Thursday, April 01, 2010


Another series of sad stories out of the Dallas, Texas area after a 13-year old boy hung himself after being bullied. Please discuss the problem of bullying and being bullied with your sons and daughters.

Suicides open eyes to bullying after 13-year-old Joshua boy's death

By JESSICA MEYERS / The Dallas Morning News

A 13-year-old hangs himself in a Johnson County barn. An 8-year-old jumps out of a two-story school building in Houston. Nine Massachusetts teenagers face jail time after allegedly harassing a girl so mercilessly that she killed herself. These incidents, all of which took place in the past week, reframe the age-old phenomenon of the schoolyard bully.

Students are turning to suicide, experts say, as an escape from taunts that now continue beyond the school day through cyberspace. Such drastic responses, they say, reveal how an action once considered a rite of passage has turned into a public health issue.

"You used to get a reprieve every time you went home," said Beaux Wellborn, who helps lead the Bully Suicide Project, a Dallas effort started in November to address the surge in suicides. "Kids today don't get a reprieve. It's a constant cycle. Imagine waking up and getting a text message that someone hates you, then dealing with it at school and getting home to face it on Facebook and Instant Messenger."

Notions of suicide are also morphing, according to Wellborn, who dealt with routine catcalls and books thrown at his head in high school a decade ago. Suicide, he said, has become almost vogue. One bullied kid he worked with had made a suicide pact with another through an online chat room. "It's very honorable," Wellborn said.

Data does not exist to link suicides with bullying, although Wellborn's organization has counted four in the Dallas area this year. The most recent one occurred this weekend, when the Johnson County boy hanged himself in a barn.

There are others. A 15-year-old freshman at Cleburne High School killed himself last year after classmates teased him about his facial scars. They'd come from a car accident when he was toddler. Also last year, an 11-year-old Massachusetts boy hanged himself after enduring daily taunts of being gay. This year, a 15-year-old Irish high school student in Massachusetts, who had been tormented by peers, was found hanging in her stairwell. Nine teenagers were indicted on charges relating to her death this week.

Staying home in fear

News reports have drawn increased attention to the problem. But the National Education Association estimates that more than 160,000 children miss school every day because of fear of attack or intimidation by other students.

Technology and societal pressures may have changed, but mentalities haven't, said Marlene Snyder, the director of development for the Olweus Bully Prevention Program at Clemson University's Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life. Hence the imbalance.

"When I was a kid, I knew what I was doing would be reported back to mom," she said. "It's a different world out there now. Look at the more violent programming kids are watching, see how parents are stretched. And we're still saying, 'Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never harm you.' That's baloney."

Much of the blame, she said, lies with school officials who maintain a "kids will be kids" attitude. "You need a comprehensive, long-term program, stuff that is done year after year. You need policies that say if you choose to bully here, these are the consequences."

Most states, including Texas, have anti-bullying laws. But they range from comprehensive mandates that require school lessons to vague recommendations for district policy. Spurred by the recent suicides, the Massachusetts legislature is considering a law that would demand that schools report suspected incidents, that principals investigate and that classes be taught on bullying dangers.

Texas requires districts to establish a code of conduct prohibiting bullying and allows students to transfer schools for this reason.

Brenda High says that's not enough. Her 13-year-old son shot himself to death after relentless taunting from his classmates.

"I realized school districts really had no clue what to do," she said about the incident 12 years ago in Washington state. "Really there were no rules at all that would solve that problem." Since then, she's started Bully Police USA, which argues for heightened laws and school policies against bullying.

"Those schools where principals and leaders take responsibility to do something, the problem is solved," she said. "There are easy ways to fix it and take a proactive behavior."

Preventive push

Some North Texas districts are reflecting that newer preventive push.

James Caldwell, who has spent the past 10 years focusing on bullying prevention, was hired this year as Frisco ISD's student assistance coordinator. He meets with administrators and counselors to discuss effective strategies for combating the abuse, including emphasizing the role of the bystander. Signs on classroom walls detail rules relating to bullying. Starting at the kindergarten level, counselors are entering classrooms regularly to explain the difference between reporting trouble and tattling. And starting next year, students will sign contracts that say they understand the consequences of bullying

"You just see that if you're talking about bullying, kids listen," Caldwell said. "If you're talking about drugs, they don't listen. They want to know this information, because they are facing it."


Be concerned if a child: • Comes home with torn, damaged or missing pieces of clothing, books or other belongings.

•Has unexplained cuts, bruises and scratches.

•Has few, if any, friends with whom he or she spends time.

•Seems afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in activities with peers such as clubs or sports.

•Loses interest in school work or suddenly begins to do poorly in school.

•Appears sad, moody, teary or depressed; loses appetite.

•Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches or other physical problems and has trouble sleeping.


•Don't tell the child to ignore the bully.

•Don't blame the child for the bullying.

•Empathize with the child, saying the bully is wrong and it's not the child's fault. Don't criticize.

•Don't encourage physical retaliation.

•Contact a school administrator and share concerns about the bullying.