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May 16. 2012 9:30PM

Souhegan parents learn dimensions of bullying

AMHERST — Parents watched silently as the names and photographs of young people from throughout the nation who took their own lives to escape bullying were displayed on the big screen at Souhegan High School's auditorium this week.

It is the somber reality of the devastating impact that bullying, harassment and exclusion can have on children, according to police who met with a small group of parents to discuss the sensitive topic and encourage them to not ignore the problem.

Mike Knox, a school resource officer at Amherst Middle School, recalled his own personal childhood experience with a bully — multiple times on the school bus when he was lifted by an older student and thrown into the aisle.

John Smith, a school resource officer at the high school, also relayed an incident when his own daughter was voted out of a lunch table group and prohibited from sitting with the “mean girls.”

“This is what our kids will have to go through,” warned Knox, encouraging parents to talk to their children, ask them questions, look for signs of trouble and intervene when necessary.

Bullying has evolved with the technological age, according to Smith, adding children can no longer escape the teasing, intimidation and extortion at the end of the school day. Technology is everywhere, and so is cyberbullying on various social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, said Knox.

At Amherst Middle School, many kids are violating the age requirement of 13 to use Facebook, which opens each of them up to a new world of bullying. He warned parents about the possible impacts, telling them that children should only “friend” a person on Facebook that they would invite to a birthday party.

Every 24 hours, one in every three students nationwide is the victim of a bully, according to data presented Tuesday.

According to the Office of Juvenile Justice, parents frequently misunderstand bullying as a part of growing up. Smith said parents should not tell a child to ignore the problem.

Instead, parents should be aware of the different forms of bullying — physical, verbal and psychological, he said. This includes hitting, kicking, spitting, teasing, name calling, spreading of rumors, exclusion, extortion or intimidation.

Victims are often young people who have low social skills or difficulty making friends, sometimes referred to as loners, Knox said.

Parents should look for red flags such as their child not wanting to go to school, not wanting to take the bus or faking illnesses such as headaches or stomach aches to avoid social settings.

Most important, parents need to ask their children what is going on, listen to them when they do share concerns, teach them how to avoid problematic situations and report bullying incidents to the school, said Knox.

The school district has a form that parents can fill out to report bullying to help administrators be aware of the problem and investigate, possibly leading to warnings or disciplinary action against the culprit, said police.

Parents are also encouraged to report incidents of bullying involving a school district coach or teacher, according to Knox.

“We feel powerless,” said one parent who declined to provide her name. The parent, who has two children in the district, said there seems to be a lot of red tape and paperwork but not a lot of follow-up or remedial action on the part of the schools.

Amherst Middle School Principal Porter Dodge explained that because of privacy issues, the school is not at liberty to disclose any type of disciplinary action taken against a student or teacher accused of bullying.

“There is nothing more emotional than our children,” said Superintendent Peter Warburton, employing parents to bring forward any concerns. “I'm asking you to give us the chance.”


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