Kids can be cruel. One in four children admits to falling victim to a bully.
The parents of one such child, Ron and Stephanie of Omaha, say there are some pretty clear signs of trouble to look-out for.
“We started talking to him a little bit more and asking him questions every day when he started going, “No, I don't want to get dressed. No I'm too sick to go school.”
That kind of isolation is common among victims, says Dr. Brian Lubberstedt, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Alegent. Depression and anxiety are often present, as well. “I think the most important factor is for parents to talk to their kids, to open that dialog up, to let them know about their experiences when they were in school.”
As for Ron’s and Stephanie’s son’s troubles, they began early. “It started pretty heavy last year, in second grade,” said Ron. “He's always been a little bit smaller. We've been told (by a counselor) he's got a target on his back."
That “target” led to some horrifying situations. “He was being choked, he was being tripped, he was being kicked, he was being pushed,” said Stephanie, “He was being hit. And then he was being emotionally abused also."
Even worse, it was a group of girls at school, they say, who were behind the attacks. “A lot of people don’t realize girls can bully boys, too,” said Ron.
"Generally speaking, boys a lot of times tend to be a little more physical, whereas girls tend to use more of the words or the emotion to hurt," said Dr. Lubberstedt.
Online social media, he said, has exacerbated the problem.
"technology has certainly made it worse because of cyber bullying, bullying through online means such as text messaging, Twitter, Facebook. it used to be that kids would leave school and the bullying stopped because they were home, and now it never shuts off. As long as the kids are connected online, the bullies can continue to harass them."
"I think it's a requirement for having a Facebook account that you, at a minimum, are friends with your parent. Kids may see that as an invasion of privacy. The bottom line is that, though, as parents, we need to be able to keep you safe. And the way that we can do that is by monitoring where you are, who you're with.”
Ron said it’s hard to show restraint when your child that he’s being picked on. “You want to be there. You want to actually go to school and try to protect them, but you need to give them their space. You can't shelter them forever."
Instead, they reached out to his teacher, principal and guidance counselor. Dr. Lubberstedt said the boy’s parents are handling the situation well. "I usually suggest that the kids take care of it first. Depending on who's doing the bullying, they probably won't feel very comfortable confronting the bully. But they can certainly enlist help of those around them."
He added, "I think the most important factor is for parents to talk to their kids, to open that dialog up, to let them know about their experiences when they were in school."
Ron and Stephanie say it’s taken a while, but some steps the school has taken have helped. They’ve also begun taking their son to a counselor to learn some added coping strategies. "We're working on his confidence, help build him up and just be supportive."
Still, Stephanie said, "It's just slow for him to process that, to believe that he's really safe because it's been going on for so long."