SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – Bullying has become a cause for concern for parents in the Ozarks as many students returned to their classrooms.
In 2020, 31.9% of students who took the Missouri student survey in Greene County reported being bullied while at school.
“For some kids, the virtual learning has been a godsend, they’ve really enjoyed it, [and] going back into schools is where they’ve re-encountered those socially awkward or threatening types of situations,” said licensed counselor Keith Ray Mackie.
Mackie works as a counselor and allied health professional at Lakeland Behavioral Health. He said signs your child may be experiencing bullying could be your child isolating themselves, retreating to their room more often, and generally feeling sad. If the child does come and tell you, he said it’s important to pay attention to them.
”Sometimes at the moment they choose to tell us we can be distracted and inattentive, so when they start that story, they start to tell us what’s going on, you need to just really listen and pay attention to the details,” Mackie said.
He said one of the biggest mistakes adults can make is telling kids how to solve the problem on their own. Mackie said telling your child what to do and hoping they will feel empowered to overcome a bully doesn’t prove to be a successful way to handle the situation.
”The kid can not solve it themselves, it’s like trying to save yourself from drowning,” Mackie said. “You can’t pull yourself out of the water, you cry for help so someone will come and help you.”
Much of bullying happens inside of schools. Springfield Public Schools Director of Counseling Services Rhonda Mammen said they encourage students to speak up if they see others being bullied. The school district works to train students on the importance of helping when you’re a bystander by reporting what they saw.
”Because almost always when bullying occurs, and research shows this, there are at least one or more students around because the bully likes to have an audience,” Mammen said.
She said the district has anti-bullying trainings for students, parents and staff throughout the year. Due to the pandemic, she said the district is also providing access to documentaries and online Q&A sessions for parents. The district also works to eliminate cyberbullying that occurs using school technology through the BARK system.
”That monitors conversations, access to different websites to their school devices,” Mammen said. “If they are in a google chat or talking to each other and you know we see some things come through, there is a category for harassment and bullying on there and so that is being monitored closely.”
Both Mammen and Mackie stressed the importance of listening to both the victim and the bully to determine how to fix the problem, and change bad behaviors in the future. They also stressed the importance of reaching out for help if your child’s mental health is suffering.
“In my work here at the hospital we see kids all the time that are dealing with bullying and it has risen to such a level that they need to seek extra resources,” Mackie said. “It’s very important if you think a child is having a mental health crisis, you let a mental health professional help evaluate that. It’s good for every parent [and] every adult to listen, but if you think they’re in crisis they should talk to a mental health professional.”
Springfield Public Schools students can report bullying anonymously using the district’s tip line at 417-319-2901, using their MYSPS app.
The Ozark School District provides families with a list of helpful resources as well.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol also has an anonymous tip line, along with anti-bullying resources through its Courage2Report Missouri campaign. The phone number for its 24/7 tip line is 1-866-748-7047. Reports can also be made online via the program’s website.
If you think the bullying is leading to suicidal thoughts, or you’re a loved one in need of advice, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. The number is 1-800-273-talk. That’s 1-800-273-82-55. Help is available 24-hours a day.
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