Kids at Risk: Bullying in the New Millennium

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Bullying is an age old problem. Today it has had new and deadly consequences.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recently signed anti-bullying legislation into law.

"As governor and as a parent, I feel very strongly that no child should feel threatened or unsafe in our schools," Patrick said. "With this new law, we are giving our teachers, parents, and kids the tools and protections they need so that every student has a chance to reach their full potential."

The move comes after two students in the state committed suicide after being relentlessly harassed.

Jaihlen's Story

Javarro Cherry of Virginia Beach, Va., wants to protect his 10-year-old son, Jaihlen, from bullies. To do that he meets his son at his bus stop every day after school.

"I know that as long as someone's here, no one's going to bother him," Cherry told CBN News.

Jaihlen is small for his age and has been the victim of relentless bullying by kids at his public school.

"Sometimes they just come in your face and slap you," Jaihlen said, describing some of the bullying that he has experienced.

The boy's parents say he is particularly afraid of one bully, and for good reason.

"My son says that he (the bully) was trying to beat him up, that he said he was going to hurt him and make him bleed," Jaihlen's mother, Fredlena Cherry, said.

Jaihlen, who is a fifth grader at Betty F. Williams Elementary School, said things got so bad that he was afraid to go to school. He also started having disturbing thoughts.

"Something about killing myself, or running way or just hanging myself," he explained.

A Growing Problem

Unfortunately, Jaihlen's story is not unique. Bullying is making headlines around the country. It affects kids from elementary school to high school.

Bullying is defined as negative behaviors intended to frighten or cause harm. It may include written threats or physical harm. The behavior is also described as teasing, harassing, or intimidation.

In one high-profile case in Massachusetts, nine students were charged in the death of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince. Prince committed suicide after prosecutors say she was the victim of "unrelenting bullying" at her school.

District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel commented on the case at a recent press conference.

"The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe designed to humiliate her and make it impossible for her to remain at school," Scheibel said. "The bullying became intolerable."

In another case, 13-year-old Jon Carmichael in Texas hanged himself after being bullied by classmates because he was small. There is also the story of a second grader who tried to kill himself by jumping over a school balcony after other kids repeatedly pulled down his pants and embarrassed him.

Bullying has become so common that 41 states now have laws against it. Despite those laws, it is widespread and increasingly leads to deadly consequences.

Cyber Bullying

But not all bullying is so overt. Perpetrators of both sexes often work in groups where they use gossip, rumors, text messages, and harassing Internet posts to bully.

Capt. Stephanie Bryn, director of the National Stop Bullying Now Campaign, said cyber bullying is on the rise.

"It can be done more easily because it's autonomous, there's accessibility to the equipment, and cyber bullying can be done 24-7, all the time," she explained.

Meanwhile, Jaihlen's parents have complained to both the bully's parents and to school officials.

"I would like to see the school have a better handle of how when there's a reportage of the student being a bully, there needs to be some level of discipline," Fredlena Cherry told CBN News.

Dr. Linda Mintle, a psychologist who has studied the issue of bullying, said parents of bullies need to take responsibility for their child's behavior.

"Parents need to stop making excuses for their kids behavior. I see a real crisis, parents want the schools to do something about bullying and then when the schools act, they get all upset and say you infringed on my rights and they threaten lawsuits," she explained.

Taking a Stand

Others have weighed in on the issue as well. Ron Luce, founder of Teen Mania Ministries, has encouraged Christian youth to take a stand against bullying.

"I'm asking, 'Where are the Christians in those schools?,'" Luce said. "There are Bible clubs, youth groups in the area. It's time to rise up."

Many schools across the country have anti-bullying initiatives, including Jaihlen's school.

Unfortunately that has not stopped the bullying in his case.

CBN News contacted Jaihlen's school for comment but administrators declined a request for an interview.

Meanwhile, his family is frustrated and his parents are helping him cope the best way they can.

"My dad started teaching me to fight," Jaihlen said. "Every time they try to put their hands on me, I grab their hand and I tell them don't put your hand on me."

*Originally aired May 9, 2010. 

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Charlene  Aaron

Charlene Aaron

CBN News Reporter

Charlene Aaron serves as a general assignment reporter and helps anchor for the CBN News Channel.  Follow her on Twitter @CharNews and "like" her at Facebook.com/CharleneIsraelCBNNews.