Richard Schwamm’s anti-bullying advocacy reaches across the state of Florida and beyond

Bullying in our schools and neighborhoods used to be limited to the playground. Now, cyberbullying has become a different type of “playground” for tormenting vulnerable children of all ages.

Many of our children are scared to go to school. They lie to their teachers about episodes of bullying, fearing retribution. They are not talking to the adults closest to them about it, and because of their fears, they are often severely depressed. Their grades and social relationships suffer. For some, bullying causes feelings of despair and hopelessness, and without parental or teacher guidance, they all-too-often take matters into their own hands — sometimes with violence toward others and sometimes, the most desperate children are simply ending their own grief with suicide.

The bottom line is this: Our children are suffering. In October we observe National Bullying Prevention Month, and yet there are two critical questions on the table:

1. How bad is the bullying problem?

School officials continue to underestimate the problem. The truth is that bullying has not decreased; children are simply not reporting it, so adults have a false sense of security that things are improving. In reality, statistics prove the bullying problem is at dangerously high levels:

64 percent of our children who are bullied do not report it. Among middle school students, 24 percent are cyber bullied and 45 percent are bullied on school property. Among high school students, 15 percent are cyber bullied and 20 percent are bullied on school property. The most common reasons for bullying are based on physical appearance, including body shape and race. These alarming statistics do not even include the bullying of students with disabilities and LGBTQ students.

2. What can we do about it?

So, the questions remain: How do we stop that next child from feeling helpless? How do we prevent that next suicide?

We cannot just wear a bracelet or T-shirt to show that we care. Many national and local organizations are actively making strides through education and intervention to help decrease bullying in our schools and neighborhoods. We need to talk about it, impose restrictions on phones and even check website histories, texts and emails. Parents need to ask tough questions, engage in difficult conversations and intervene before it’s too late.

Many parents are ignoring this problem because they do not think it can happen to their child. Some homes are breeding bullies because the dangerous behavior goes unchecked, children are not disciplined nor offered counseling to address aggressive behavior. Other parents are simply too busy to engage their children in meaningful conversation. With parents more focused on their own text messaging and Facebook posts, it’s no wonder that children feel ignored and hopeless.

It’s acceptable to be the parent that is the “helicopter parent” that hovers over your child’s online behavior; the kind of parent that children complain about to their friends – the kind of parent that cares enough to “just say no” to their child. This is the description of the parent that is willing to ask the tough

questions, engage in the difficult conversations and intervene before it is too late.

This style of parenting and “child advocacy” is how bullying behavior can be identified and stopped. This is how children can be helped. This is how children’s lives can be saved.

Richard Schwamm is a trial lawyer for the law firm Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm, and a child injury lawyer and advocate. He can be reached at rschwamm@hpslegal.com