On the morning of Sept. 29, 1998, Jared High called his father at work to say goodbye.
While on the phone with him, Jared shot and killed himself - just six days after his 13th birthday.
In the weeks prior, his family says, Jared had been bullied at his middle school in Pasco, Wash., culminating in an assault in the gym. He began suffering from depression, lack of sleep and exhibited emotional outbursts. Overcome by it all, he took his own life.
Bullying has gone far beyond the days of scrapes at a bus stop. Thanks to technology, bullying can flood into every aspect of life, drowning its victims through cyberspace and cell phones 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Anti-bullying initiatives are sweeping through schools and state legislatures across the country. Even the federal government has weighed in, establishing a website, stopbullying.gov. But what is bullying in the 21st century and how has our definition evolved through recent decades? And how do parents recognize warning signs that their child is being bullied, or if their child is the one doing the bullying?
According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or imagined power imbalance.” Bullying is further broken down into three types: verbal, social and physical (See “What it means” for more).
The warning signs for both bullies and those being bullied are varied. Unexplained injuries, lost or destroyed possessions, faking illnesses, declining academic performance and loss of friends or avoidance of social situations could be signs a child is being bullied. Increasingly aggressive behavior, trouble at school, unexplained extra money or possessions, and a pattern of blaming others for problems could indicate a child is doing the bullying.
“If not acted upon, bullying can affect the school climate by creating an atmosphere of fear and disrespect,” said Stanley Bragg, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidance specialist. “Children may perceive that the adults do not have control, and cannot handle the situation, or simply do not care about them.”
Bragg said children who are bullied tend to suffer from depression and anxiety. They have problems sleeping and maintaining a healthy appetite. Their academic performance, as well as their health, tend to suffer in the wake of being bullied.
And bullying can have long-term effects, reaching into adulthood.
“Some of the physical, mental and academic issues that kids who are bullied experience may translate into adulthood where they can have depression and anxiety,” said David Esquith, Director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students with the U.S. Department of Education. “There can be significant physical ailments that lead to taking medications to address these issues. They are at risk to drop out of school, and their academic problems could continue into college. Kids who bully are more likely to have traffic citations, engage in early sexual activity, be more violent, and are also at risk for substance abuse and psychological problems.”
Page 2 of 2 - Bullying has become such a problem for today’s youth that, at DESE’s urging, the Missouri Legislature passed a law in 2006 that defined the act and set guidelines for each school district’s handling of the situation. Each school district was required to have an anti-bullying policy in effect by September 1, 2007.
Bragg said legislation provides “statewide consistency” in applying rules, while still allowing districts to maintain a level of local flexibility in handling bullying.
At Linn County’s schools, both have policies in place to combat bullying. These were done in compliance with the above-mentioned legislation.
At Brookfield, the policy clearly defines the different types of bullying. Parent groups are shown a power point presentation on the subject at one of their meetings.
At Marceline, the student handbook clearly details the consequences of bullying. Also, the District hosted a Strategos International training session for the community last year, which focused on community members seeing signs of bullied children.
“We feel we have a good open line of communication with our parents,” said Marceline Superintendent Gabe Edgar. “Most of our parents would feel very comfortable coming to one of the administrator’s and reporting incidents.”
Dr. Paul Barger, Superintendent at Brookfield, urges parents to be active in reporting incidents of bullying.
“The first step would be to contact an adult, and make them aware of the situation,” Dr. Barger said. “In addition we have a bullying hotline that students can use to make a report if they are not comfortable speaking with an adult at school.”
Bullying is an issue that is important at both districts.
“Bullying has become more and more prevalent the last 10 years,” Edgar said. “I do think we stress the importance of safety to all students. I am not going to say bullying is not a problem, but I will say it is something we take very seriously and we as a collective staff take it to heart.”
That sentiment was echoed by Dr. Barger.
“In regard to bullying being a problem, I think it always has been and will continue to be an issue that is why we must continue to be vigilant at identifying, disciplining the offenders, and promote resources that help a child report the incidents.”
The local anti-bullying hotline number is 660-473-8086.