Sue Hilton remembered her son’s struggle with being bullied by another boy. It was, she said, “a very difficult time.”
Her son, who was teased for years because of his appearance and his interest in arts and music, is almost 30 years old and is a teacher.
“He turned out pretty good,” his mother said. “He got past those things.”
But Hilton said the trauma of the bullying her son experienced is not forgotten.
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“When he looks in the mirror today, what does he see? He sees that dorky little kid who got bullied,” she said. “You can get past it, but the scars remain.”
Hilton, coordinator of counseling services for the York school district, shared her family’s experience with bullying as she talked to parents at Clover School District.
Her talk – Mean Girls, Tough Guys – was the second of four presentations in a countywide effort to make parents aware of bullying. She will speak later this month in the Fort Mill and York districts.
The talk is presented by York County No Wrong Door, a coalition of school districts and social service agencies that has reached out to raise awareness among parents of issues affecting their children.
Sheila Quinn, assistant superintendent for Clover School District, said Clover put a focus on bullying about three years ago.
The York school district also has launched a bullying prevention effort, including an anti-bullying program called Olweus for which Hilton is a certified trainer. York schools plan a series of anti-bullying events this month, during National Bullying Prevention Month.
Hilton said about 68 percent of children who are bullied are teased because of their appearance. Another factor is not participating in sports, she said.
She said bullying is defined as behavior that is aggressive, repeated over time and involves an imbalance of power between the bully and his or her target.
Children are often bullied because they look or seem different than others, are disabled or have special needs, or are gay or lesbian or may appear to be.
Bullying can involve physical force, name calling and taunting, she said, but it also can come in subtle forms such as spreading rumors, exclusion and cyber bullying.
She said as many as 15 percent of school absences are related to bullying. Children who are bullied may be depressed and anxious. They show lower levels of school achievement and higher rates of illness and absenteeism. Some have thoughts of suicide.
Hilton said children who are bullied aren’t the only ones at risk. Bullies are more likely to be involved in fights and to be injured. They are more likely to steal, drink, smoke and carry a weapon.
Research shows “bullying behavior may be a gateway to more serious behaviors later in life,” she said.
She also said bystanders who see bullying may be afraid to act to defend another child, and can have diminished empathy for others over time.
She said research shows bullying peaks around third grade and diminishes as students grow older. She said her own experience at the high school level leads her to believe that older students may simply be better equipped to deal with bullying.
She said parents need to model behavior that shows respect and empathy toward others to discourage bullying.
“I think in our culture, we have lost some of the ability for empathy,” she said.
She said there’s a lot of attention on cyber bullying, but Olweus research suggests it accounts for only 6 percent of all bullying. However, “it can be really, really bad if it gets going,” she said.
She said some online sites, like Yik Yak and Kik, are places where rumors can be spread by anonymous commentators. Other online sites where bullying can happen include Snapchat, Whisper, Secret, Voxer, ask.fm and 4chan, she said.
One app, called STOPit, can be used to take screen shots of the comments on such sites and send them to an adult, she said. Another app, Know Bullying, offers advice for how to deal with bullying, she said.
Hilton distributed handouts with pointers for parents. She encouraged parents to listen to their children and not brush off concerns about bullying.
She said she encouraged her son to try to ignore the bullying he experienced.
“We handled it the best way we could,” she said.