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Bullying at epidemic proportions

By Lacy Hilliard
As school shootings are becoming seemingly commonplace in the United States, schools across the country are beginning to take bullying more seriously. October is Bullying Awareness Month and recent statistics have ranked Tennessee as one of the worst states in the country for bullying. In 2012, Tennessee schools had 7,555 reported cases of bullying. Experts agree that there are likely hundreds if not thousands of unreported cases and therefore the actual statistics are undetermined. However, one thing’s for certain – bullying can leave a lasting impact on children both emotionally and academically.
In response to the growing number of reported bullying cases, the government launched stopbullying.gov. The campaign breaks bullying down into three different categories. Verbal bullying is defined as teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, and threatening to cause harm. Social bullying includes leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone, or purposely embarrassing someone in public. Finally physical bullying includes any physical harm to a peer and usually escalates from verbal or social bullying.
Though bullying has been present throughout history, the technology of today is sometimes used as a means to launch sophisticated character assaults via social media that have resulted in suicides and even murders. To combat cyber bullying, Tennessee introduced a bill that became law on July 1, 2012. The law identifies specifications for cyber bullying, making the act a punishable form of harassment.
Many victims of bullying don’t confide in their parents or teachers for fear of being ostracized by their peers. However, the governments anti-bullying campaign is working to raise awareness and hoping that as a result, it will be he bullies that will be ostracized rather than the bullied. For parents that suspect their child may be the victim of bullying, stopbullying.gov offers the following signs: “unexplainable injuries, lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry, frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness, changes in eating habits like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch, have difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares, experience declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork or not wanting to go to school, sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations, feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem and self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.”
Though no parent wants to imagine that their child could be responsible for the bullying of another, the Stop Bullying Campaign warns that it’s important for parents to be wary of the signs that their children may be the bully. Signs that your child may be the bully can include getting into physical or verbal fights, having friends who bully others, becoming increasingly aggressive, getting sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently, having unexplained extra money or new belongings, blaming others for their problems, not accepting responsibility for their actions, and being overly competitive or worrying about their reputation or popularity status.
There are several ways to prevent bullying and to mentor children whether they are the bullies or the bullied. It’s important that parents and educators remain vigilant of the signs and to act immediately if suspicion is piqued. Studies have shown that the longer a child is bullied, the more serious the outcome in terms of emotional and academic consequences. To learn more about how to prevent bullying or to gain insight about how to handle a specific bullying situation visit www.stopbullying.gov.