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Cyberbullying occurs anytime, anywhere
Parents can see evidence of harassment online
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Signs your child is being bullied

Unexplainable injuries

Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry

Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness

Changes in eating habits, such as suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch

Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares

Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork or not wanting to go to school

Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations

Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem

Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves or talking about suicide

Signs your child is bullying others

Gets into physical or verbal fights

Has friends who bully others

Increasingly aggressive behavior

Frequently sent to the principal’s office or detention

Unexplained extra money or new belongings

Blames others for his or her problems

Doesn’t accept responsibility for his or her actions

Competitive and worries about his or her reputation or popularity

Bullying has been a problem for young students for years, but the rise of cyberbullying, where harassers take to the Internet to pursue their victims during after-school hours, has increased the impact for victims.

“With the Internet, bullying can now be a 24-hour event,” said Dr. Deborah Temkin, manager of the anti-bullying organization Project SEATBELT, which is part of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. “Now kids are bringing it home with them instead of just leaving it at school, and that makes it more important for us to pursue it.”

A couple of weeks ago, an area car dealership in Gainesville hosted a Drive for the KidsTM fundraiser for an area school and to educate parents on how to prevent bullying before it starts through the Project SEATBELT. October was also National Bullying Prevention Awareness.

Temkin explained about 28 percent of youth between ages 12 and 18 report being bullied and 9 percent report being cyberbullied. These figures have remained mostly static in the past few years, meaning the problem is not getting worse but is also not getting better, she said.

Georgia state law states bullying is anything that causes a student to experience substantial physical harm, significantly interferes with their education, creates a threatening environment in the school or disrupts the orderly operation of the school.

Circumstances that surround bullying are often unclear to adults and school administrators, and sometimes it is difficult to determine who is the bully and who is the victim, said Kevin Bales, a former principal for East Hall Middle School and the Middle Grades School Improvement Specialist for the county.

“It used to be that there had to be a power imbalance between the two students to be considered bullying,” he said. “Now we know there are situations where students are both the bully and the victim, which is a much more common event. In those situations, you still give consequences, but there is no one student holding power over the other, which is a complicating factor.”

These situations often result from a personal conflict which devolves into harassment and threats on the part of both students involved, he said. The one advantage administrators and parents have with the advent of cyberbullying is there now is a record of communications between students.

“Most occurrences that I experienced happened outside of schools, but with blogs and social media, parents will come with tangible evidence in hand that helps us figure out exactly what is going on,” he said. “Again sometimes, it comes back to kids being ugly to each other and bullying each other, but the technology has evened the field.”

Children are often embarrassed or ashamed of being bullied and only one in three bullied children tell their parents or any adult about it, Temkin said. Anytime a child changes their behavior is a time a parent should talk with them, she said, though it doesn’t mean they are necessarily being bullied.

“One of the first things a parent can do is open a line of communication,” she said. “Ask your child open-ended questions, not just ‘how was your day?,’ and make it clear to them that they can come and tell you anything.”

Bales recommends parents monitor their children’s communications on smartphones or social media sites, both incoming and outgoing.

“During middle-school ages, kids are pushing away from their parents and trying to be independent,” he said. “It is very unnatural for parents to be ever-present during this time, but that is exactly what needs to happen.”

Parents who have questions about bullying or are confused as to whether or not their child is being bullied may contact their school guidance counselor who can provide numerous resources to them, Bales said.

Georgia was the first state to pass anti-bullying legislation in 1999, and has since tightened the legislation leading to some of the strongest punishments for bullying in the nation. Disciplinary action can vary from counseling, in-school suspension or short-term suspension to long-term suspension, expulsion or referral to an alternative school.

Temkin said the only people who can really prevent bullying are other kids. But school education programs, student leadership organizations and student-parent coalitions can go a long way to promote a school environment that discourages bullying.