We’ve seen a lot of cases of bullying in the news in the last couple of weeks. Despite all of the anti-bullying lessons at schools, it’s not going away. In fact, an unscientific survey on the KDKA Facebook page found that 69% of parents said their child was bullied.
Dana Ziemniak of Thornburg Borough knows all too well the horror of bullying. Her son, Evan, was bullied in sixth grade at West Allegheny Middle School. “It started off with (the bully) calling him names or picking on him. In the cafeteria, (the bully) would throw things at him.”
Evan had anxiety, ADHD and high-functioning autism and didn’t always understand social cues. Dana tried to get help, but the bullying only continued. Her son was stabbed with a pencil on the bus and said he had enough.
“He’s like, ‘I don’t feel like I want to live anymore, Mommy. I just don’t want to live,’ and he was 12,” Dana said.
Evan died when he was 12, three years ago. His death was ruled accidental. Dana says other students told her Evan was dared to do the “choking game.”
“I feel that when these kids were still picking on him, and they dared him to it,” Dana says. “He felt peer pressure, and he tried it, not knowing that he was going to die.”
Dana wants to get the word out to schools to take bullying seriously and to parents to fight for their kids’ safety.
Parenting expert Dr. Debi Gilboa, or Dr. G, says we can all start by talking with our kids, especially middle schoolers. “Your kids are seeing bullying, for sure,” Dr. G says. “Middle schools are the age where kids are experimenting with social power.”
KDKA’s Facebook survey found that 30% of bullied kids are 11 to 13 years old.
People from 139 school districts filled out the unscientific survey.
It found that 89% of the kids were bullied in school, 57% on the bus, 50% in the lunchroom, and 28% on social media. “Social media has taken bullying from a problem when (a child is) with other kids to a 24-7 issue,” Dr. G says.
In the survey, almost all the bullying was verbal and almost half was also physical.
Dana says she tried to work with the school but didn’t get the results her son needed. In fact, that’s quite common.
84% of those surveyed felt their school district did not do enough. Half of the people thought about leaving the district and many did. Ten percent moved and 4% sent their child to private school. “It takes parents and schools and social initiatives that teach kindness and empathy and inclusion to start to helping with this problem,” says Dr. G.
So what can parents do? Dana reflects, “If I could go back and do it all over again, I would have contacted the superintendent immediately. I also would have gotten an educational lawyer.” She also suggests that if the bullying doesn’t stop, use all the resources you ca,n including police, therapists, legislators. Dr. G adds that you should keep good records. Take screenshots of any bullying online and take notes of every incident. If your child is willing, record them talking about what’s happening. Dr. G says all of those things can make a big difference when you are trying to prove what happened.
Dana hopes her son’s life makes a difference and prevents other kids from being bullied. She says it starts with kids helping other kids. “Go to your teacher. Go to the principal and tell them what you saw… Stick up for that other child who maybe can’t stick up for themselves.”
KDKA contacted the West Allegheny School District to comment, and they provided this statement: “The district continues to collaborate with local and national organizations as well as students, parents and community members to provide impactful anti-bullying programs that ensure all students are educated in a safe and supportive school culture. “
In addition to schools’ efforts to stop bullying, parents can also help. Here are links to resources with more on how to talk to your kids about preventing, stopping and handling bullying.
How to tell if it’s bullying:
Prevention & Response: