Gerald Bell | Contributor
Last fall, KABC-7 News reported that a John Adams Middle School special education student suffered broken bones after being attacked on the playground by another student who pushed and punched him and called him the N-word. There was also an El Segundo Middle School student, Eleri Irons who was tormented and verbally assaulted by three fellow students who initiate their bullying with a petition titled “Let’s kill Eleri Irons.” The Los Angeles Times reported Irons suffered “significant physical and psychological trauma” as a result. In 2017, thirteen-year-old Rosalie Avila, a Yucaipa eighth grader took her own life after being bullied by school peers.
Often mistaken for kids being kids or some rite of passage, bullying on school campuses has surged to near epidemic proportions, and according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) is a major contributor to the rising cases of anxiety, depression, and suicide among school-aged youth in the U.S.
No different than being called a racial slur or denied access because of your ethnicity, religious or political affiliation, bullying is an act of hate. And while being bullied often occurs among adults—such as in the workplace—studies show that children and youth endure bullying at much a higher rate.
23% of African American students, 16% of Hispanic students, and 7% of Asian students report being bullied at school, and more than one third of adolescents who admit to being bullied say it was bias-based school bullying, the NCES revealed.
“Young people are often overrepresented among hate crime victims,” said Brian Levin, Director at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino. “We know there is massive underreporting of bullying to begin with, and that is certainly true of youth related hate crimes.”
According to Levin, schools are a frequent location for hate incidents. “Over the past 10 years schools were the fifth most common place for hate crimes behind highways, alleys and streets, homes, and houses of worship,” he said. “Schools are one of example where we’re seeing a reverberation of anger, stereotyping, and directed aggression.”
These emotional exploits and acts of hate are increasingly carried out in cyberspace. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that cyberbullying perpetrated by youth is at an all-time high, and is the highest among middle school students first, followed by high school students, and then primary grade school students.
Further, the NCES’ report showed that among youth ages 12 – 18 who reported being bullied at school, 15% were bullied online or by text. When students were questioned about the specific types of cyberbullying they had experienced, ‘mean and hurtful comments’ (25%) and ‘rumors spread online’ (23%) were the most commonly-cited.
“80% of youth have cell phones and use them regularly. Apps such as Instagram and Twitter have allowed communication and pain to be instantaneous,” said Dr. Tory Cox, Clinical Associate Professor, at USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. “Parents need to train their children about the impact of cyberbullying and limit their access early on.”
Victims of cyberbullying are more likely to suffer from depression, that leads to thoughts of suicide, the CDC reports. In addition, the type of cyberbullying tends to differ by gender. Girls were more likely to say someone spread rumors about them online, while boys were more likely to say that someone threatened to hurt them online.
Dr. Stephen Russell at the University of Arizona claims 75% of all incidents that are called “bullying” employ hate speech and bias—namely racial, sexual orientation, gender, body-type, and religious bias.
“Bullying, bad as the connotation might be, is something kids do,” argues Russell. “No anti-bullying program can succeed unless it confronts these underlying prejudices. Only when such intolerances are reduced will bullying go down.”
The efforts to prevent or address school bullying can come at very high cost—some of which are hidden. The University of Texas at Austin published in School Psychology Quarterly that when children are afraid to go to school because classmates target them due to biases, schools lose tens of millions of dollars each year linked to this absenteeism. California schools alone lost $276 million in funding when students stayed home out of fear, the article noted.
Even more significant costs are added when school or district authorities neglect incidents of hate. Such is the case with Irons who was awarded $1m in damages after a jury in the Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled the El Segundo Unified School District displayed negligence in how its staff was trained and supervised to manage bullying which resulted in harmful effects on Irons, who was age thirteen at the time.
“A school’s culture can contribute to or cultivate bullying behavior if the school community chooses to ignore obvious signs or is truly naive about what can happen in unsupervised hallways and playgrounds,” the California Department of Education posts on their website. “School bullying can have a devastating impact on a student’s emotional well-being, unfortunately driving many to injure themselves.”
“Kids and young people model off of what they see adults doing,” Levin said. “So, at a time when we’re seeing much polarization and conflict, we really have to have a whole community approach that doesn’t just surface after a hate crime is committed, but before…Parents and schools alike have come out in force to decry the incidents; however, it’s also necessary for schools to be more proactive.”
To report bullying or to get help, the 24/7 hotline to call is: 866-232-4376. Or visit 866BeAHero.com to find resources to deal with bullying.