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Too Cruel for School: The Rise of Bullying

Intimidation, harassment, threats, abuse. Bullying among students has reached epidemic proportions, and it's taking a heavy toll on our kids. Learn what's behind the surge and why parents must be part of the solution.
Bullied teen
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Eddie Guy

When Jill Jones sent her 10-year-old, Kacey, off to school in Lewisboro, New York, she knew it was a big day for her little girl. A reserved, self-conscious child, Kacey was wearing new white capri pants she'd insisted her mother buy. All went well until lunchtime, when the fifth-grader sat at a table with some popular girls. "Kacey knew them and liked them but didn't feel like she was in their inner circle," says Jill, 51. Things didn't go as Kacey had hoped. The girls were openly hostile; then, suddenly, one of them dumped ketchup on her lap. When Kacey, already thoroughly humiliated, jumped up and tried to wipe it off, the girls laughed and mocked her for "getting her period."

As soon as Kacey came home, recalls Jill, "I knew something was wrong, but she didn't want to talk about it." After a few probing questions, the whole story spilled out. "When I realized Kacey had been bullied, I was furious," says Jill, "Then I wondered if I was overreacting. But when I saw how traumatized Kacey was, I knew the incident had crossed the line." Jill realized she needed to take action. "I had to find the best way to intervene so it wouldn't happen again," she says.

School bullying has many parents worried, and not just those whose kids have been on the receiving end. A series of shocking incidents has garnered headlines and provoked outrage and soul-searching in communities across the country. In Columbus, Indiana, a 13-year-old was charged with felony intimidation after he held a knife against a fellow student's throat in a classroom while the teacher's back was turned. In Yorktown, Virginia, 16-year-old Christian Taylor took his own life shortly after his mother, Alise Williams, complained to high school officials that her son had suffered months of relentless bullying by classmates, including one student who she says told Christian to "just go ahead and commit suicide and get it over with." And in South Hadley, Massachusetts, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself early this year after reportedly being tormented by classmates who called her "Irish whore" and "stupid slut" and sent cruel texts and messages—even after her death. Six teens are now facing charges in that case, ranging from harassment and stalking to violation of civil rights with bodily injury.