October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Stamford underscored the growing seriousness of the issue by actually arresting a 12-year-old girl last week. She allegedly was tormenting another girl to the point that the estranged friend was considering suicide.
The targets of bullies are many times caught in a quandary. They are reluctant to tell an adult for fear of being labeled "a snitch," but they also don't have the strategies to counter the bullying behavior. So, they simply try to avoid it; stressing every day about having to be confronted by the offender. It is a horrible existence that contributes to absenteeism, depression, self-image problems — even suicide.
Youth suicide in Connecticut is the second leading cause of death in children 10 to 14 years old and the third leading cause of death for those 15 to 24. Twenty five percent of the state's high school students and 35 percent of ninth-graders say they have been bullied or harassed at school, according to the state Commission on Children.
To tweak an old adage: Sticks and stones break bones and names do indeed hurt. I remember Logan West, the 2012 Miss Connecticut Teen, telling me last year of her experiences being bullied at age 12 and how it almost shattered her self-esteem.
"I'm starting to believe now that I would rather have a bruise, than have someone tear a piece of me with their words,'' she said then.
Although I'm empathetic to the pain of chronic harassment, resorting to arresting a 12-year-old is extreme — even if the specter of suicide is the driver. Stamford's efforts at mediation and intervention were exhaustive, but obviously not very effective. The arrest was an act of desperation — maybe even a ploy — to send a life-changing message to the young offender about the severity of her actions. I get it. But maybe the parent or guardian should have been put in cuffs instead.
Ultimately, parents have to be held responsible for any chronic, threatening behaviors of their children.
A bully, clinicians will tell you, is someone who is in pain and has his or her own self-image problems. Bullies are simply redirecting their hurt onto others. The key is make all children feel so good about themselves that they disregard or laugh off those who target them for name-calling. It's not easy, particularly if the self-image problem is coming from home. But if kids are pre-loaded with positive self-images from an early age, they'll develop the mentality that what someone thinks about them is none of their business. Yes, that's asking a lot of a child, particularly when most adults don't have that same capability.
Connecticut schools are mandated to have a bullying policy and every complaint is supposed to be investigated. Still, clinicians say the best strategy is to start these prevention programs in elementary school — teaching children early how to resolve conflicts without violence and name-calling. Parents can do their part by talking to their kids about how painful words can be and by engaging their children in conversation. I'm always surprised at how open my 13-year-old daughter is to talking when I just ask: "How's it going at school. Is anyone bothering you?"
With the rise of the Internet, school has become the secondary mode of harassment for the offender. Cyber bullying is rising; its impact magnified by the sheer number of people who can witness a painful post or picture.
The thing about bullying is that it has no boundaries — race, gender, sexuality, body shape, developmental challenges, appearances and speech all are fair game for the bully.
Connecticut children's author Jerry Craft has published a new book, in collaboration with his young sons Jaylen and Aren, about the effects of bullying. "The Offenders — Saving the World while Serving Detention!" is the story about five middle school bullies who are granted super powers. But as part of the transformation, the bullies also take on the characteristics of their targets. So, while their mystical powers are at an all-time high, their self-esteem is at an all-time low.
The book is about empathy. The message to the offenders: It's very hurtful when you become the target.
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.foxct.com/stan and Saturdays, 5:30 a.m., on FOX CT).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun