Bailey O’Neill turned 12 on Saturday. On Sunday, he was taken off life support.
Bailey’s father, Rob O’Neill, says his son was being bullied on January 10 by a couple of kids after school, when his son was punched in the face multiple times. Bailey’s nose was fractured, and he fell to the ground, causing a concussion, Mr. O’Neill told ABC News. The incident, which occurred during recess on January 10 at Darby Township School, was recorded on surveillance cameras, the Philadelphia Inquirer says.
A few days after the incident, Bailey started having violent seizures. Doctors at E.I. duPont Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, put Bailey into a medically-induced coma.
Although officials from Southeast Delco School District, citing the age of the students and an ongoing police investigation, could not comment extensively at the time, Bailey’s dad told ABC that the boy who hit Bailey was suspended from school for two days.
To date, no charges have been filed and the school district has not released additional details about the incident, says the Philadelphia Inquirer, but the county District Attorney’s office is still investigating. According to the Inquirer, the video shows Bailey and a second boy involved in the incident. A third boy, not physically involved, is also seen.
Bailey’s story breaks our collective hearts not just because of the tragic loss of a young life, but because we feel so powerless to help. I live two miles from Darby Township School, and like pretty much everyone else in my community, I followed Bailey’s progress via a Facebook page called Building Hope for Bailey. The thing is, every time I click “like” on an anti-bullying Facebook status, I can’t help but realize that as an adult clicking “like” on Facebook, I am doing absolutely nothing to help kids like Bailey. I click anyway because it seems like it’s all I can do.
So what else can I do? What can we as parents do? I feel like there are plenty of resources out there on what to do if your child is being bullied, and even what to do if your child is a bully. We’ve taught our kids to “tell an adult” if someone is being bullied. So what do you do when your kid tells you that someone they know is being bullied?
Carrie Goldman, the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear, says it’s important to give your child a plan–but also to take action yourself.
“Studies have shown that even the act of witnessing bullying can trigger a reaction in the brain of a bystander,” Ms. Goldman said to me in an email. “Humans have an ostracism detection system, and when a kid watches someone else being bullied, his or her own brain sends signals of anxiety. Knowing this, advising a child to do nothing in order to ‘stay out of it’ actually fails to acknowledge that even doing nothing can cause the observer to suffer. A far better option is to teach children how to act as witnesses and allies instead of merely bystanders. It soothes a bystander’s own anxiety to feel like he or she has a plan.”
Ms. Goldman, who blogs at Portrait of an Adoption, suggests role playing with kids to help them feel confident in dealing with bullying behavior.
“We can teach kids to have a list of options to run through in their mind when they see bullying or aggression,” said Ms. Goldman. “One option may be to quickly organize a group of people to help you pull the victim to safety. Organizing several people is ideal, because we never want a bystander to put himself or herself into danger by rushing alone into an attack. If there is no safe way to extract the victim, we can teach kids to go to their next option, which may be calling for help or sending someone for help.
“Another option that is critically important is simply for a child to make a written report of what happened, which is necessary for schools to sort out what happened and to take action. Even the act of calling or visiting the victimized person after the attack can provide immense comfort and reduce feelings of isolation. All of these are ways to act as witnesses instead of bystanders. Kids should be prepared to choose from a whole host of strategies.”
At the same time, parents who have been told about a child being bullied need to do something. Here are ten suggestions about ways parents can help stop bullying right now:
10 Things Parents Can Do Right Now to Help Stop Bullying 1 of 11There's plenty of information out there about what to do if your child is bullied, and even what to do if your child is bullying others. But what can the rest of us do?
If your child tells you that someone he knows is being bullied, take action. 2 of 11We can't teach our kids to take a stand against bullying unless we're modeling the the right thing to do ourselves. As adults, it's our role to stand up for kids.
"First, thank your child for telling you and let her know she is already helping," said Ms. Goldman. "Then, you and your child need to make a written account. Ask your child who was involved, and what roles each person played. Ask your child what actions she actually witnessed, where it happened, and the day and time it happened. If the bullying is cyber-bullying, take a screen shot or print out any evidence.
"Then, you and your child should bring the written report to the school," said Ms. Goldman. "You should inform the teacher, if there is a specific one, as well as the principal and the school social worker. Then they can investigate."
If someone is being bullied at your child's school, yes, it's your business. No one is asking you to fix it or to figure out who did what. But for God's sake, make it your business enough to make sure the school knows what's going on. Still hesitant? Ask yourself if you're prepared to deal with a lifetime of guilt if something happens to the bullied kid, and you didn't say anything when you could have.
Spread the word that bullying is a community concern. 3 of 11"Bullies have a lack of respect for others' basic human rights," says the National Association of School Psychologists. "They are more likely to resort to violence to solve problems without worry of the potential implications." How does that play out for your community? "Kids who bully others can also engage in violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood," says the US Department of Health and Human Services. Kids who bully are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults; get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school; engage in early sexual activity; be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults; and have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults.
Emphasize that bullying should not be a normal part of childhood. 4 of 11"Some adults hesitate to act when they observe or hear about bullying because they think of bullying as a typical phase of childhood that must be endured or that it can help children 'toughen up,'" says education.com. "It is important for all adults to understand that bullying does not have to be a normal part of childhood. All forms of bullying are harmful to the perpetrator, the victim, and to witnesses and the effects last well into adulthood (and can include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, family violence and criminal behavior). Efforts to effectively address bullying require the collaboration of school, home, and community."
Know your school district’s policies. 5 of 11Not all bullying happens at recess or in the locker room. If your child mentions someone being cruel on Facebook, or shoving a kid on the walk home, your first reaction may be that it's not the school's problem. However, it may very well be an issue for the school to handle. Your school district's policy on bullying, including cyber-bullying, is probably on its website. District policies and state laws vary, but in my district, cyber-bullying is a school district issue, even if the bullying isn't taking place during school hours or on school grounds. Likewise, bullying that occurs on the walk home from school, for example, is a "school issue" even though the bullying isn't taking place on school grounds.
Push your legislators for better anti-bullying laws and enforcement. Push your school district for better policies and compliance. 6 of 11Find out what your state's laws are at stopbullying.gov. Does your state even have an anti-bullying law? (Hint: if you live in Montana, the answer is no.) My state of Pennsylvania has a law, but it doesn't have much teeth when it comes to enforcement and victim's rights. A proposed bill to strengthen the law is currently languishing in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. You can sign a change.org petition here encouraging the bill to be passed. Pennsylvania residents can find their local representative here.
Don’t assume the bullied child’s family already knows about it and is dealing with it. 7 of 11Particularly true as kids get older, "many kids are embarrassed to be bullied and may not tell their parents or another adult right away," says the National Council for the Prevention of Crime (NCPC). The kid's parents either may not be aware of the bullying, or may not be aware of the extent of it. A mom I know was aware that her middle school-aged son was being bullied, but didn't know how deeply it was affecting him until another parent told her that her son had texted her daughter about how sad he was.
Support the family of the bullied child. 8 of 11If you know the family of the child who's being bullied, ask what you can do to help. Speaking from experience, nothing hurts a mother to the core like seeing her child in pain--whether it's physical or emotional. Recently, we became aware that a sixth-grader who is friends with my daughters is being harassed every day on the walk home from school. While the school investigates, several parents have banded together to take the kid out of harm's way and drive him home every day. That doesn't solve the problem, I know, but it does make his day safer and significantly less hellatious.
Support the family of the child who is bullying. 9 of 11Demonizing individual kids who bully -- and their parents -- isn't going to solve the problem. If you know a parent whose child is bullying others, be supportive of their efforts to change their child's behavior.
Nip bullying in the bud. 10 of 11The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends early intervention when it comes to bullying, starting education, advocacy, and intervention as early as preschool. Bullying behaviors can be un-learned, but not without help. A girl in my daughters' class in first grade who bullied another girl -- and received consequences and counseling -- is now a really nice kid with good grades in sixth grade. Conversely, another girl who got away scot-free with hassling my daughter in second grade has only gotten better at bullying in the last four years. When she started giving my daughter a hard time again this year, I reported it to the middle school. Props to our school for handling it--and effectively stopping it--immediately.
If you know that bullying behavior is occurring, speak up, even if we're talking about preschool. Really, it's better if the concerns are addressed sooner rather than later.
Teach your child what to do if someone is being bullied. 11 of 11"While it's it's never a child's responsibility to put him or herself in danger," says website education.com, "kids can often effectively diffuse a bullying situation." Teach your kids to say something calm along the lines of "Hey, that's not cool" or "Cool it, this isn't solving anything." Kids can also help each other by providing support to the victim, not giving extra attention to the bully, and/or reporting what they witnessed to an adult.
Just be prepared to do something if you're the adult they report to.
(Photo Credit: Facebook/Building Hope for Bailey)
A fundraising page to help Bailey’s family with funeral expenses and lost income (from the time spent in the hospital at Bailey’s side) is here.
What else can you do to stop bullying? Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen, creators of the 2011 film Bully, share their tips on Babble.
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