(This Op-Ed appears in the December 16, 2017 issue of Florida Today newspaper.)
Bullying is a nightmare for many kids, a problem which schools, government officials, and yes, some parents, do not take seriously enough. It can impact a person’s future forever. In some instances, it can cause death and destruction within families.
I know something about bullies. I remember a slightly built boy in seventh grade nicknamed Squidgie who didn’t realize that other kids thought he was a “fairy.” A bigger boy named Stanley and his followers began taunting Squidgie daily in hallways, bathrooms and school yards, belittling, screaming, laughing, pointing and humiliating the child to the point that he began to withdraw into his own world. His mother (widowed) was perplexed, unable to crack through the shell that Squidgie withdrew into.
One day, a gaggle of boys and girls played dodge ball after school with Squidgie as the target in the circle center until he fell. From there, came the pushing, hitting and kicking. The kids took his violin from the case and threw it in the bushes, all laughing and screaming, “Squidgie is a fairy” over and over. The world became a lonely place for that child.
The boy had been a stellar student in grades one through six, being thrust by teachers to skip fourth grade because of his advanced progress. Then, the bullying began. Squidgie failed the seventh grade, mostly because of chronic truancy and failing to turn in homework. He pleaded with his mother to drop violin lessons, despite his advanced musicianship. His image to other kids meant everything.
Today, such youths are not only victims of in-person assaults. The cyber world has added a new dimension to the problem and perhaps more far reaching.
The group National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment, the National Institute for Mental Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have assembled some stark statistics regarding this issue:
• Suicide is the third highest cause of death among ages 10 to 14. Bullying undoubtedly plays a major role in such cases;
• Every seven minutes, a child is bullied in the U.S.
• Bullied students tend to grow up more anxious and with low self-esteem, requiring mental health services throughout life;
• Only 7 percent of parents worry about bullying even though 33 percent of teens have been subjected to cyber bullying;
• One million kids are subjected to cyber bullying every year
• An estimated 160,000 kids miss school every day for fear of bullying.
Cyber bullying should not be ignored just because no physical violence is involved. The many examples of such assaults include: text bullying; pictures/videos; phones; chat rooms and instant messages. These are harder to detect because it lacks physical contact, but they can be just as devastating to the self-esteem of victims.
The key people who must be fully aware and ready to intervene in these situations are mostly parents and teachers. Such reports should never be ignored.
We often hear the term “PTSD” associated with people who are psychologically disturbed from traumatic events like war. Bully victims can be equally afflicted, and in some cases live their entire lives altered from the impact of such assaults. But there are no statistics that address the long range ramifications.
Squidgie tried everything to avoid violin practice then made a fool of himself trying macho activities: boxing, wrestling and football. When he grew older, he quit high school to avoid failing. Instead of joining a symphony, he joined the Marines. From there, he entered into a life of law enforcement, carrying a gun, and matching up to other “men.”
Who knows what future may have lied ahead for Squidgie in the world of music. He had the talent. But, sadly, the bullies prevailed.
Yes, I knew that kid. He was me.