When alarm clocks go off Monday morning, you can rest assured a lot of children and teenagers will wake up afraid to go to school. They dread being verbally or physically tormented by a classmate or classmates. Or they worry about being excluded and shunned.
Bullying has always been around. But with the pervasiveness of social media, there are new ways to torment and fewer places to hide.
There’s much disagreement about how big a problem bullying is and there’s an inclination, we think, toward downplaying, even soft-pedaling, the issue by some well-intentioned government agencies. Still, others have characterized bullying as an epidemic and a crisis.
We don’t know quantitatively how widespread bullying is. What we do know is the tragic deaths of three Galveston County girls in about a year’s span were ruled suicides. We know that people close to the girls believed bullying played a serious part in their deaths. We also know that finding children in Galveston County who had been bullied wasn’t difficult at all.
The Daily News today launches a series — Bullied to the Brink — which will run for several weeks on Sundays exploring the problems and possible solutions to what, we’re convinced, is a serious health and safety issue.
We also hope the series sparks conversation and change about how adults and children confront the problem.
For many reasons, this series was a particularly sensitive one to report. Media traditionally doesn’t report suicides, unless they’re public or involving a celebrity. In this case, two of the girls died in public places and the family of the third has made her death a public issue, in hopes of achieving some good.
Government agencies and psychologists caution media and the general public to never imply or state that bullying directly played a role in a child’s suicide, for fear of inspiring contagion. There’s also a concern that framing bullying as the direct cause of suicide could perpetuate the notion that suicide is a natural response to being bullied, which has the dangerous potential to “normalize” the response and thus create copycat behavior among youth, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But that same federal agency also states: “We know that bullying behavior and suicide-related behavior are closely related. This means youth who report any involvement with bullying behavior are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior than youth who do not report any involvement with bullying behavior.”
Because many parents, teachers and other adults don’t always witness bullying behavior, they might not know how bad it can get or the serious consequences. And they might not understand how vulnerable a bullying victim might be.
But silence about a young person’s suicide lends to an underground mystique. On the other hand, discussion that raises awareness could prevent a child’s death.
Consider another statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “In the case of drowning deaths among children, those who are not directly supervised by a competent adult while swimming are more likely to die by drowning than those children who are directly supervised. While the lack of adult supervision does not directly cause a child to drown, it is a critical circumstance that can affect the outcome of the situation.”
Bullied to the Brink will cover such issues as cyberbullying, the effectiveness of zero-tolerance policies, the criminalization of the bully and how a bully is made, among other topics. We welcome feedback throughout the series.
• Laura Elder