Wednesday is Unity Day, all part of the national Anti-Bullying month during October. But locally, schools and the Suicide Prevention Center are finding ways of their own to help curb bullying in schools.
Ann Schelle from the Suicide Prevention Center of St. Joe County says the numbers of teens who reported feeling bullied is up to 85% in 2010. That's a huge increase from 32% in 2007.
Schelle says today, with the increase in Internet use and accessibilty to social media, students are more easily targeted.
"Where as years and years ago a bully could yield a negative message or a harassing comment about a student and maybe 5 students at the end of the day would know about it, and the next day it would be gone. Now within minutes, thousands of children can see that embarrassing photo, that comment, that nasty rumor about the student, so that impact is instantaneous," says Schelle.
To help stop this problem, Schelle says parents should be up to date on social media and technology.
Schelle says, "We all need to be aware of our student's online activity. We also need to arm parents with information about how to access social media. There's a lot of parents out there who are still not engaged at the same level their children are. This is not to put extra restrictions on kids and to take away their freedom of speech, but to be that protective force in their lives. And noticing some of the warning signs of a child who might be bullied is really important."
Schelle notes, often times bullying is associated with sucide. She said we lose someone to suicide every 14 minutes in the US and it's the second leading cause of death for teens ages 15-19.
Most schools have a system in place where students can talk to a guidance counselor about harassment. But some have implemented anonymous programs, which Schelle says are the most effective.
If a child is concerned about what steps to take, Schelle says the best thing to do is have open communication.
"They need to find a trusting adult they can talk to. it doesn't have to be their parent, it can be someone within their community at the school, someone within the faith community, it can be a parent of one of their friends. if they want to start with one of their friends that's fine, but it can't stop there. It can't just be something that they're going to work out between the two students, it has to involve an adult because the only way to stop this problem is to be more actively involved in it. and parents do want to, sometimes parents have a hard time hearing the information, they may want to minimize it as high school drama but it's really important that we take it seriously," Schelle says.
Some of the warning signs that your child may be being bullied are changes in eating or sleeping habits, trying to avoid school or socializing with friends, and complaints of stomach and head aches. Schelle says any combination of these may be an indication of bullying.
The most important thing to do, Schelle says, is to have a conversation with your child, be open minded, and work together to find a solution.