Israel Price had endured name calling and schoolyard taunts for years, but said what happened weeks into this school year surprised even him.
First, two Riverdale Middle School classmates slashed his bicycle tires. Then two others cornered him in the school restroom and pushed him so hard into the brick wall he suffered a concussion that left him unable to walk or talk.
After weeks of rehabilitation, the 13-year-old probably won’t be able to return to school at least for another month, his mother says.
But even if he could, he’s afraid to.
As daunting and difficult as his ordeal has been, he and his mother Charleia Price know it could be worse. Israel could have been Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a Florida girl who jumped to her death from an abandoned cement factory silo after enduring a year of near-consistent face-to-face and online bullying. Two of Sedwick’s female classmates, ages 12 and 14, were arrested last week on felony charges for bullying in connection with her death.
“When you send your kids to school, you expect them to come home the way they left,” Charleia Price said. “When I learned he had a concussion I thought he might get a headache or feel dizzy, not a month of dealing with this. It’s been completely life altering.”
Charles Whites, spokesman for the Clayton County School District, would not respond to specific questions about the incident, saying the “district does not comment on disciplinary matters but takes bullying very seriously.”
He said, “That’s why we recognize October as National Bullying Prevention Month and provide both online and in-school resources to our teachers and students.”
Although cyber-bullying has received a lot of attention of late, it is one of the least common forms of bullying, said Clemson University professor Susan P. Limber. Only 6 percent of boys and 4 percent of girls experience cyber-bullying compared to 16 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys who experience verbal bullying, according to a recent survey of 20,000 students in grades 3-12.
What’s worse, Limber said, is that 39 percent of bullied students indicate they have been bullied one year or longer. Many have told no one. “In fact, more than one quarter of bullied middle school students and one-third of bullied high school students have not told anyone of their experiences,” Limber said.
Price said Israel never complained to her but did report being bullied to his teacher, three times, but nothing was done.
Price said Israel has been a magnet for bullies since third grade. At just 85 pounds, he’s smaller than most kids his age. He likes to forge his own path. He prefers to dress in a shirt and tie rather than big T-shirts like most kids.
She said many of his Riverdale classmates rejected him, calling him “a punk” who wouldn’t fight. On Sept. 19, the bullies assaulted him The blow to the head left the aspiring singer unable to walk, and after a month in rehab he still doesn’t have feeling on his right side. He’s walking better but his balance is still off. His cognitive abilities aren’t yet 100 percent.
Price said bullying is an epidemic, but “Teachers don’t take it seriously. Parents don’t take it seriously. None of us do until something tragic happens.”
But we should, said Limber, and here’s why:
“Research confirms that bullying can have negative effects on kids’ emotional and physical well-being, as well as their academic achievement,” she said. “Kids who are bullied are more likely than those who aren’t to be depressed, feel anxious, feel lonely, experience health problems such as headaches, backaches, stomach aches, sleeping problems, and poor appetite, and want to avoid going to school, and have lower academic achievement.”
There is also evidence that some of these problems — particularly depression and anxiety — may persist into adulthood, Limber said.
Debra Tucker, executive director of the nonprofit Parent to Parent of Georgia, said stories like Sedwick’s, the Florida girl, are becoming more frequent.
“What’s particularly disturbing is the reaction of the parents of the alleged bullies,” Tucker said. “Understandably, they are denying their child’s involvement in the case, but in reality, they likely have no idea how their child interacts with their fellow schoolmates, especially via social media where many parents are prevented from seeing their child’s postings.”
Sahara Byrne, a professor of communication at Cornell University and an expert in online communication, says research indicates most parents would be surprised by what their kids are doing on the Internet.
“Youth believe that social media is their turf and they are somewhat correct,” Byrne said. “Parents sometimes have no idea what their kids are doing online until it’s too late.
Tucker said if the Florida teens are found guilty of bullying, she would support punitive measures as well as counseling to help them understand the impact of their actions.
“Kids need to know that bullying leaves lifelong scars and can lead to permanent injury if not death,” she said. The old adage, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ is so wrong on so many levels. Words hurt. In fact, they fester like wounds and sometimes, kids like the young lady from Florida can’t take the pain anymore.”
Shannon Stroppel, a Midtown social worker and mother of two sons, ages 7 and 9, doesn’t take bullying lightly.
Both her sons have been cursed and threatened on the school bus or playground. Her advice to her sons, although controversial, is simple: “The best way to stop a bully, tell them once to leave you alone but if they get physical, give it back to them.”
Stroppel said she is happy with the proactive stance administrators at Springdale Park Elementary, where her sons attend, take. They encourage students and teachers to talk about it, she said, and anti-bullying signs are posted throughout the school.
The good news, Limber said is the percentages of kids who report being bullied three times a month or more decreases steadily from third to 12th grade. For example, although 22 percent third- and fourth-graders report being bullied, by eighth-grade the percentage has decreased to 14 percent and by 12th grade to 9 percent. And, evidence indicates that school-based bullying-prevention efforts can significantly reduce bullying among students.
Tips to deal with bullying:
- If the bullying is physical, rescue your child from the threat and keep detailed notes of the event and alert the authorities immediately.
- If the bullying is verbal and your child has an emotional reaction such as showing anger or tears, the bullying will continue. Teach them to not show emotion and the bullying will stop.
- If the bullying is online, teach your child to respond using the Golden Rule. Treat everyone like friends, even your enemies. A brief and kind response will make the bully look and feel foolish and the bullying will stop.
- If the bullying involves social exclusion, help the child understand that not everyone wants to be his or her friend. When children can enjoy a few loyal friends, without seeking approval from everyone else, they will be much happier.
- If the bullying is from an adult, help your child confront the adult with an attitude of respect and a desire for reconciliation. Blaming or attacking the adult will only escalate hostilities.
Source: Brooks Gibbs, bullying expert and national spokesman for “Be The Difference. Speak Up Against Bullying!” Program
Bullying by the numbers:
How common is it?
- 16 percent of students report being bullied two to three times a month or more at school
- 7 percent of students bullied others at school
- One-fifth of all students were involved in bullying at school, either as a student who was bullied, one who bullied others, or both.
At what grades is bullying most common?
- The percentage of students who were bullied decreased steadily from third through 12th grade
- The percentage of students who bullied others peaked in 8th-10th grades; different age trends were found for boys and girls who bullied
By whom are students bullied?
- Boys were most frequently bullied by other boys
- Girls were bullied by both girls and boys
How long does bullying last?
- 51 percent of bullied students reported that they had been bullied for 6 months or more
- 39 percent of bullied students reported that they have been bullied for one year or longer
Whom do students tell about being bullied?
- Bullied students were more likely to tell parents than teachers, siblings, or friends
- 30 percent of bullied high school girls and 41 percent of bullied high school boys had not told anyone about being bullied
How many students are afraid of being bullied?
- 14 percent of students were “often” afraid of being bullied
Source: Bullying in U.S. Schools: 2012 Status Report, Clemson University and Hazelden Foundation