“Completed Suicide Risk Highest Within First Six Months After Incomplete Suicide” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Child mental health is becoming an area of ever-increasing concern and research, including within the area of child sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that lead to suicide.  Recently, within the past two months, I had opportunities to visit a large metropolitan hospital in Atlanta at which mental health care is provided on an inpatient and outpatient basis for people of all ages.  I primarily made observations in the children’s mental health unit in which children from ages 4-12 were hospitalized as inpatients.

Since making my observations, I have done much research in the area of medicine and counseling related to depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that ultimately ends in the suicide of the victim.  I have also consulted with many professionals in these areas, including pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed professional counselors.  Further, I have communicated with school teachers, school administrators, school mental health professionals, school system administrators, and religious about these issues.  This blog article will share some of what I discovered related to these critically important issues in mental health care.

At the hospital in Atlanta at which I made my observations regarding inpatient child mental healthcare, the most significant part about it that was very noticeable was that most of the children were boys.  On one particular day, there were 16 children housed in the unit, and 12 of them were boys, with the majority of the boys being African-American.  Of the girls present, the majority of them were Caucasian.  It was also my understanding that the majority of the boys were hospitalized due to suicidality (and/or other mental health concerns related to it, such as depression, anxiety, and/or sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect).

To me as an untrained observer, I found this to be very significant because my personal expectation was to observe there to be a greater number of girls than boys present in the unit.  Because there were significantly fewer girls than boys present in the unit over a period of several days, it became important to me to understand the reasons for it.  I got to thinking about several possibilities to explain this reality.

Perhaps girls are more open about their feelings and experiences, and/or a depressed or otherwise upset mood in girls may be more visible to others.  Perhaps boys are keeping their feelings too much to themselves due to the societal and cultural expectations for them to “be a man,” and thus, not to show their feelings.  Possibly, adults were unable to recognize signs of suicidality or depression in boys compared to girls.

Further, it may be possible that adults did not view boys’ depression or suicidality to be as serious as that of girls until a crisis point was reached.  Culturally, it is also significant that most of the children housed in the unit were African-American boys.  Specifically related to cultural or ethnic differences, I do not yet have particular potential explanations for this.  Additionally, perhaps there are other general explanations and reasons that I have not thought of for there being significantly more boys in the unit than girls.

As I stated previously, since the time of my observations of the children’s mental health unit in the metro Atlanta hospital, I have researched several issues relating to child mental health, and I have consulted with many professionals in the field.  In a study completed by Cynthia R. Pfeffer (2001, p. 1057), she stated that during prospective follow-up into adulthood of children at risk for suicide showed that a “history of sexual abuse (RR: 5.71, 95%; CI: 1.9-16.7) imparted the greatest risk” for it.  Reading this was saddening and disheartening for me because it appears that most suicide attempters and commiters have internalized their pain and suffering, are taking it out on themselves, and appear not to be able to successfully cope.  They were hurt, have lost hope and trust, and are now hurting themselves, possibly in efforts to make the painful memories disappear.  For them, suicide seems to be the only answer for removing and escaping the emotional pain.

In a study by Stanley, Brown, Brent, Wells, Poling, Curry, Kennard, Wagner, Cwik, Klomek, Goldstein, Vitiello, Barnett, Daniel, and Hughes (2009, p. 1005), the researchers reported that individuals who attempted incomplete suicide are at the greatest risk for repeat attempts and/or actually committing suicide within the first six months following the incomplete attempt (as this study particularly relates to adolescents, aged 13-19 years old).  This is extremely important to understand because those who are untrained in this area do not understand the seriousness or severity of it, or are, perhaps, in denial that the situation is serious or severe.  Regarding children, I believe this particularly applies to those in education, including teachers, administrators, and other staff because they are not equipped with the knowledge and understanding about the manner in which to best support students who have been suicidal.

And sometimes, those adults in education who are bullies toward children truly have absolutely no understanding or compassion toward students who made an incomplete attempt at suicide because they simply do not seem to care.  In fact, those type of adults may even do more damage to the child through their insensitivity and failure to understand the situation by being even more punitive or retaliatory toward the student because the issue is one with which they, themselves, are unable to successfully cope.  It remains easier for such adult bullies of students in education to bully, blame, and revictimize the student victim.

Also unhelpful are the student peer bullies with whom the suicide attempt survivor must cope.  Student peer bullies of the victim seem to bully the survivor even more because they are aware of the emotional vulnerability of the survivor, and they capitalize on that because it makes them feel good.  Therefore, in a school environment in which bullying goes unchecked, unresolved, and not corrected, suicide attempt survivors are at an even greater risk for a future successful suicide attempt because they experience bullying from adults and peers.

Additionally, O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock (2012, p. 15) reported in their study that “psychotherapy did not reduce the risk for suicide attempts in adolescents in contrast to adults.”  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) further reported that “psychotherapy did not reduce suicide attempts in adolescents at 6 to 18 months” into a suicide prevention treatment program.  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) also stated that “psychotherapy had no beneficial effect on suicide ideation beyond usual care” in adolescents.  These findings are shocking, disturbing, and disheartening, particularly when there may be the extant societal belief that counseling and psychotheraphy benefit individuals with emotional disturbances and/or self-destructive ideations.  If psychotherapy is not beneficial to adolescents who have attempted suicide and/or who have suicidal ideation, what benefit is psychotherapy to children who have had similar experiences and/or beliefs?

A professional friend of mine who is a psychiatrist provided me with an article written by a women who is a sexual abuse survivor, and who was hospitalized on three occasions throughout her life due to depression and suicidality related to her traumatic experiences.  The article, “How ‘Person-Centered’ Care Helped Guide me Toward Recovery from Mental Illness,” by Ashley R. Clayton (2013), was extremely helpful to me in better-understanding what is going through someone’s mind when they are hospitalized for a mental health crisis.  The article was further assistive to me because, as a graduate student in counseling who is working on my second master’s degree, it was important for me to perceive and understand the great value of Person-Centered Therapy in counseling suicide and sexual abuse survivors.

Because so much hope and trust has been lost in survivors of sexual abuse and suicide, it is obviously critically important for others, including mental health professionals, to be as sensitive and supportive as possible of them.  The author shared that she experienced the greatest improvement through the person-centered approach and caring relationship that a particular nurse developed with her.  This is something important for me to remember and put into practice in my own counseling of trauma survivors.

Further regarding children’s mental health in relation to surviving trauma and suicide attempts, as well as those areas in relation to children’s school attendance, I spoke with two pediatricians regarding the issues.  Both pediatricians took the issues seriously, however, they did not desire to take responsibility for children who were suicidal because they stated they were not trained or highly-experienced in those areas.  Both pediatricians also desired for parents to work with the expectations of schools, even though such expectations, stresses, and pressures may be too overwhelming for some children.  Regarding the experience of child sexual abuse, both pediatricians believed that counseling was needed for child survivors, however they both believed that medication to manage the child survivors’ moods were necessary as long as they believed the child was “functioning.”

For me, the perspectives of both pediatricians – both of whom are Caucasian women with many years of experience in pediatrics – were discouraging in many areas.  First, both doctors appeared to be very quick in the desire to refer suicidal patients to other medical professionals.  While that has advantages and disadvantages, it places those at risk in the position of believing that their doctors are unable to properly care for or understand them.  Both also believed that child survivors of sexual abuse need not be medicated if they were “functioning.”  I believe that it is one thing to survive, and quite another thing to thrive.  Merely “functioning” is not fully living or thriving, to me.  And also, both pediatricians appeared to also be too quick to go along with schools’ expectations for students, including maintaining the same academic and/or disciplinary standards for students who are trauma survivors.  As an individual who is an experienced teacher, I know that students have different learning styles; placing everyone in the same category is detrimental to those who have suffered trauma.

Both a psychologist and a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with whom I consulted about difficult, damaging, challenging, and/or overly stressful and overwhelming school experiences of child trauma survivors both believed that people in education are or may be unable and/or unwilling to change in a manner that is more supportive, understanding, and compassionate toward them.  The psychologist believed there is not likely any school that would be able to meet the needs of a child who is a trauma survivor.  And, both the psychologist and the LPC believed that schools are part of the problem in not successfully supporting and understanding trauma survivors and their needs.  Those who are in education – perhaps including school counselors and school psychologists – may be unequipped in schools at being able to fully or successfully support children who are trauma survivors; this can and does have devastating effects on such children.

Of all those in the medical and mental health fields, I believe those who are most fully trained and equipped to successfully both treat and understand trauma survivors – in particular, those who have experienced sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts – are psychiatrists.  Psychiatrists are in the best position to provide urgent and necessary medical and mental health care to suicide attempters, including hospitalization, evaluations, medical care, and medications.

I assume that the psychiatrists are those who most often see patients who are suicide attempters; and they see them at their lowest points, emotionally.  Therefore, psychiatrists who truly have what is best for their patients in mind seem to help suicide attempters and trauma survivors become stabilized and recover as quickly as possible.  Psychiatrists are in a wonderful position with their patients to be supportive, understanding, and compassionate; and to inform and educate society, in general, about the medical issues and needs experienced by suicide attempters and other trauma survivors.

In communicating with several people who are education professionals regarding survivors of sexual trauma, suicide attempts, and bullying (both by peers and adults in school), I have largely encountered  biases against the survivors, as well as an incredible absence of sensitivity toward them.  Such refusals of understanding, sensitivity, and compassion toward survivors by the majority of education professionals with whom I communicated can possibly be attributed to a lack of or refusal toward being educated and informed about the needs of the survivors.  Such outright insensitivity by the education professionals – the majority of those who were insensitive toward survivors were administrators – could also be attributed to a denial about the seriousness or severity, or fear due to stigmas or the unknown, regarding the issues related to survivors.

In some situations of communicating with administrators, upper administrators, and school psychologists of schools and school systems related to student survivors of sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I also encountered not only insensitivity and a lack of understanding toward the survivors, but also inconsistencies in their behaviors toward them.  In most school and/or school system administrative personnel and school psychologists with whom I communicated, I encountered adult bullying by them toward the child survivors that was sadistic.  In such education professionals, it appeared that their incredible harshness toward the survivors was something that they wanted to occur, regardless of the outcome or effects that may or may not have resulted in actual suicide.

In other situations in communicating with education professionals about such survivors, however, I encountered empathy, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward them.  Such supportive actions were those exhibited by other particular school system administrative personnel and/or educators and counselors.  Such desparities in the treatment of survivors by various school personnel reflects that education professionals must be on the same page in order to consistently understand and support, as well as be compassionate and sensitive toward survivors.  This appears to be direly and desperately needed in education in order that students who are trauma and suicide attempt survivors receive the greatest possible support and understanding in their educational environments.

Therefore, it was personally extremely shocking and disturbing to me in a life-changing manner that some of the very leaders of schools and school systems not only do not support said survivors, but are actually bullying and sadistic toward them.  In these situations, I believe it would take not less than a miracle to convince such individuals to even consider a different and more positive and understanding perspective toward said survivors.

In regard to particular religious leaders with whom I have communicated about issues related to survivors of child sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I have – thus far – experienced their compassion, kindness, and prayers toward survivors.  I have also learned, however, to carefully choose which religious to approach; not all religious are as understanding and supportive as others.  And, I am further aware that there are those religious who would take such information and use it against the victims and/or survivors in order to revictimize them.  Presently, however, that is not what I have experienced in my recent and present communications with particular religious about these issues related to survivors; and I am thankful for and relieved about that.

I believe that society has come a long way in supporting and understanding the experiences and needs of trauma survivors, including those who have experienced sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, trauma, bullying, and suicide attempts, however there is still much more progress to be made.  Those who best-recover from traumatic experiences are those who have positive, stable support in their lives.  Stressful and overwhelming situations are serious set-backs that only cause them to regress, and to continue not to hope or trust.

It is so critically important for sexual abuse survivors and suicide attempt survivors to have the consistent and unconditional support of those around them, including family members, community members, those who are in education, and others.  Without such support, compassion, and understanding – and, in fact, if the survivor experiences the opposite of those – he or she could make a future suicide attempt that is successful.  Such tragedies are avoidable and preventable if everyone practiced more patient, respect, appreciation, and compassion toward each other, particularly trauma survivors who have attempted suicide.

References

Clayton, A.R. (2013).  “How ‘Person-Centered’ care helped guide me toward recovery from mental illness.”  Health Affairs, 32 (3), pp. 622-626.

O’Connor, E., Gaynes, B.N., Burda, B.U., Soh, C., & Whitlock, E.P. (2012).  “Screening for and treatment of suicide risk relevant to primary care.”  Annals of Internal Medicine, pp. 1-22; pp. W-1 – W-5.

Pfeffer, C.R. (2001).  “Diagnosis of childhood and adolescent suicidal behavior: Unmet needs for suicide prevention.”  Society of Biological Psychiatry, 49, pp. 1055-1061.

Stanley, B., Brown, G., Brent, D.A., Wells, K., Poling, K., Curry, J., Kennard, B.D., Wagner, A., Cwik, M.F., Klomek, A.B., Goldstein, T., Vitiello, B., Barnett, S., Daniel, S., & Hughes, J. (2009).  “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP): Treatment model feasibility, and acceptability.”  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48 (10), pp. 1005-1013.

“Schools’ Inconsistently-Enforced Policies on Bullying Continue it, Supporting Offenders” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

School bullying has become more of a major issue these days due to the extent of some of it that has led to serious injuries and/or suicides of student victims.  My own LinkedIn group, ‘People Against Retaliation and Bullying’ focuses on bullying and retaliation, the many ways in which children and adults bully each other, and the many unnecessary, tragic suicides – called ‘bullicides’ – of many young people.  😦

All one has to do is to search for “student suicides” and/or “bullicides” online, and the names, photos, and stories of many young people are provided of those who have killed themselves due to bullying.  Students such as Phoebe Prince, Rachel Ehmke, Jessica Laney, Felicia Garcia, Joshua Pacheco, Kristina Calco, and Jared High took their own lives due to bullying.  A website by Christopher Burgess includes an article titled, “Bullying: The 34 we Lost in 2010 to Bullycide,” found at http://www.burgessct.com/2011/02/bullying-rip/ .  😦

And, there are so many more who are bullied, repeatedly in school, including my own child.  My brother and I were bullied when we were in school, my parents were bullied when they were in school, and my own child has been bullied in school.  Because my child is very good and kind, and is considerate of others’ feelings, I find that he tends to be bullied even more, not only by his peers, but by adults, as well.

Fairly recently, in a meeting with several school employees at a particular school regarding a young student, one teacher informed me that everyone experiences a certain amount of bullying, that we all have experienced it.  My question is why is she so accepting of it?  Why is she so tolerant of it?  What if one of her students committed suicide due to bullying?  Why does she – and others – allow it to continue?  To me, these attitudes about bullying are unacceptable, and I can, therefore, provide an explanation for why bullying occurs and why it continues.

Bullying is nothing less than psychological violence by one or more people toward one or more others.  It appears to me that children – and adults – who are insecure about themselves and/or others have a need to bully, harass, degrade, and/or otherwise put others down.  Why?  Because it raises them up!  Putting others down makes them feel good!  They have absolutely no regard or consideration for the manner in which their words and/or actions hurt their targets and victims.  They have not been taught to have regard or consideration for others’ feelings, values, perspectives, needs.  They are selfish and insecure, and seek to demean and devalue others out of their own flawed egos.

When my own child is bullied by others – including peers and adults – I have repeatedly told him that others act in such a manner because they have a problem.  This is truly what I believe – that they do, in fact, have the problem.  And, sadly, often when kids bully other kids – or when adults bully other adults – it becomes like a gang mentality in which the bully enlists other bullies to bully the victim.  It has happened to me, it has happened to my child.

Even so, the bullies have no idea of the damage and pain they have caused their targets and victims.  They have absolutely no clue, and they truly believe that they have done no wrong, even going so far as to deny or lie about their injurious words and/or actions.  Time and again, I have interacted with school principals and school teachers who have denied the truth – to my face – in order to save their own skin.  Heaven forbid they are not always professional and/or exceptional.  Would it not be better to acknowledge the issues, and deal proactively with the problems, solving them and making improvements?  How can bullies see that there are any problems when they are, in fact, bullies themselves?  This is a big root of the issue.

I am personally aware of a couple of recent issues related to bullying of a youngster who is close to me.  In one situation, a peer bully repeatedly taunted and pestered his target to look at a picture in a book of which the target was afraid.  The target has a phobia of the creature that was pictured in the book.  The target told the bully, repeatedly, that he did not want to see the book or the picture.  The bully forced the target to look at the picture by placing the book in front of him.  The bully then stated to the target that he (the target) could do anything he wanted to the book.  Therefore, the target scribbled, lightly in pencil over the picture of the creature in the book of which he has a phobia. 

The bully not only misled the target, but also betrayed him by informing their teacher that the target had defaced his book.  When the target tried to explain the situation to the teacher, the teacher did not listen.  Instead, the teacher sent the target to the principal’s office, where the target (who has outstanding behavior, I might add) was issued a lengthy detention of 45 minutes (which is also a greater amount of time than school policy!) for the situation.  When the target attempted to explain what occurred to the assistant administrator who issued the consequences, she also did not listen to him.  In addition, the target was required to write an apology letter to the bully. 

This, by the way, was the second instance in which the particular bully instigated a situation that caused a reaction by the target, causing the target to be blamed and receive consequences, including the severe consequences of the lengthy detention.  The target felt so hurt, sad, and betrayed by the actions of everyone involved that he no longer wanted to go to school, and worse, which I will not comment on here. 

However, this is a perfect example of bullying, victim-blaming, and how others’ refusal to consider and account for the entire situation causes repeatedly-targeted children to feel sad, hopeless, betrayed, and unsupported.  Such lacks of consideration, compassion, and understanding are unnecessary; and I find that they are generally lacking to an even greater extent when the teacher’s son is the bully and/or a teacher’s children attend the school in which she teaches.

In another example of bullying experienced by someone close to me, a boy and his friend approached another boy and some girls on the playground at recess.  The two boys simply wanted to play with the others.  The bully repeatedly physically pushed the target on several places on his body, including his back, chest, and arm.  The target yelled at the bully to stop, but the bully didn’t stop.  The target’s friend supported the target in telling the bully to stop, but the bully didn’t stop.  The target, therefore, became so upset that he ran away from the bully.

When the situation was investigated by the teachers of the students involved, based on the report to them by a parent of the target, it was confirmed by the students that what was reported was what occurred.  However, rather than the teacher(s) sending the bully to the principal’s office and/or even documenting any disciplinary consequences toward the bully, they (the teachers) left it up to the children to come up with their own solution!  Does this situation scream of unfairness?  Does it obviously reflect inconsistency in policy?  Does it show a lack of understanding and sensitivity toward the feelings of the victim?  I answer, “Yes” to each of those questions.

What ended up happening is that, indeed, the bully and the target where given the responsibility by their teachers to devise their own solution.  The boys decided to write apology letters to each other – the one boy for repeatedly pushing the other boy, and the second boy for yelling at the other boy to stop pushing him!  Can you believe this?!  So, not only has the target been bullied, but he has been revictimized by having to write his own apology letter to the bully for standing up for himself!  Further, no official disciplinary documentation of any sort was made regarding the bully who did all of the pushing on the other boy!  Therefore, the teachers have reflected that this sort of situation is entirely acceptable and tolerable, and even worse, they supported the victim being revictimized rather than fair, consistent justice occurring in the matter.  This situation was not taken seriously, nor handled effectively, especially in regard to the target.

This is exactly how bullying among school students goes potentially “unnoticed” and unresolved.  This is exactly how bullying among students continues.  This is exactly how students such as those who are bullied become even more reluctant to inform on their peers – and, after awhile, actually do not inform against their peers – for bullying them – when they (the victims, themselves) are blamed and/or revictimized, and/or no effective solution or official documentation is made about the bullying they experienced. 

This type of bullying on a repeated basis by a student’s peers, teachers, and/or administrators is exactly what causes targets to believe that they are not valued, unsupported, hated, and to believe that they are better off dead.  Sadly, the bullies still believe they are doing no wrong.  They have no consideration or regard for the feelings of the victim.  Even after students actually kill themselves, they often still believe that they have done no wrong and no harm. 

I wish we had schools in which everyone was kind to each other.  I wish we had schools in which everyone could just be friends.  I wish that everyone could be more kind, compassionate, understanding, considerate, and sensitive toward each other.  Repeated bullying, including hurtful words by a child’s peers and authority figures in their lives, critically harms the developing egos of many youngsters and youth.  Such repeated bullying and the refusal of others to understand, consider, and/or take seriously it’s negative effects does cause youngsters and youth to kill themselves. 

Increased positive change is needed in order to stop bullying.  Let us not become tolerant and accepting of bullying or bullicide.  Let us take a stand against it, requiring sensitivity training of our school teachers and administrators.  Let us teach children and youth to respect, accept, and appreciate each other’s similarities and differences.  Let us find joy and growth in diversity.  Let us stomp out bullying and bullicide by raising the bar of understanding, compassion, consideration, and sensitivity for everyone.  Let us not revictimize the victims.  Let us not support the offenders and their bullying words and actions.  The time is now to open our eyes to bullying and it’s harmful effects, or more will be lost to this unnecessary social tragedy. 😦

References:

Christopher Burgess.  “Bullying: The 34 we Lost in 2010 to Bullycide.”  http://www.burgessct.com/2011/02/bullying-rip/.  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Helen Pow.  “‘I can’t.  I’m done.  I give up:’  Bullied teen jumps to her death in front of train as schoolmates look on in horror just days after harrowing tweet.”  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2223133/Felicia-Garcia-suicide-Bullied-teen-jumps-death-train-schoolmates-look-horror-just-days-harrowing-tweet.html .  Mail Online (October 25, 2012).  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“In Memory of Jared High.”  http://www.jaredstory.com/kristina.html .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Jessica Alaney.  “R.I.P. Jessica Laney.”  http://www.bullyville.com/?page=story&id=5735 .  Bullyville.com (December 11, 2012).  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Michelle Calco.  “Kristina’s Story.”  http://www.jaredstory.com/kristina.html .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“Rachel Emkhe, 13 Year Old Minnesota Student, Commits Suicide.”  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/rachel-ehmke-13-year-old-_n_1501143.html .  Huffington Post. com (May 8, 2012).  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Sarah Schuch.  “Parents blame bullying for son’s suicide: Linden High School junior remembered for love of theater.”  http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2012/12/parents_blame_bullying_for_son.html .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“Suicide of Phoebe Prince.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Phoebe_Prince .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“The Many Ways in Which School Children are Bullied by School Employees” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Bullying and retaliation are issues that have come to the forefront of our society in recent years.  There is bullying in schools.  There is bullying in the workplace.  There is bullying in social organizations.  There is bullying that occurs in society, in general.  Bullies, themselves, feel good and empowered when they bully others.  They get to throw their weight around, intimidating, degrading, ridiculing, humiliating others.  Bullying in schools definitely creates a downward spiral in the morale of the school.  When students must protect themselves from their bullyish peers as well as adults who are bullies, a stressful and hostile atmosphere is present at schools for these children.

Many victims of bullying keep it to themselves, thinking they can handle it, and they often end up being more taunted, more bullied, and then, the bullying escalates.  Some victims of bullying are pushed over the edge, believe they are worthless, are convinced that they are nothing, and kill themselves.  Other victims of bullying try to stand up for themselves – some are successful in defeating and overcoming their bullies, while others are disbelieved and/or do not receive the support they need from adults to whom they go for help.

In schools, sometimes students get a double whammy with bullying.  Not only are they bullied by certain peers, but they are also bullied by particular adults who are school employees of the school.  What is worse is when the very leaders of the school practice bullying through policies that lack sensitivity, flexibility, and understanding.  Policies in which minor mistakes and insignificant misbehaviors of children such as talking without permission, for example, are enforced by requiring students to run several laps, serve a lengthy detention, or in some schools, be paddled, are excessive, unnecessary, and reflect an authoritarian, punitive, unforgiving, and bullying atmosphere in the school. 

In one school with which I am familiar, a parent survey was issued to students’ families within the past one year that asked many questions about various factors related to the quality of the school.  Regarding bullying, 26% of respondents reported that bullying is a problem at the school.  What is truly sad is that bullying is more of an issue regarding adults bullying students than with students bullying students.  And, of course, when students see adults bullying their peers, they believe it is acceptable, and bully their peers, as well.  What is even more sad is that the adults who are bullies and whose policies are bullyish do not recognize it, they do not care, and the situation worsens, becoming more institutionalized.

There are many ways in which school children are bullied by school employees in schools.  Some of those ways include: 1) issuing excessive disciplinary consequences and punishments for minor misbehaviors; 2) requiring students to run laps as punishment and/or discipline; 3) not providing, denying, ignoring, and/or overlooking needed services to the student; 4) not contacting the parents or guardians when the student has been severely injured at school; 5) denying a sick child the opportunity to see the school nurse or clinician and to go home; 6) denying and/or preventing the student from receiving guidance counseling or other counseling services when requested; 7) not reporting actual abuse or neglect of students to the proper authorities; and 8) issuing unspoken punishments to students that are not identified in the school and/or student handbook.

Additional ways that school employees bully school children include: 9) issuing punishments and/or disciplinary consequences that are more excessive than what is identified in the school and/or student handbook; 10) blaming the child for misbehavior that the adult could have improved by providing the child with greater care and understanding; 12) not recognizing and/or praising the student for outstanding academics or accomplishments; 13) outright lying about and/or misconstruing the truth about situations involving the child; 14) not keeping confidences about the child; and 15) different school employees throughout the school stating that the child needs various evaluations, assessments, therapies, counseling, remediations, etc. when these are not and/or may not necessary.  The latter factor also occurs when school employees make these determinations when they are unqualified to do so; for example, they are not physicians, psychologists, or other qualified and unbiased healthcare professionals.  

There are also many other ways children are bullied in schools by school employees, and those ways are not limited to those that I have identified here.  Some more of those ways include: 16) school employees, including particular school administrators and/or teachers maintaining and carrying out a personal vendetta out of anger toward the child; 17) having nothing good to say or share about the child to parents or others; 18) calling the child’s parents in for meetings and/or conferences about the child and/or the parent, simply as a way to attempt to intimidate, harass, or otherwise bully; 19) basically behaving in an unprofessional manner, such as saying one thing, but doing the opposite toward the child or regarding a particular situation; and 20) school administrators also requiring other school employees throughout the school to also perform any of these identified unprofessional actions without question toward the child or the child’s parents, and if they do not do so, they (and/or their own children if their children are students at the school) experience various negative consequences.

Additionally and to compound the situation of school employees bullying school children, any multitute of the above-identified situations can be occurring toward the child at any given time.  For example, five of the particular situations may be occurring toward the child during one week.  In these instances, school employees are working with each other – and against the child – essentially using the child as their whipping post.  This is not only extremely detrimental to the child, but it is bad for the school’s reputation.

When these types of bullying actions toward school children occur by the very adults who have been entrusted with their care, well-being, and safety, it leaves the children on their own, to fend for themselves.  If a teacher and/or administrator simply does not like a particular child or that child’s parent, in my experience, I have found that punishments and/or disciplinary consequences toward that child are much more severe and unfair than they are toward other students.

When families pay extra monies for their children to attend private or parochial schools, the expectation is that those schools are of a higher standard than public schools, in every area – education, discipline, safety, fairness, faith foundation, services, etc.  Certainly, families have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of particular schools and/or school systems, and find the best complement for their child. 

Sometimes, despite all good intentions and communications with authority figures within the school regarding what can be improved or changed to help benefit the students and the school, including school retention when better practices and policies are exercised, things do not change, and in fact, worsen.  Sometimes policies become even more excessive and increasingly punitive.  Sometimes there is a change in the leadership, and the new leaders are more authoritarian and believe in doling out harsh consequences.  This does not mean that such policies are acceptable or ethical.  Perhaps many students’ families simply tolerate the policies because other educational alternatives to that particular school may be even worse.  One does not want to jump out the frying pan, into the fire, so to speak.

Therefore, I am a person who believes in, suggests, and encourages compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward children and school students.  Harsh and excessive disciplinary policies effected on young school children for minor misbehaviors teach children that the world comes crashing down on them and they are condemned by school employees if they are not perfect all of the time.  It also teaches that adults in authority at school who are punitive are also unforgiving toward them for minor misbehaviors or mistakes.  Such authority figures are not serving as positive role models or guides for the children, but teachers of severe and unnecessary consequences for rather insignificant issues. 

This is how a bullyish atmosphere is created and maintained within a school by the adults within the school.  This is how bullying becomes a problem within schools – when adults bully children, and children, in turn, bully their peers.  Schools and school leaders can sugar coat and ignore the issue all they want, but things will not change for the better or improve unless they, themselves, recognize their own bullyish policies and change them to being more compassionate and understanding.  That is where true leadership lies – in providing positive guidance and in being positive role models for students, rather than in being excessively and unnecessarily punitive and unforgiving.  The teachings of Jesus also follow that philosophy.  

Therefore, schools must not only be progressive rather than regressive in their policies, but school leaders must actively exercise those positive and progressive policies.  School leaders must implement policies that are beneficial, positive, protective, and guiding for students.  School leaders and educators must also reflect on and enact ways of improving themselves and their own philosophies and perspectives.  In this way, everyone will benefit – the students, students’ families, school employees, and the school system.  This is what is necessary in every school and in every school system, and it is a basic expectation of all students and parents.  Let’s keep working to improve our schools and the policies that are practiced within them for the benefit of everyone, most particularly the children who are the youngest and most impressionable of all.