Experts say bullying is a growing, complex problem

Experts say bullying is a growing, complex problem which requires community action

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By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Education Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Kids are being terrorized in school, on the bus, even in their own homes by bullies. Teenagers committing suicides and juveniles committing adult crimes that could land them behind bars seem to be on the rise.

Experts say we need to change the way we deal with bullying. In East Tennessee, schools, parents, and even community organizations are helping deal with it.

Jamal Spradling, an 11-year-old from Talbott, said he's been bullied and seen others face bullying. "I know it can really hurt people a lot, and it happens very often."

6 News visited schools in 3 counties. Every child and adult we talked with had an experience with bullying, either as a victim, bystander, or even a bully. 9-year-old Cayla Smith of Talbott told us she was the target of bullying when adults were out of sight. "This girl threatened me, in the bathroom, to give her all my silly bands, and if I didn't she would pin me up to a corner."

Austin Mayberry, a 7th grader in White Pine, said he has been reluctant to step in at times when others faced bullying, even though he felt it was wrong. "I just want to intervene and tell them, just back off, just go away, just leave them alone."

Elizabeth Young told us seeing a family member bullied was more painful than enduring it herself. "My little brother's been bullied before and it really hits home when it happens to somebody you know," she said.

It's nothing new, even experts like University of Tennessee professor and author Dr. David Dupper has been there. "I was a victim of bullying," he said. Dupper said the problem is getting worse, sometimes more violent, and bullies can have a more damaging effect on their victims than ever before.

"I think with the cyber bullying, the viciousness, the cruelty, that's what I think is really getting people's attention," added Dupper. Some victims are afraid to tell, but through new school and community programs, counselors are getting children to open up.

We read surveys circulated through one school district by non-profit, Safe Space. The stunning results, scrawled in a child's hand over and over, were words like, "I'm being bullied. I'm sad. I'm scared." One survey from a 4th grade student stood out. It read, "I wish I was dead!"

"It's hard to say that bullying in and of itself is going to lead to a suicide attempt," explained Dupper, "but if a kid is already having difficulty with family issues, or some mental health issues, bullying could really be the thing that pushes them over."

Tennessee schools are required to have a policy to address bullying on school grounds, and for the first time in 2012, they must have a policy to address cyber bullying.

It's a step in the right direction says Dupper, but we must also take bullying seriously, get rid of stereotypes about what a bully looks like, and the mind set that we as adults must witness bullying to stop it.

"Just like we don't tolerate child abuse, we don't tolerate domestic violence, we're not going to tolerate bullying," is the message we should be sending to our kids, said Dupper.

Cassandra Kyker, a 7th grade student in White Pine, agrees bystanders and witnesses to bullying should step up. "It's always good to go and tell a teacher each time that someone is being bullied cause if it gets too bad, they could actually go home and kill themselves," she said.  

Creating a community of adults who won't stand for bullying, and empowering children who witness bullying to react, experts say is key.

A dramatic change in behavior, a new fear of going to school, and a drop in grades are all signs that your child may be a victim of bullying. Bullying is abuse that takes different forms, but experts say generally boys are more likely to be physical, and girls often use emotional bullying, like excluding, or spreading rumors.

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