SPECIAL REPORT: Extreme Bullying Part One

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Some experts are referring to what’s going on in schools as a ‘bullying epidemic.’

Everyone’s been picked on before, but what man kids are dealing with in schools now goes far beyond innocent instances of teasing.

“For a long time, we’ve always thought bullying is kind of a rite of passage, that it’s something that just normally occurs in a child’s life as they go through school,” said Mark Geissler, a social work with South Bend Community School Corporation. “The problem with that though is the implications are more harmful now. We know this can cause serious anxiety and depression among kids.”

Granger resident Mary Kahl knows all too well how harmful bullying can be. She says her son’s been a victim for years.

The bullying started with hurtful words, then escalated to being excluded from activities. And, it only got worse.

“My son was on the bus and another child had taken a peanut butter sandwich out of his lunch box and threatened to smear it on my child,” Kahl said. “Which, for him, was pretty scary. He’s allergic not only by touch, but ingestion and airborne, as well.”

For Kahl’s son, it was terrifying. And, the incident had a serious impact on him emotionally.

No surprise, he didn’t want to get back on the bus the next day.

“It is very difficult as a parent to watch your child suffer,” Kahl said. “You become sort of a cheerleader cheering them on, but, at the same time, you become resentful towards the bully.”

But, some argue parents are overreacting to some bullying situations, causing their kids to turn into wimps.

Notre Dame professor and bullying expert Clark Power says they’re wrong.

“I think we need to be very cautious and careful here when we say, ‘Toughen up, you need to learn how to take this, you need to learn how to deal with adversity,’” Power said. “During this period of childhood and adolescence, we are helping children to develop social strengths, psychological strengths that are going to help us deal with disappointment, with harsh treatment later on.”

Power says kids do need to learn to resolve conflict on their own instead of always running to an adult for help. But, when actual bullying occurs, teachers, coaches or parents need to step in.

“I like the analogy of a plant,” Power said. “This is a cold, Michiana winter. You have to protect that plant when it's young from the elements, from adverse elements and nurture the plant. As the plant gets stronger and grows, it can withstand more negativity and I think later in adolescence people can develop the resources to deal with this.”

That’s what’s starting to happen with Kahl’s son. While the bullying hasn’t stopped, he now knows how to cope.

“I think he still deals with bullying everyday,” Kahl says. “I think he’s built the skills to know how to deal with it now. We don’t forget, it’s not a life lesson, it’s not something we should live with. It’s not something we get over.”

In part two of Barbara Harrington’s report on Wednesday, we’ll introduce you to another family who’s struggled with bullying. At just 10 years old, an Elkhart student considered taking his own life to escape the torment.