The Bullying Epidemic
Bullies have been tormenting 11-year-old Timothy Summers since kindergarten. He's been pelted with rocks, sprayed with pesticides and forced to eat sand, says his mother, Kelly Summers, a nursing assistant from Andover, Minnesota. She's talked to teachers, school officials, social workers, the bullies and their parents, even the police, and although a few of the bullies received an in-school suspension for a day, the problem has persisted. "At one point, he talked about wanting to die," recalls Kelly. "I was really scared." Then, in March, after learning that Charles Andrew Williams -- the 15-year-old Santee, California, student accused of killing two classmates and wounding 13 others -- had also been bullied, she called the local paper, The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, and told reporters about Timothy's plight. When the paper published his story, he received more than 400 letters and e-mails from parents, teachers and other kids. "Two children from a town near Littleton, Colorado [where the Columbine incident occurred], came to see him," says Kelly. "Timothy was so touched, he cried." Although he's still being bullied (Kelly suspects that Timothy's hyperactivity makes him an easy target), this outpouring of support has lifted his spirits, she says. And the publicity led to three of the bullies being suspended for two days each.
Harassment is more common -- and serious -- than most parents realize. Each day, about 160,000 American kids skip school because they're afraid of bullies, reports the National Association of School Psychologists, in Bethesda, Maryland. "Although bullying isn't new, it's becoming increasingly dangerous," says Gaye Barker, coordinator of the National Education Association's (NEA) bullying and sexual-harassment prevention/intervention program, in Washington, D.C. "What happens in some cases is that the targets of abuse are afraid to tell their parents or teachers, so they put up with it until they start to think about revenge."
Recent headlines have borne this out. Last October, 14-year-old Sean Botkin walked into the Glendale, Arizona, school where he'd been bullied and used a handgun to take 32 students and a teacher hostage. After an hour-long standoff, police persuaded him to surrender without harming anyone. In March, Elizabeth Catherine Bush, 14, shot 13-year-old Kimberly Marchese in the shoulder at Bishop Neumann High School, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Bush claims that Marchese had tormented her. She's been charged with attempted homicide. And, of course, there was the April 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, that left 15 dead (including the two teenage gunmen, who had been bullied).