Todd Walts, the executive director of Campus Impact Ohio, says bullying in Northeast Ohio is worse than in the nation as a whole.
CBS’s Early Show produced “Death by Bullycide” about Eric Mohat. That special can be seen here.
The PBS special "Cry for Help" covers teen depression and suicide.
The U.S. Department of Justice reported in March of this year that children who reported being physically bullied declined from 22% in 2003 to 15% in 2008.
Todd Walts says their survey of 4,000 students over 2 years shows that 48% of students report being called names as a form of bullying. The average national statistic is 28%. He also says that Northeast Ohio averages 15 - 20% higher than the national average on all aspects of bullying.
Ohio’s law defines bullying as any repeated, intentional act that targets a particular student and is “sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment.”
By Vivian Goodman and Alison Ritchie
Eric Mohat's sister found him lying in a pool of blood. And Sladjana Vidovic's sister found her hanging from a rope outside her bedroom window.
Both Eric and Sladjana attended Mentor High School, a school with an internationally-recognized anti-bullying program. But their families claim in lawsuits against school officials that, from 2005 to 2008, they and two other students at Mentor High were bullied to death.
Sladjana left a suicide note saying she couldn't take it anymore. Bill Mohat said he didn't know what his son had been going through until too late.
“The only thing that he told us was six days before the actual suicide itself,” said Bill Mohat. “Eric came to us, to my wife and I. We were up in our bedroom and he sat on the bed. He was saying that there were some kids in the math class that had really been making his life a hell there.”
Violence in the media, including video games, indicates ours are not the gentlest of times to grow up in. There’s even a video game called “Bully,” from the same folks that brought you “Grant Theft Auto.” Players can dunk heads in toilets, photograph students and teachers naked and physically assault them.
Know is when they feel it
There’s no law against such virtual bullying, but 44 states now have laws against the real-life variety -- all of them passed since 1999, when two Colorado boys lashed out in a massacre at Columbine High School, believed at the time to be connected to bullying.
Anti-bullying laws, as well as school programs instituted since Columbine, may be having an impact. A recent U.S. Department of Justice study found a 7 percent decline from 2003 to 2008in children reporting being bullied.
Still, nationwide, 38 percent of students say they have either been bullies, or been bullied. In Northeast Ohio, it's 41 percent, according to a recent survey by Todd Walts’s group, Campus Impact.
“The statistics are showing us that the kids in Northeast Ohio are being subjected to bullying more often,” said Walts. “Yet, they are reporting it less often to adults both in and out of the school.”
Campus Impact surveyed 4,000 students over two years. So far the research provides no solid clue as to why bullying is worse in Northeast Ohio – nor why kids here are less likely to tell an adult. Nationwide, 36 percent told an adult. In Northeast Ohio, only 24 percent told.
Who’s doing it?
Walts said the “mean girls” stereotype apparently also holds truer here.
“Nationally when you pose the question: Do girls bully more than boys? The answer is no,” said Walts. “But locally we’re finding in all of our surveys that our girls are bullying more than our boys are.”
Michaela Smith is in 11th grade at Mentor High School.
“I don’t like girls that much just because they’re so mean,” she said. “ I have a lot more guy friends just because of it. But guys can be just as mean. Kids in general are mean to each other.”
Boys are more likely to be "direct bullies" attacking openly, often physically. Girls go in more for what sociologists call "indirect bullying," the kind that excludes and socially isolates the victim.
Walts said most bullying in Northeast Ohio is indirect.
“The most common form here is the name calling,” said Walts. “Making fun of, teasing in a hurtful way. To give you an idea the local statistic for that is 48 percent report being bullied in that way. The corresponding national statistic is 28 percent.”
Indirect bullying can be just as harmful as physical attacks, but with no bruises or scars, victims can more easily conceal it from adults. If they do tell parents or teachers that they're being teased or shunned, they might be advised to just ignore it, although that's changing.
Working on solutions
Sue Limber, an Olveus professor at Clemson University, has been in the field for 14 years. And she’s seen a shift in attitudes since Columbine.
“I think it’s a minority of adults and certainly educators who think you know, ‘It’s a natural part of growing up; kids will be kids; it is best to let kids deal with these issues on their own; they’ve got to toughen up,’ Those kinds of attitudes exist but I think they’re a lot less common than they used to be,” Limber said.
Parents may be more tuned in to the problem of school bullying, but Limber says teachers are often unaware.
“The note-passing or the eye-rolling or the whispering. It can be very difficult to determine if something is just rough-housing, kids being kids, or whether it may be a bullying situation,” she said.
A recent Canadian study documented 400 cases of bullying in 52 hours of playground exchanges. Teachers intervened in only four percent of those incidents.
Most bullying takes place in front of young witnesses, like Felicia Freeney, a ninth grader at Brush high School.
“It can be in the classroom. Someone will just sit there quiet and someone will turn around like ‘Hey do you see that girl over there? What is she wearing? Look at her hair,’” said Freeney. “Or it could be in the hallway like ‘What is that girl wearing? She’s so ugly. Why is she here?’ It just really makes me feel bad for our generation. Because what’s the point in doing that? How does that make you feel better as a person talking about someone else that you don’t know?”
Despite the four suicides, Mentor High School officials deny they have a bullying problem. Eleventh graders Pam Taylor and Michaela Smith agree.
“I mean you do see it, but it’s not like every time you turn a corner someone’s being bullied.” Taylor said.
“Yeah like she was saying, you don’t really see it,” said Smith. “But I think it’s more the texting and like over the internet type of thing. So it doesn’t really happen that much in school.”
An extended problem
But bullying is not isolated to Mentor. Jermond Garvey is in tenth grade at Cleveland’s John Adams High School.
“There’s a lot of hate and a lot of stuff going on, so people really much don’t get along,” said Garvey, adding that it’s often focused on “the way they look. The things they have, things they don’t. Stuff like that.”
The Campus Impact survey found schools are vastly different in the problem and approaches. The research team not only documents bullying, they go into the schools and talk to kids about how to stop it.
Walts had an eye-opening experience at a middle school in Lakewood.
“We talked about some of the ways that students bully,” said Walts, “ that guys might look at another guy and say, ‘You’re gay.’
“The kids looked at us and their eyes got really big. And we said, ‘What?’ And they said, ‘We’re not allowed to use that word here.’ That is awesome. … We do have schools out there that are being pro-active and understand that that is not appropriate, and we should not allow our students to do it.”