By Wendy Sachs, Special to CNN
(CNN) - About a year ago, I sat in the auditorium at South Orange Middle School in suburban New Jersey and listened to the cheerful principal prepare the incoming sixth-grade parents for what would lie ahead. The big, bad dreaded middle school years were upon us. After the principal posted his Twitter handle so we could get his feed on our digital devices, he then tried to assure the jittery crowd that middle school isn't as awful as it used to be.
Leave your own baggage behind folks; we're in a gentler, more tolerant era.
Check out the new site, CNN.com/parenting!
Not only has social media and modern communication like Twitter and e-mail opened access to teachers and staff, but a trickle-down effect of our progressive age apparently inoculates kids from some of the horrors of those hormonally charged and awkward adolescent years. Bullying is a big no-no at school, a punishable crime in New Jersey that the school administration, fortunately, takes seriously. It's unlikely for kids to be pushed into lockers or stripped naked at gym. But the fear that your kid would be the school loser or have the dreaded "cheese touch" courtesy of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series - well, that's something that even an aggressive, politically correct school policy can't prevent.
Despite the principal's peppy speech, we remained skeptical. Parents know that middle school can be another circle of hell. We know it, because we've all lived it.
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By Stephanie Goldberg, CNN
(CNN) – Several years ago, Brendesha Tynes was taken aback when she received an e-mail from one of her former students.
The note directed her to a Facebook event for an all-night bar crawl – an event with which Tynes, an assistant professor at the time, had nothing to do. But it featured an offensive image and listed Tynes as the host; another former student had set it up.
As an educator and researcher, Tynes had spent years looking into cyberbullying. Now, she was a victim.
Tynes said she was prepared to tackle the eye rolls and sharp tongues that can come with molding young minds, but being publicly humiliated by a student wasn’t in her lesson plan.
Reports from teachers say her case isn’t an anomaly. A 2011 study, "Understanding and Preventing Violence Directed Against Teachers," reported 80% of about 3,000 K-12 teachers surveyed felt victimized by students, students’ parents or colleagues in the past year.
Teachers reported that students were most often behind the verbal intimidation, obscene gestures, cyberbullying, physical offenses, theft or damage to personal property.
But few teachers or researchers are talking about it.
“People are very eager to talk about (teacher victimization) amongst co-workers and amongst friends, but they’re very hesitant to report it to authorities or to the media,” Tynes said. “People want to protect their students, even though they’re being victimized by them, and they’re worried about the reputations of the schools they work at.”
By Robert Casey, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Robert Casey, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.
(CNN) - CNN and the Cartoon Network's presentation of the AC360° special feature, "The Bully Effect," spotlight a serious issue affecting children across our nation. The film underscores the damaging consequences of bullying and the need to prevent and respond to it.
Lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure that our schools are safe, which is why I have made addressing this problem a priority in the United States Senate. I firmly believe that all children have a right to an education free from fear of being bullied. The denial of this basic right is a betrayal of children who simply want to learn.
The impact of bullying for students and for our nation are severe. In an era when a quality education matters greatly in a competitive global economy, students must be able to focus on their studies. Bullying distracts students who worry more about surviving the day unscathed than about the grades on their report card. Research has indicated that bullying causes increased absenteeism, dropout rates and academic underachievement, all of which undermine a child's ability to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
I am particularly disturbed by stories of bullied youth who feel powerless to change their situation and who choose not to seek help from adults. A recent report from a newspaper in my home state of Pennsylvania told the story of a 12-year-old boy who regularly asks his parents not to report when he has been bullied because he fears possible retaliation. Rather than speak up about the threatening environment at school, he felt that his only option was to keep quiet or risk making things worse.
Putting an end to bullying will require a consistent message from adults, including lawmakers, that young people can make a real difference in their lives and the lives of others when they speak up about bullying and harassment.
Recently, I reintroduced bipartisan legislation to help prevent bullying and harassment - the Safe Schools Improvement Act. My bill, which I'm proposing with co-sponsor Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, will require school districts that receive federal funding to develop codes of conduct that specifically ban bullying and harassment.
Read Casey's full column
Editor's note: Don't miss the premiere of "The Bully Effect" on "AC360" at 10 p.m. ET Thursday. Note graphic language in this story.
(CNN) - Brandon Turley didn't have friends in sixth grade. He would often eat alone at lunch, having recently switched to his school without knowing anyone.
While browsing MySpace one day, he saw that someone from school had posted a bulletin - a message visible to multiple people - declaring that Turley was a "fag." Students he had never even spoken with wrote on it, too, saying they agreed.
Feeling confused and upset, Turley wrote in the comments, too, asking why his classmates would say that. The response was even worse: He was told on MySpace that a group of 12 kids wanted to beat him up, that he should stop going to school and die. On his walk from his locker to the school office to report what was happening, students yelled things like "fag" and "fatty."
"It was just crazy, and such a shock to my self-esteem that people didn't like me without even knowing me," said Turley, now 18 and a senior in high school in Oregon. "I didn't understand how that could be."
A pervasive problem
As many as 25% of teenagers have experienced cyberbullying at some point, said Justin W. Patchin, who studies the phenomenon at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He and colleagues have conducted formal surveys of 15,000 middle and high school students throughout the United States, and found that about 10% of teens have been victims of cyberbullying in the last 30 days.
Online bullying has a lot in common with bullying in school: Both behaviors include harassment, humiliation, teasing and aggression, Patchin said. Cyberbullying presents unique challenges in the sense that the perpetrator can attempt to be anonymous, and attacks can happen at any time of day or night.
By Anderson Cooper, CNN
Editor's note: Don't miss the premiere of "The Bully Effect" on "AC360" at 10 p.m. ET tonight.
(CNN) - In the last few years, awareness about bullying has increased dramatically. Some adults may still think bullying is just a youthful rite of passage, but it seems worse than in previous generations for many parents, educators and kids.
It doesn't stop at the schoolyard or even a child's front door. Access to the Internet and social media websites mean kids can be bullied and tormented around the clock, even in the supposed safety of their own homes. The cruelty that can come with the strike of a button on a keyboard can hurt just as much as any punch or push in a playground.
We've produced a documentary called "The Bully Effect" which follows the stories of a number of people filmmaker Lee Hirsch introduced audiences to in his remarkable 2012 film "Bully." These are kids and parents who have taken their pain, their suffering, their grief and turned it into action. They are truly inspiring.
I first started reporting on the problem of bullying a few years ago when a rash of suicides of children propelled the issue into the national spotlight. Since then, I've interviewed far too many parents whose children took their own lives because they felt like it was the only way out of the pain. It's not just tragic, it's unacceptable.
Read Cooper's full column
By Jacque Wilson, CNN
Programming note: Don't miss the premiere of "The Bully Effect" on "AC360" at 10 p.m. ET Thursday, Feburary 28.
(CNN) - Eva was a bully. Tall for her age, she used her height to intimidate her peers. She made fun of those without designer clothes and got suspended several times for fighting.
She was also well-liked, outgoing, funny - and a victim of bullying herself.
"When you're in junior high, you're just trying to figure out who you are," the 24-year-old Los Angeles resident remembers. She says she bullied others because she was, as were most kids, insecure.
As a parent, you probably have a picture in your head of the kid you'd vote Most Likely To Bully Others. He's burly, wears a letter (or leather) jacket and has been a senior longer than most students are in high school.
But experts say the bullies tormenting students nowadays aren't like the ones we see on the big screen. It's not just a small group of jocks, or the loner stoner pushing kids into lockers between periods. It can be almost anyone, at any time. And the most likely targets of bullies? The bullies themselves.
Sociologist Robert Faris calls it "social combat." He says the majority of bullying takes place in the middle of a school's social hierarchy, where students are jostling with each other for higher status.
By Chuck Hadad, CNN
Programming note: Learn more about Alex’s story and see how he has transformed from bullying victim to advocate in the AC360° documentary “The Bully Effect” on Thursday, February 28 at 10 p.m. ET.
(CNN) - The bullying Jackie Libby’s son, Alex, faced every day was so severe that she worried the emotional toll would drive him to suicide.
“I would lay up with my husband at night and … just cry and say … what if he decides he doesn’t want to be here anymore? I mean, at that point, there was really only one more way to disengage. He was failing out of school. He wasn’t involved with his family at all. He didn’t want to have anything to do with his siblings. He didn’t have any friends,” Libby said. “There was only one more way for him to get out.”
Alex first spoke about his tormentors not to his mother but on camera to documentary filmmaker Lee Hirsch in what would become the award-winning film “Bully.”
“They punch me in the jaw, strangle me. They knock things out of my hand, take things from me, sit on me,” Alex said in the movie. “They push me so far that I want to become the bully.”
The footage Hirsch captured of Alex being beaten on the school bus was so shocking that the filmmaker felt a moral imperative to show it to Alex’s mother and officials at his school in Sioux City, Iowa.
For Libby, it was the beginning of a battle for justice for her son. “My reaction was, I just started bawling, and then I got angry,” she said.
Read the full post on CNN's AC360° blog
Programming note: The AC360° documentary "The Bully Effect" will premiere at 10 p.m. ET February 28 on CNN.
By Kelly Daniel, CNN
(CNN) - An extraordinary documentary called "Bully" captured a behavior adults hear about, but rarely see: the way some kids pressure and relentlessly harass their peers. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch was embedded in several schools for an entire year. What he filmed was so raw and eye-opening that the project catapulted a movement, sounding the alarm about the critical and dangerous issue of bullying.
Something profound has also happened as a result. In the time since "Bully" was released, a number of kids and parents profiled in the documentary, and the filmmaker himself, have been on life-changing journeys, and in some instances have experienced remarkable transformations.
AC360° has dedicated the past year to tracing the course of their journeys and personal missions. We want to share their stories with you in a powerful documentary called "The Bully Effect," premiering on CNN on February 28 at 10 p.m. ET.
When Alex Libby was a 12 year old in Sioux City, Iowa, the slurs, curses and threats would begin even before he boarded the school bus. It escalated to such a frightening degree that Hirsch put down his camera and got involved in his subject's life. He warned Alex's parents and school administrators that he feared for the student's safety.
Read the full post on CNN's AC360° blog
By Michael Martinez, CNN
(CNN) - A 16-year-old student who blasted a California high school classroom with a shotgun Thursday was targeting two classmates because he felt he'd been bullied, the local sheriff said Thursday night.
One student was hit and was in critical but stable condition Thursday night, and the shooter was in custody after a teacher and the school's campus supervisor talked him into putting his shotgun down.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he did not know whether bullying had actually occurred between the Taft Union High School students.
"But certainly he (the shooter) believed that the two people he had targeted had bullied him," Youngblood said at an evening news conference in Taft, about 30 miles from Bakersfield.
The young shooter was still being interrogated Thursday evening, Youngblood said, adding that the youth will be charged as a juvenile with attempted murder. It will be up to prosecutors to decide whether he should be charged as an adult, the sheriff said.
The name of the student in custody was not released.
My View: Balancing fear, hope after a school shooting
Youngblood laid out a detailed scenario of the hours before the shooting, saying the student planned the assault the night before, and took a shotgun belonging to his brother.
The student did not show up for school on time Thursday, Youngblood said, instead appearing about half through the first period of classes. He was caught on school surveillance cameras, the sheriff said, using a side entrance instead of the school's main door and "appearing nervous" as he tried to conceal the shotgun when he entered the school.
The gunman fired directly at one student, who was hit, then as students rushed to flee, the gunman fired again, Youngblood said.
"Miraculously, (the second shot) didn't injure anyone."
My View: Above all, teachers are in it for the kids
Youngblood credited the teacher and the campus supervisor - a campus monitor on the school's staff - with bravely facing off with the young gunman. Youngblood identified the teacher as Ryan Heber and the campus supervisor as Kim Lee Fields.
"They stood there face-to-face (with the gunman) not knowing whether he's going to turn that shotgun on them," Youngblood said.
By Shaina Negron, CNN
(CNN) - At age 16, Rob McCullough walked into an LA Boxing gym for the first time. The teen had left home, moving from one friend's couch to another, and now finally felt like he found a place where he belonged.
"I went to the gym and worked out, and worked out my stuff," he says. "That was kind of my safe haven."
After taking his first class and leaving with a compliment from the instructor, McCullough was hooked. "It built self-confidence," he recalls. "At the end of the day, I felt great about it."
Life was difficult at times for McCullough and his seven siblings who were raised by a single mother. Constantly relocating, he remembers how other kids were not always welcoming when the family moved to a new neighborhood. "I dealt with bullying growing up as a kid because I was always the new guy at the school," he says.
By the time he reached high school, a new challenge would shape his future.
CNN’s Schools of Thought blog is a place for parents, educators and students to learn about and discuss what's happening in education. We're curious about what's happening before kindergarten, through college and beyond. Have a story to tell? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org