Bullying. It’s rampant, cruel, and too much of the teen scene. But if you had even an ounce of doubt as to the extent of how vicious kids can be, this story should do it.
A fourteen-year old boy was lured to a basement in a Concord, New Jersey home by teens.
The high school freshman had been repeatedly bullied by upperclassmen and told him they would stop tormenting him if he got a tattoo.
And so the boy who had also been trying to befriend these teens agreed. But once at the house he was allegedly held down and forced to be tattooed on his buttocks. The three tattoos were obscene pictures and vulgar words.
The boy’s tattoos were also photographed and the bullying now went viral. A teacher at the Concord High School became aware of the incident after students began passing cell phone photos of the obscene tattoos.
5 Lessons to Learn From Yet Another Bullying Tragedy
There is more to this troubling story, but I’ll wait to print these details when all facts emerge from law enforcement. There are also sad lessons that once again we failed to learn. I’ve written a number of blogs about about bullying and how to set up bully prevention school programs. Meanwhile, here are immediate five lessons that are key to this tragedy:
Lesson 1: Recognize that bullying is repeated. You CAN and must identify victims. Bullying is a pattern: it is almost always repeated and rarely a one time occurrence. So keep an eye out for victims. You must step in. Bullying usually escalates and there is a time when a child cannot fend for himself. As in this case this child was repeatedly bullied and wanted desperately for his tormentors to stop. Identifying the signs of bullying and being alert to those signs would have clued adults that this child needed help and desperately.
Lesson 2: Watch for vulnerable kids. We know some children are more likely to be targeted by bullies. Those who are susceptible to a bully’s prey: kids who don’t fit in, who lack social competence or are different. One report says that this fourteen-year old was targeted because he was intellectually challenges and wanted to fit in. We can spot these kids. They stand out! Watch them. They are easy to spot. That this boy craved acceptance and was desperate for friends and tried to befriend his tormenters is an all-too repeated and sad scenario.
Lesson 3: Set up safety nets for kids. Every child needs an ally — but especially a child who is bullied. Identify caring adults on a school campus, neighborhood, or club that a child can go to and report his concerns or just feel safe. Those adults should be identified to all students (“In case you don’t feel safe, here are folks to go to and the times and places to find them.”) Be specific! Don’t assume kids know who to go to. We know that as our students get older, they are less likely to tell their parents or caregivers. Also identify the times and places where students are most likely to be bullied (lunch time at a cafeteria, the back of school buses, around lockers and hallways) and make adults be visible especially during those times.
Lesson 4: Create anonymous student reporting options of threats. In a planned event (and this was planned) such as this, the student gossip grapevine opens. Kids talk. Kids hear. And kids need to be able to report an incident prior to such an event. Two thirds of all school shooters told their intentions prior to the shooting. Three-fourths of students before they commit homicide or suicide tell another peer or an adult. Each school must have anonymous reporting options such as an anonymous phone hotline, a website or a Report Box (a locked box on the school campus in which students can describe on a slip of paper a safety concern they heard). Those reports are then read daily by law enforcement officers or school administrators and acted upon. All you need is one compassionate, concerned student to fill out a slip of paper retelling what they heard. And all you need is one caring adult to read that report and act on it. Those reporting options can saved lives. It is key to violence prevention.
Lesson 5: Take bullying seriously, please! We know that 160,000 students a day skip school due to bullying. We also know that bullying causes severe emotional damage to a victim (as well as to witnesses). We now have the term, “bullycide” just for victims who have committed suicide. Imagine the emotional distress of this fourteen year old who repeatedly faced his tormentors. Now imagine his pain when he finds out that every one of his classmates can see those photos. Just imagine!
Bullying is a learned behavior. It can be prevented and it can be stopped. But only research-based school-prevention strategies will work.
No more excuses.
Not one more child!