Your child claims to be sick and can’t go to school. A lot. More than 160,000 kids miss school every day in this country– because they are being bullied.
It’s a pervasive and universal problem, made worse in recent years by social media. But it’s a story as old as time. Now, however, something is being done about it.
Most Colorado school districts, and the Colorado Board of Education, are all working toward preventing and remediating bullying in schools.
And then there’s Safe2Tell.
“I started the program originally through Crime Stoppers even before (the shooting at) Columbine happened – and gave (victims) a way to report. It started here, in the Pikes Peak region,” says founder and executive director Susan Payne. She’s also a sworn law enforcement officer. The program operates under the auspices of the Colorado State Attorney General’s office and serves the entire state.
The Colorado Department of Education defines bullying, in part, as “any written or verbal expression, or physical or electronic act or gesture, or pattern thereof, that is intended to coerce, intimidate, or cause any physical, mental, or emotional harm to any student.”
But that bureaucratic description does not begin to cover the trauma of being bullied, Payne says.
“Kids who are bullied get depressed, suicidal, angry or even violent,” she says. “When a tragedy happens, I ask myself, ‘Did somebody see behavior not reported?’ With intervention, maybe it could have been prevented. Eighty-one percent of the time when there is a school shooting, somebody knew about it beforehand.”
Safe2Tell offers a venue for reporting bullying, which can range from playground fights to sexual harassment, and it’s not always done by kids to other kids – “teachers and coaches are sometimes bullies, too,” she says.
“Through accountability, and anonymity, Safe2Tell provides a safe way for anyone to report bullying,” Payne says. “If you think someone’s safety is in jeopardy, including your own, there is somewhere to report it where there will be a safe response. Many children have lost their lives – can this have been prevented?”
In the past, “We have focused on victims being responsible for seeking help on their own. That’s changing,” she adds. Often, children and teens do not report bullying for fear of retaliation by the perpetrator.
“Now there is a support system in place to help them with the problem,” she says. In fact, most reports of bullying to her organization come from people other than the victim – parents, teachers, school staff and bystanders of all kinds – including the victim’s peers.
“And that’s only right,” Payne says. “It’s everybody’s problem.”
Payne believes that most schools are doing some education about bullying. But not all have the resources to deal with it, so Safe2Tell gets a lot of referrals from schools.
“Even though I know that many schools are working on the problem, we need a consistent strategy so we’re all on the same page,” she says.
Dealing with a bullying problem can be tricky.
“Parents have to listen to their child, then create a strategy for dealing with the problem,” Payne says. “Don’t just run off to the school assuming you’ll solve the problem. It can make the problem worse and the child will feel betrayed by you.”
Safe2Tell works with school counselors and others to resolve the issue.
“If somebody is being hurt, somebody needs to intervene, and a trained adult can do that,” she says. “It’s the same as intervening with someone who is suicidal. Everybody has a role. We have to develop a positive school culture and a positive community culture.”
Here are some other websites that offer help and advice: