Tragedy of bullying

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Earlier this month, a 13-year-old middle school honor student who enjoyed soccer and camping apparently committed suicide two days after her birthday, a likely victim of bullying.

An obituary in the paper spoke volumes about what likely befell this beautiful girl: “In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that an awareness be brought to bullying and suicide, and the problems this dilemma is causing tens of thousands of family each and every year.”

I had heard of the incident prior to the obituary, but seeing her picture drove a parent’s worse nightmare home. She reminded me of my own daughter (middle school honor student, active in sports, beautiful smile).

Other than the obit, the death hasn’t been reported in the paper. It has been, however, discussed on social media. Friends, classmates and passing acquantences have used social media to express condolences, and ask the question “why?” Many of them seem to be around the victim’s age, which is too young to be struggling with this type of issue.

The Clark County School District takes steps to prevent and educate about bullying. My daughter, who goes to a neighboring middle school, has been involved in anti-bullying programs for the past few years.

The school district has a link on the front page of its website where students or parents can anonymously report a bully. The district also provides a checklist for parents on how to identify and help a child who is being bullied at school or anywhere; take bullying seriously, listen calmly and carefully to the child, empathize, etc.

According to an Oct. 13 article in the Review-Journal, 1,736 students were suspended or expelled in the school district for bullying or intimidation in 2012-13, up from 1,584 the previous school year.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services runs a website, stopbullying.gov, as a resource to educate and help prevent bullying. The site discusses risk factors, warning signs and effects of bullying. One of the most disturbing trends is that two-thirds of kids who are being bullied never report it.

But who knows if the bullying that drove this young person to despair, if it was bullying in this case, happened at the school? Kids today can be reached anywhere.

While my daughter is 21 months away from being old enough for a Facebook page (if we let her have one) she currently has an Instagram account, which raises concerns about cyber bullying. While the majority of her posts are about her fandom of the boy band One Direction, I’m concerned about who is following her, and who she is interacting with. She also has her own cell phone. Both mediums open her up to the possibility of cyber bullying.

I’m sure this tragedy has caused conversations among parents at the school she went to, as well as among teachers and administrators in the district. It has sparked a conversation between myself and my daughter’s mother mostly focused on who our daughter hangs out with at school, and who she may run across on social media.

I also worry about my two stepsons; a seventh grader and a high school freshman. All we can do is love them, keep an eye out for warning signs, and hope for the best. My thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family.

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I received a few inquiries about George Knapp’s column not appearing last week. I’m sure I’ll get more because it’s not in this week’s either. Don’t worry, Knapp is taking some time off but will return to these pages soon.

ARNOLD M. KNIGHTLY is the editor of CityLife and can be followed on Twitter @KnightlyGrind.