The first study to examine the long-term effects of bullying shows the longer the bullying, the more severe and lasting the impact on a child’s health. The Boston Children’s Hospital study published in mid-February is major news in what some consider a new trend of bullying. For local moms like Ashlee LaFleur it’s a fact they’ve known for some time. When the bullying stops the pain does not.
The Lafayette mother is candid about the damage her daughter has endured in the face of bullying that has lasted for several years now — escalating most recently and leaving the pre-teen in counseling with the most severe symptoms manifesting as cutting.
“My bubbly little girl has changed,” LaFleur says.
LaFleur’s child is not alone; more than 27 percent of students are bullied, according to numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics.
“Social media has changed things,” LaFleur says. “You use that and something spreads in seconds.”
While the clear connection between social media and bullying remains questionable, there is a notable trend in the use of social media as a bullying tool. Kathy Roy, founder of REAL — a program in Lafayette Parish schools that aims to prevent bullying from ever happening in the first place — says bullying has changed over the years thanks to children who use sites like Instagram to post embarrassing photos of other students.
“Bullying now doesn’t have to be verbal,” Roy says.
Bullying, Roy believes, still comes from the same place no matter the methods.
“It comes from a place where people are not satisfied and they project,” Roy says.
What that means is different for different people. Both Roy and LaFleur say there isn’t a classic definition of the sort of person who becomes a bully, which is likely why dealing with and treating it on a systematic level is a challenge. LaFleur says those who have bullied her child range from A-plus students to those who clearly have problems at home. There is no picture to paint of the outward appearance of a child who becomes a bully.
And parents like LaFleur are often at a loss of how to deal with the situation.
“I’ve tried addressing the parents sometimes. Sometimes I let her fight her own battles. At one point I was up at the school every week,” LaFleur says.
Now, LaFleur has her child in counseling and more involved in church, but she still worries about the future. She says social media can serve as a healthy support system at times just as the other side of the coin opens children to cyberbullying. For now, her child only uses social media sitting at the table in their home, and she doesn’t put up photos.
Roy says the REAL program offers one day “reality check” programs that impart the principles of a system that seeks to stop bullying before it begins. They also offer an elective based on the message.
“We hope it has a trickle down effect,” Roy says.
While it’s impossible to reach every student, the goal is to have enough impact that those students don’t bully and create an environment that’s not conducive to bullying. But even the federal government’s own site StopBullying.gov is clear that among the unknowns in the new study of bullying is the solution.
“Many prevention programs have been tested in schools with modest results. Others have failed to make a difference. Researchers are still working on solutions to this complex problem,” according to the site.
All hope is not lost, however. While there may not be a clear remedy for bullying, there are risk factors associated with bullying and there are some broad do’s and don’ts.
A preventive approach is better than dealing with issues after the fact, and any approach is best when it comes from many angles — involve the entire school community from students and family to administrators, teachers and all staff members. According to StopBullying.gov, zero tolerance and expulsion are not effective approaches.
The most simple ideas just may be the solution to a complex and growing problem. It’s vital to keep the lines of communication open and to talk to children about bullying; encourage them to do what they love and to model kindness and respect.
“We ask students to look at how they are judging each other and themselves,” Roy says.
In other words, looking within is where it begins. Treating others with kindness is where it ends.