part from recent headlines in Ohio about teenagers committing suicide. This includes a young boy in the Olentangy school district and six at one high school in Starke County.

A family member of a teen in Starke County who took her life told me, bullying in person and online led to her suicide.

So, I sat down with a group of eight teenagers at a central Ohio school. They all nodded – as if saying – ‘I get it’ when I asked if they could see how cyberbullying could factor into teen suicides.

One high schooler said, “It’s a buildup effect. It’s not one thing because most people can just brush off one or two things happening but when it’s happening over and over and over again and it’s a pattern.”

Bullying has led to thoughts of suicide by plenty more young people like a 13-year old girl from Marysville who wrote:

“It’s like I’m a punching bag. I hate it they call me slut and whore and I’m sick of it. They even say worse words than that and it makes me want to kill myself bad because I can’t take it anymore and I don’t think it will ever change.”

A 12-year old Ohio girl had this experience on Facebook, “Once I went on FB and all my friends were making fun of me. They said that I should kill myself and no one likes me and stuff like that. I was depressed for a long time. I’ve always thought about suicide ever since.”

Threatening, hateful, bigoted and racist posts online are big drivers of the cyberbullying problem and a common result? Isolation.

You may confidently say ‘oh my child would tell me if they were bullied' but they probably won’t.

Every high schooler I talked to said they wouldn’t tell their parents or a school teacher or administrator.

A high school student said:

“If you get administration involved and they blow it up into a huge deal, the other person involved is just going to be more mad at you.”

Another one said, “There’s nothing that will fix it getting administration involved in that.”

On Tuesday, you’ll hear what parents say about all this; some parents who are thinking about switching school districts in central Ohio because bullying and cyberbullying has gotten that bad.

Think about this too: Students talked to me about a lack of trust with their parents and with educators. Because teens are largely keeping cyberbullying to themselves, research shows, that means it’s an even bigger problem than we know.

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What parents need to learn about handling cyberbullying

As we’re devoting much of this week to the issue of bullying and cyberbullying, now it’s time to hear from parents.

Our first story focused on middle and high school students who told us how they’re bullied on social media. Now it’s the parents’ turn.

Also, some parents aren’t in the social spaces where their kids live. The experts say – if you’re not – you need to be.

First, we talked to a mom named Amber. She was thrust into her son’s social space one day – and she admits at first – she made it worse.

“I called them little bitches.”

Looking back, Amber says she wished she would have paused a little longer before reacting that way but as she put it, she became ‘momma bear’ when she found out her son was being bullied.

Our search for further understanding bullying and cyberbullying took us to a suburb north of Chicago. A district there is breaking new ground by talking about social media, bullying and coping to kindergartners.

We also interviewed one of the foremost experts on the subject because he came to visit that particular school district. Dr. Justin Patchin speaks internationally on the subject. He co-founded the Cyberbullying Research Center in 2005 and has been studying cyber-bullying since 2002.

The White House invited him to be part of a bullying prevention conference in 2011.

At every single speaking engagement, Dr. Patchin tells parents this:

“You need to be online too. If you’re on Instagram, on Snapchat, you’re now an instant part of that conversation. Most students who are cyberbullied do not tell their parents about their experience.”

Back in Columbus, we checked in with Amber again. Her son won’t say for sure but she believes the bullying has completely ended.

That prompted a tough conversation and an even tougher decision now looming in their house. Should her son transfer schools?

“Because he came home the other day and said ‘maybe I do want to go to a music artists’ school,’” she said.

She’s truly torn about making that decision.

Amber only wanted us to use her first name and she didn’t want her son’s school or school district made public. In fact, she was very pleased with how the district handled her son’s situation.

Bottom line, according to Dr. Patchin, Amber eventually did the right thing by getting the school system involved.

Educators can only investigate what they’re told or what they believe could be happening inside their respective schools.

Also, parents, don’t forget to be in those social spaces with your child whether it’s Instagram or Facebook.

You don’t have to be a social media expert but seeing their world online could give you a better idea if they’re being bullied online in any way.

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Parents share their fears over bullying of their children

“He was just the sweetest kid and so polite. Every time you saw him it was 'well hi how are you?'"

That’s how people describe Jacob Bice. He was a student at Olentangy Liberty but in early February, Jacob killed himself.

If Facebook comments are any gauge, his death shocked his school and sent an ice cold shiver through the community of Powell.

One parent who knew him said, “One of those kids that you just kind of wish your kid was like. Incredibly talented and gifted."

Olentangy superintendent Mark Raiff can't go into details about the investigation into Jacob's death but I asked him if his district has a bullying problem.

“I wouldn't say yes or no emphatically to anything. Only that emphatically saying we're trying our best each day to facilitate maximum learning for every student and trying to get better at everything we do."

After Jacob’s death, several parents reached out to 10TV with concerns about bullying. Two parents have middle schoolers who'll attend an Olentangy high school next year.

"I don't think there's anything that makes me feel comfortable right now about sending them to the high school at this particular location," said one parent.

Superintendent Raiff responded, “That's disheartening and for every one of those people I have to defend the work of our buildings and say I'll find 100 people that feel completely opposite."

Superintendent Raiff says the school can only investigate bullying – or any incident - if they know about it. He cited statistics at the district level from August of 2017 to December 2017 .

"So we had as a district, 34 reported incidents: three at the elementary level, 18 at the middle school level, 13 at the high school level. Out of 20,000 kids, it's less than .2 percent."

Mr. Raiff also says -- students – parents – anybody – has a completely anonymous way to report bullying or any behavior through a student help line that’s monitored every day of the year.

“The company that monitors that report for us 24/7 reads every report that comes in, determines the immediacy of the report. If it's something where a student is talking about self-harm or a student is talking about a weapon or something immediate, they start placing phone calls to a chain of command and they start with me,” said Superintendent Raiff.

The school district is cooperating with Powell police in the investigation into Jacob’s death.

Christie Bice, Jacob’s mom, posted this letter on a private Facebook page. She gave 10TV permission to make it public.

‘I am Jacob Bice’s mom. His dad and I have recently joined this group and have been reading the many outpourings of support for us after the loss of our son, as well as the outcry over the presumed reason for his death. While we appreciate the overwhelming number of requests to help with food and other means of support, we truly only want one thing: to know why our son died.

Many people have expressed knowledge that he was bullied, but very few are willing to share actionable details. Either folks fear reprisal, or they really didn’t have direct knowledge in the first place. To the few who have been willing to speak up with specifics, please accept our sincerest gratitude.

On that note, we ask for three things:

1. If you or your child do not have first-hand evidence that Jacob was bullied, please stop talking about it as this is not helpful. It only perpetuates rumors and takes valuable time away from the police investigation.

2. If you do have this information, but aren’t willing to discuss it with people who can actually do something about it, please stop talking about it because you are part of the problem. That may sound harsh, but no one is going to step forward for you. The problem will not solve itself. The solution begins with courage from those in the know. PLEASE BE COURAGEOUS.

3. If you do know names and can speak to specific incidents, and are willing to be part of the solution, please PM me or my husband, Jason Bice, or reach out to Detective Darren Smith of the Powell Police Department.

It sounds as though everyone agrees that bullying in our community and in the country needs to stop. That only happens if two things occur.

First, bullies need to be held accountable for the things they say and do, and the powers that be need to know about it. Speak up if you see that someone is being relentlessly teased or if nasty, hurtful things are posted online. If you know about it and do nothing, you are part of the problem. Never has it been easier or more socially acceptable to take a stand against bullies. Now is the time; the waiting needs to be over.

Second, parents need to be willing not just to talk to their kids about being a bully, starting all the way back in preschool and continuously from then on, but they need to be willing to admit that they may be raising one. If someone comes to you and tells you your child is bullying theirs, or if you witness it, do not just chalk the behavior up to “boys will be boys” or some other toxic nonsense. It is a teaching opportunity. Take it, and teach your child to have compassion for other kids. That’s how we end bullying, and maybe the suicide epidemic along with it.’

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Research can help parents learn how to identify & stop cyberbullying

This week, we’ve explored the issues of bullying and cyberbullying through the eyes of middle schoolers, teenagers, educators and parents. It’s a crisis that some say is a contributing factor to young people killing themselves.

We conclude our series with resources for parents and kids. Plus, we talk with people in central Ohio who are trying to end bullying.

Stopping bullying means starting at the genesis of it, long before a mean tweet is typed out.

Children learn how social isolation impacts grades and health

At Stewart Alternative Elementary, students recently brought something else to the lunch table: inclusion.

It was National No One Eats Alone day. By taking part, students also learned social isolation can lead to poor grades and poor health.

We also met Kaylee Schmelmer who is Miss Kentucky Junior High School but attends school locally in central Ohio. She’s been cyberbullied by message – ‘go to hell,’ and by picture – from a student flashing a middle finger.

In one exchange online, Kaylee took up for someone who was being bullied. She wrote ‘leave her alone. That’s not cool.’

Research for parents

We’re also learning much more about bullying – in the clinical sense from research by college professors like Dr. Justin Patchin who co-founded the Cyberbullying Research Center a decade ago. He also speaks to schools, students and parents worldwide on the subject.

His research into cyberbullying goes back to the early 2000’s.

If your child is cyberbullied, the evidence is on their phone or computer. Dr. Patchin says don’t delete it!

His big lesson for parents?

Embrace your kids’ technology. Join the social networks they’re in.

Local schools bring in experts

Positives are happening locally too. Schools like Grandview High are bringing in experts like Dr. Tim Conrad to talk with parents and teachers.

Also locally, after the suicide death of an Olentangy high school student, parents in the Powell rallied on Facebook. They vow to create a movement to stop bullying by empowering kindness.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, the effort to address bullying has reached the true ground level – with kids. Remember earlier in our story when Kaylee Schmelmer took up for someone being bullied? Now that message is now a big part of Kaylee’s life. She hosts events like these to encourage her peers to be kind. Kaylee reads books to elementary school students and tells them to speak up when someone is bullied.

And in the cafeteria at Stewart Alternative Elementary on National No One Eats Alone, no one ate alone on this day. Students told us they promise to help those who feel isolated – every day.