By Gaetane Borders
There is a serious and prevalent issue occurring with children in schools. It is something that greatly affects children’s self-esteem and self-worth, and can also sometimes lead to clinical depression and suicide. It is called bullying. In fact, the American Justice Department says that each month 1 out of every 4 kids will be abused by another youth. In addition, another 8% of students miss 1 day of class per month for fear of bullies, while 43% fear harassment in the bathroom at school.
So what exactly is bullying, you might ask? Perhaps you envision a mean, stocky child who takes lunch money away from a meek classmate. Or, perhaps you recall the teasing that has occurred for years on the playground. Bullying can involve a variety of behaviors, but all involve an antagonistic person or a group of people who repeatedly try to harm someone who is vulnerable. It often times involves physical violence, threatening, making repeatedly demeaning comments, intimidation, and stealing. However, bullying can also be less direct, as bullies may chose to make life difficult for children by encouraging others to isolate them, or by starting humiliating and demeaning rumors. In fact, most experts report that the majority of bullying is actually verbal and nonphysical.
Recently, many stories have been reported about children who have committed suicide as a result of bullying. In Atlanta, GA, news about Jaheem Herrara has garnered a lot of attention. As reported by CNN…
“Eleven-year-old Jaheem Herrera woke up on April 16 acting strangely. He wasn't hungry and he didn't want to go to school. But the outgoing fifth grader packed his bag and went to school at Dunaire Elementary School in DeKalb County, Georgia.
He came home much happier than when he left in the morning, smiling as he handed his mother, Masika Bermudez, a glowing report card full of A's and B's. She gave him a high-five and he went upstairs to his room as she prepared dinner.
A little later, when his younger sister called him to come down to eat, Jaheem didn't answer. So mother and daughter climbed the stairs to Jaheem's room and opened the door. Jaheem was hanging by his belt in the closet.”
His mother, Masika Bermudez, has emphatically stated that the bullying that her son endured caused him to take his life. Reportedly, Jaheem had been physically assaulted and teased by his classmates. According to news reports, Bermudez thinks her son felt like nobody wanted to help him, and that nobody stood up for him when he pleaded for help.
Parents and educators can help to make a difference by simple being aware that it occurs, and addressing it. Minimizing such situations communicates to children that it is tolerable. Instead, listen attentively to what your child is saying to you, and if they report that someone is making them feel threatened, assure them that it is not their fault and that it is wrong. However, please note that children often do not report bullying to parents and teachers because they may fear retaliation, are ashamed, or may simple want to fit in with their peer group. Adults should take notice of any behavioral changes such as depressed mood, changes in appetite, a decline in grades, a lack of desire to participate in social activities that they once enjoyed, or talking about suicide. These are all signs that a child is in serious distress. Please do not simply assume it to be normal childlike growing pains. Instead, show support, and most importantly, intervene to ensure that the bullying ends.
Gaétane F. Borders, MA, ABD
Certified School Psychologist
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)