EAST END, NY — For one East End mom, the years since 2012 have been marked by anguish, frustration and heartbreak as she watched her boy, now 17, face the brunt of bullying that she says has only escalated and made their new hometown a place she’s called “hell.”
She and her son moved to the East End when he was in sixth grade, to be close to her parents. The bullying, she said, “really started in sixth grade, when he cried in class.” Her son and she had lost two family members in a two-week span over the summer; one of whom was adopted, and black.
Patch is not using her name to protect her son’s identity,
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“The teacher tried to explain that it was okay to cry,” but the students, she said, lashed out, hurling racial and other slurs at him.
Kids, she said, “can be horrible.”
Faced with the pain of bullying, her son isn’t alone. Their story is one of hundreds of examples of unchecked bullying that causes millions of students to stay home from school every day. Patch is taking a yearlong look at this confounding national crisis with a goal of providing parents the tools they need to help their children navigate the torment of bullying, which affect as many as one in three middle and high school students.
October is National Bullying Prevention month, founded by Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center in 2006 to raise awareness and take action to create safe schools, create a dialogue with school administrators and parents in regard to bullying prevention and sharing of resources, and help to abolish bullying and create a kinder world marked by acceptance and inclusion, according to Pacer.org.
The nonprofit group YouthTruth said its survey of middle and high school students indicates one in three are bullied. The torment they face varies.
Of those students who reported being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 2016, 13 percent “were made fun of, called names, or insulted; 12 percent were the subject of rumors; 5 percent were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; and 5 percent were excluded from activities on purpose.”
And, Pacer.org said, students who are bullied suffer negative effects including poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety and depression, and are at greater risk for mental health and behavior problems, as well as health problems including headaches and stomachaches; youth who “self blame” and feel they deserve to be bullied can face depression, victimization and maladjustment, the organization states.
Cyberbullying is also insidious and on the rise, with the percentages of individuals who have experienced cyberbullying at some point nearly doubled, from 18 percent to 34 percent from 2007 to 2016, according to Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, the co-directors the Cyberbullying Research Center.
After the incident in sixth grade, the worried New York mom said her son was “shunned from sports” and “sat on the bench a lot.” He dropped out of baseball despite the fact that at his old school, he was a leading pitcher who almost made it to the Little League World Series.
‘Spit On And Taunted’
But in her new community, her son was often looked over in favor of the sons of the team’s coaches, she believes.
The agony continued at school, she said: “I can’t tell you how many times my son has been spit on, taunted, on the playground and on the bus. I started driving him to school so he wouldn’t have to go on the bus.”
The mom said she received no support from the district when she reported what had been happening to her son. Mediation “didn’t help,” she said, adding, “It made it worse. Because now he’s considered a tattletale.”
Her town has an Anti-Bias Task Force to promote acceptance, diversity and tolerance, but the mother said she does not believe any of the bullying incidents were reported to that group.
Today, her son is a high school student, and since August, has once again been targeted by bullies, she said.
“Now they are older and have cars, and have been throwing things, eggs, tomatoes, squash” at the family’s home and cars, she said. Video footage taken from security cameras, which Patch viewed, shows someone driving away from their home while spewing profanities and racial epithets at around 12:47 a.m. one morning.
“They have tried to drive my son off the road. They have poured soda on his car, drawn penises in the dirt on his car,” she said.
While the mother said she has 20 pages of police reports and has spoken to the school and board of education, she said she has been told charges cannot be pressed because the incidents were not deemed to be threats, hate crimes, harassment, or examples of disturbing the peace, and there have not been complaints from multiple residents.
The young people involved have told police that they are friends with her son, which she says is untrue.
“Nothing gets done,” she said.
Most recently, in August, every mother’s greatest nightmare unfolded.
“I was woken in the middle of the night by police banging on my door. They were there to stop a suicide. They told me that someone had called the police department and said my son was going to ‘blow his brains out’ by midnight,” she said. “We woke my son and the police determined that they didn’t have to bring him to Stony Brook University Hospital for an evaluation. I spent the next few hours watching my son, worrying, talking to professionals and wondering if he was suicidal — or if a student had played a hideous prank on him.”
She later learned that a student contacted two school employees, who then called 911 about the possibility of her son’s suicide attempt.
“I appreciate that, because my son is the most important thing in my life,” she said. “I am not upset about them making these calls and I am not upset that the police arrived to try and save his life. I am very thankful. But I am very upset to learn that the school never contacted me or my son to follow up.”
She and her son need information, resources, therapists, support, she said. “I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a sociologist. I’m not a social worker. . . . The school as a whole has a plethora of educated, trained professionals. All the children and the families in this community deserve their knowledge, communication, concern and regard for their well-being. The lack of communication in this situation is appalling.”
She asked that a policy be created in schools to keep parents informed if police are notified in regard to possible suicide calls — and that brochures, detailing signs of suicide and giving a 24-hour hot line number, be distributed to parents and students.
“It could save a life,” she said.
Since that dark August night, the heartbroken mother is haunted by fear. “Is he really suicidal? Is this really affecting him?” she said. He dropped out of football. I really am worried sick.”
Her son hasn’t been sleeping well, which experts say is one of the symptoms bullied kids often exhibit.
“He’s definitely not happy or vivacious,” she said. “I think he second guesses himself. Kids write on Snapchat that he’s ‘trailer trash,’ that he’s ‘fat.’ “
Her son had no problem with his mother turning to the local board of education for help. “He said, ‘What more can they do, Mom?’ ” she said.
But so far, the school hasn’t done much to support her family, she said. When obscenities were written in the dust on his car, she gave him hers for the day, but that didn’t stop the kids from tormenting her son. They poured soda on the hood, she said.
Her son, she said, has a good group of friends, kids who don’t party. He loves basketball and working on his car, and is a member of the Navy Junior Reserves Officers Training Corps, she said.
But the bullying has left its mark.
“He doesn’t really like to talk about it; it makes him feel bad,” she said. “I tell him, ‘You’re going to meet people all throughout life that don’t like you, the color of your hair, but it gives them no right to harass you.’ “
Lessons of kindness have to start at home, with parents, she believes.
“I have zero expectations for these particular kids,” she said. “But I would urge local organizations to start all missions of diversity and unity at a much earlier age. Because by the time you’re talking to them, they’ve had years of brainwashing in their homes.”
Social media hasn’t helped, she said, with kids taunting her son on their phones and through other apps. “I call them keyboard warriors,” she said.
Looking ahead, while her son once wanted to pursue a path in the military, now, she said, “he has basically lost faith” in authority; he may decide to attend college later and join the military as an officer.
The years have left a deep scar on both a mother and son’s hearts. When her boy graduates, rather than looking forward to the next chapter in his life in their community, she said she’s considering moving away, far from the town that she believes has ripped her son’s childhood from her hands and heart.
“The lack of support from this community has been tragic,” she said.
And on the deepest level, the bullying has planted seeds of doubt, fear, and despair.
“I feel like I’m failing him,” she said. “I have loved him and done everything to support him since he was inside of me. To send him out to these people every day who are supposed to be protecting him — I feel like I’m failing him, even though we went through all the right channels. There has been no support. No empathy.”
Her voice breaking, she added: “It’s just so sad. I just want all this to stop — and for my son to be able to enjoy his senior year.”
Through the end of the 2018, Patch will continue its in-depth look at society’s roles and responsibilities in bullying, which can lead to a child’s unthinkable decision to end their own life, in hopes we might offer solutions that save lives.
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Earlier In This Series
Patch courtesy photo of the eggs thrown at the family’s car.