Kenton Raiford, who was bullied in middle school, now witnesses a lot of bullying in his senior year at Jesse Bethel High School in Vallejo, Calif. While bullies get physical sometimes, he says, "It's more about mental and emotional attacks."
Bullies at his school ridicule low-income students for wearing hand-me-downs, harass lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students for their orientations, and tell immigrant students to "go back to their country," Raiford says. To curb these negative comments, Raiford is setting up a Stop Bullying Campaign in his high school for May.
With about 20 percent of high school students nationwide experiencing bullying, parents need to help targeted students, too. Whether students are harassed on the school campus or through cyber bullying, these acts can lead to assaults and suicide.
[Parents and students are reporting different rates of bullying.]
1. Recognize the warning signs: Evidence of bullying isn't usually as obvious as a black eye or broken nose, mostly because, as Raiford says, bullying often takes the shape of verbal abuse. And often, Blanco adds, kids could be "ghosts in the school," who are not necessarily outwardly bullied, but are ignored by classmates. "These students aren't classically defined as bullied, but they endure the same loneliness and desperation," she says.
Students who face either type of bullying need some sort of support system, and if they don't have one, they may hurt themselves, say Blanco and Raiford.
"Kids who tend to be less socially active; who aren't involved in clubs; who don't have a team or clique to bond with … tend to be the ones [who] are more apt to do something harmful to themselves because they don't have anybody to really connect with," says Raiford, who has noted his classmates' behaviors at the four high schools he's attended as his family moved to different military bases.
And if students are simply not leaving the house much, that's usually a sign that they're not being invited to events or included in school activities, says Blanco.
2. Introduce a new hobby: "Find something that your child has a passion for and an interest in, and get him to focus on that," says Raiford. "He'll find other people that he can connect with who have that same passion and drive."
Parents should contact park districts, public libraries, recreation centers, community theaters, dance studios, or music clubs that their kid may enjoy, says Blanco, but the venues should be located out of town. If the activities are near the school, the bullied student will likely run into the same classmates who harass him or her during the day, Blanco says. The whole point of the new hobby, she adds, is for a "fresh start with brand new kids."
This extracurricular activity will likely give students more confidence and diminish the "desperate vibe" that bullies often feed on, says Blanco. "And on days when school is extra lonely, it'll give your child a lifeline."
[Learn why media giants are raising awareness of bullying.]
3. Work with the school: If parents suspect their child is being bullied, they need to work collaboratively with the school to stop the bully, Blanco says. Although parents may be angry and concerned about their children, Blanco recommends that they be as compassionate as they can with approaching the bullies, too, because their misbehavior is often out of fear and anger they feel at home.
If the school stonewalls and doesn't want to cooperate, she adds, parents should ask their child which other students are being bullied, contact those students' parents, and form a coalition.
This group of parents should document all of their kids' experiences with bullies and take it up the chain of command, from the principal to the superintendent, to a school board meeting, Blanco says. If the parents are still getting nowhere, she suggests they contact an education writer at the local newspaper, who will often spread the word of their cause.
Usually, though, the coalition doesn't need to go that far, she says. "The school can ignore one angry parent, but they can't ignore an organized group of them."