Days of Bullying as Rite of Passage Are Gone, Official Says

WASHINGTON — After years of being bul­lied in school and online, 14-year-old Jamey Rode­mey­er was reach­ing his break­ing point.

The open­ly gay teenag­er talked about his expe­ri­ences in a video he post­ed on YouTube last spring. “They’d taunt me in the hall­ways, and I felt like I could nev­er escape it,” the Buf­fa­lo, N.Y., native said. “Peo­ple would just con­stant­ly send me hate.”

Afraid of what lay ahead for him in high school, Rode­mey­er com­mit­ted sui­cide last month.

In the past, bul­ly­ing was deemed a rite of pas­sage, but that’s not the case any more, a Defense Depart­ment offi­cial said.

“Chil­dren can have ter­ri­ble con­se­quences from being bul­lied, whether it’s poor aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess, lone­li­ness, not being able to make friends or just feel­ing like they can’t go to school,” said Bar­bara Thomp­son, direc­tor of the Pentagon’s office of fam­i­ly pol­i­cy, chil­dren and youth. “They get sick. Even­tu­al­ly, the great­est tragedy would be sui­cide.”

Sur­veys indi­cate that as many as half of all chil­dren are bul­lied at some time dur­ing their school years, accord­ing to the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Child and Ado­les­cent Psy­chi­a­try. And chil­dren from mil­i­tary fam­i­lies are com­pa­ra­ble to their civil­ian coun­ter­parts in this regard, Thomp­son said, not­ing they may be even more vul­ner­a­ble due to fre­quent mil­i­tary moves.

“As they relo­cate from school to school, they are the new kids on the block and may be per­ceived as being dif­fer­ent,” she explained.

Chil­dren with deployed par­ents also may stand out as they deal with the anx­i­ety and loss asso­ci­at­ed with sep­a­ra­tion from a loved one, she added, par­tic­u­lar­ly when oth­er chil­dren from their school don’t share those same expe­ri­ences.

Hop­ing to buck the bul­ly­ing trend, the Defense Depart­ment has part­nered with the Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment and a host of oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies to devel­op new strate­gies to com­bat the issue, Thomp­son said. In Sep­tem­ber, DOD offi­cials attend­ed a bul­ly­ing sum­mit host­ed by the Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment. It was aimed at cre­at­ing a nation­al strat­e­gy to com­bat bul­ly­ing and to ensure ade­quate tools and resources are on hand.

Addi­tion­al­ly, DOD and the Depart­ment of Defense Edu­ca­tion Activ­i­ty recent­ly joined forces to launch the “Stop Bul­ly­ing Now!” cam­paign in DOD schools and youth cen­ters.

The cam­paign, Thomp­son explained, encour­ages every­one to take a stand. Whether a par­ent, teacher or youth cen­ter employ­ee, “we have to let [chil­dren] know that not only should they stand up and get help from a sig­nif­i­cant adult, but they also need to stand up for chil­dren they see being bul­lied.

“You can’t be an inno­cent bystander even though you’re not being bul­lied your­self or are not the bul­ly,” she added.

Bystanders hold the key to putting an end to bul­ly­ing, not­ed Con­nie Gillette, a DOD Edu­ca­tion Activ­i­ty spokes­woman. “The peo­ple who stand by and watch bul­ly­ing, whether they real­ize it or not, are actu­al­ly sid­ing with the bul­ly,” she said. “The soon­er you can teach chil­dren kind­ness and com­pas­sion and say­ing some­thing when they know something’s not right, the bet­ter.”

The cam­paign also teach­es par­ents what con­sti­tutes bul­ly­ing and how to rec­og­nize the signs of a child who is being bul­lied or is bul­ly­ing oth­ers.

Bul­ly­ing is done from an imbal­ance of pow­er, Thomp­son explained, has an intent to hurt, and is done repet­i­tive­ly, mean­ing the same child is bul­lied by the same per­son or group of peo­ple.

Chil­dren being bul­lied may com­plain of stom­achaches or headaches, she not­ed, or may start to talk about being teased or devel­op a new dis­like for school. “As adults, we have to be very attuned to chil­dren — not only their ver­bal, but their non­ver­bal cues,” she said.

Par­ents under­go­ing a mil­i­tary move should be espe­cial­ly alert as their chil­dren start a new school, Thomp­son said, not­ing teach­ers also should keep an eye out when new kids join their class.

This vig­i­lance is just as impor­tant at home, as bul­lies now have a new weapon with an audi­ence of mil­lions at their dis­pos­al: the Inter­net. Cyber­bul­ly­ing includes every­thing from spread­ing rumors online to send­ing mean mes­sages out via a cell­phone text mes­sage.

“Cyber­bul­ly­ing is real­ly insid­i­ous, and one that can cause dam­ag­ing effects to chil­dren, because it’s viral. It goes to all of their friends,” Thomp­son said.

To learn more about bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion, Thomp­son rec­om­mend­ed peo­ple vis­it the Stop Bul­ly­ing web­site at The site offers resources and toolk­its tai­lored for par­ents, teach­ers and chil­dren. Mil­i­tary One­Source also offers a free DVD for chil­dren on bul­ly­ing that’s pro­duced by Trevor Romain, a renowned children’s book author and illus­tra­tor.

It will take a con­cert­ed effort to put an end to the prob­lem, Thomp­son not­ed.

“It’s up to all of us to stop bul­ly­ing,” she said. “Chil­dren have the right to feel loved, to feel that they are incor­po­rat­ed into an envi­ron­ment, that they meet their aspi­ra­tions, that they live with­out fear — that is our job to make sure that chil­dren have those rights.”

Bul­lies sub­ju­gate those rights, Thomp­son said. Whether an adult or a child who is a bystander, she added, “we need to be brave and make a stand.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)