The National Education Association has estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.
Author Doug Wilhelm, bullied as a child himself, decided to find out firsthand why bullying happens and what can be done to make it better. His realistic fiction book, The Revealers, is the result of that quest.
"Middle school is probably the toughest age to be," said Wilhelm. "Everybody knows where they are on the popularity scale. There is tremendous pressure and confusion at a time when you're trying to figure out who you are and where you end up in the heap."
recently invited Wilhelm to work with its sixth-graders who have all read his book, as part of the Positive Behaviors Interventions and Supports program.
"We try to not refer to it as bullying. We call it 'not respecting' someone, because respect is such an important part of PBIS and is a more positive word," said Assistant Principal Sean Murphy.
also provided an opportunity for parents and staff to meet with Wilhelm about the subject.
"Parents ask me what should I do, but this is really something kids have to work out for themselves, with their parent's support. The response I get most often when I ask them what would help is 'really listen to us, that would really help,' " Wilhelm said. "They need to know they are not alone."
According to the parent of one student, the school bus has posed a bullying problem for her son: "My son was bullied on the bus, hit with papers on the head and things like that. First he asked the other student, who was older, to stop. Then he just kept ignoring it and fortunately it ended."
Cyberbullying has increased "the meanness" of the problem, noted Wilhelm, because it is easier to spread rumors over the Internet and remain nameless, by using fake names or hacking into other people's sites.
"This is where it gets fuzzy for us to control," said Principal Scott Snyder. "We do step in when we hear about situations on places like Facebook, but often we don't hear about it because it's not happening at school."
Wilhelm identified three key truths:
- Bullying is universal.
- Bullying is more severe now than ever due to the Internet.
- Bullying is worst at schools that deny the problem.
According to Bully Statistics.org "bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than nonvictims." The problem has become so widespread that the term "bullycide" has started appearing in conversations about the topic.
also refers families to Warren Township, which provides an adult supervised Teen Center, a friendship group for students to make friends outside of school, and offers youth and family counseling.
"By the time the student comes to us about bullying, they've tried to resolve the problem on their own. They ask us, ‘What are you going to do to help?’ ” said Teen Center Youth and Family Counseling representative Angoli Walker.
According to both Wilhelm and Walker, students that are bystanders to bullying can play a significant role in helping resolve conflict situations.
"Just pulling the person aside afterward and acknowledging that you saw what happened to them is a help," Walker said.
Not only do parents need to provide a safe haven for children who are bullied, but so do the schools.
"The most important thing is to be open, to talk about it. Kids who don't feel safe are less likely to share what is happening to them, so it's important for the school to provide an environment that feels safe," he said.
Wilhelm concluded his presentation by sharing the impact his book had in one school where a “cool” kid stood up for a “bullied” kid in front of the entire student body. When Wilhelm asked her why she had helped, she responded, "Now I know how it feels."
Wilhelm has penned a new book, Truth Shoes, which tells the story of middle-schoolers dealing with online bullying. For more information on Doug Wilhelm go to: www.the-revealers.com.
For more information on the Warren Township Teen Center: www.warrenteens.com.
The U.S. government has created a site where schools, parents and children can find resources to help cope with bullying: http://www.stopbullying.gov/.