For Matt, the name-calling started in 3rd grade.
“I seemed to kind of be a target, which I don’t really know why,” he said.
Matt says people talked behind his back, pointed at him and laughed.
Between the 3rd and 5th grades, he started to experience depression and anxiety. Matt said someone assaulted him in 5th grade.
“I remember one time someone actually yanked a hula hoop out from under me and I landed right on my back,” he said.
Later that year, Matt said he was pushed out of his chair in class.
“You fall, you hit the floor, and I just kind of looked up and they were laughing, and I didn’t really say anything,” he said. “I didn’t say anything to the teacher either, I just kind of got up and sat back in my seat.”
Matt said despite the attacks -- verbal and physical -- he wasn’t sure how to emotionally process what was happening.
“My body was still trying to figure out what was going on,” he said.
Matt got through elementary school, made new friends in middle school and was on his way to besting his bullies in 6th grade.
For the first time in a while, he was feeling confident in himself.
“Then the bullying started up again,” he said. “When it started up again, I said, I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want to keep going through this to the point where I was in and out of hospitals. It got pretty bad; I was hurting myself.”
Matt said he started cutting because he felt like he deserved the pain.
“A lot of people were, you know, they make fun of you, they want you to hurt, so I figured this is what they want so I obviously deserve it in some way or another,” he said.
Team 10 investigator Adam Racusin asked Matt if he is ever afraid to go to school?
“Oh, all the time,” he said. “I was like, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to deal with it today and a lot of times I would end up staying home or leaving early.”
Matt said the school knew he was being bullied and tried to help. To this day, he doesn’t understand why he was a target.
“I was just a kid when it started, I didn’t do anything,” he said. “All I wanted to do was mess around with my friends.”
Mat, who’s now 14 and about to start high school, is a transgender student. He came out at the start of 7th grade – after the bullying had reached its peak.
“It was new for everyone,” Matt said.
Matt said there was an adjustment period, but the transition gave him confidence and the ability to stand up for himself more often.
He said staying silent is never the answer, and it will just end up making things worse.
“It’s going to get better. I know that that’s kind of generic, but it will get better,” he said. “It’s going to be very hard to get through it, but once you get through it, you’re going to look back and think, wow that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. You’re going to start feeling more confident; you’re going to figure out who you are; you’re going to be able to express yourself more.”
According to the website stopbullying.gov[stopbullying.gov], bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”
The California Department of Education (CDE) states that school bullying is a form of violence.
The CDE’s “bullying frequently asked questions” page states bullying among children often leads to greater and prolonged violence: “Not only does bullying harm the targets, it also negatively affects students' ability to learn and achieve in school.”
There are four types of bullying: physical, verbal, emotional and cyber bullying.
A handout provided to 10News by experts at Sharp HealthCare states bullying is widespread among children and adolescents and affects nearly half of all middle and high school students. Bullying can occur as early as preschool with increased presence in elementary school, peaked prevalence in middle school, and then decreases in high school years.
VIDEO: "WHAT IS BULLYING"
"If the bullying persists over a period of time or is more extensive in nature, you might see some really clear signs that they are really struggling,” said Dr. Jen Wojciehowski clinical child psychologist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.
Wojciehowski said there’s no one reason kids bully one another, but research suggests that bullies have a need for power.
"Sometimes they are looking for psychological rewards like attention, popularity, power,” she said. “Other times they look for more material rewards like possessions or money from other people. And still there are other kids who themselves may be experiencing trauma and abuse and they use bullying as a way to cope with their emotions and anger."
Wojciehowski said any child can be a victim of bullying.
Children who are socially isolated tend to be targets of bullying because they do not have a group of friends to protect them.
But not every bad interaction is bullying.
According to an article posted on the Anti-Defamation League’s website[adl.org], “Calling someone a name or pushing someone once, being rude or having an argument with someone is not bullying. Of course, these behaviors should be addressed but may have different consequences and interventions, which is why the distinction is critical. To be defined as bullying, all three components must be present: (1) repeated actions or threats, (2) a power imbalance and (3) intention to cause harm. If bullying is identified correctly, there are various ways[adl.org] to address it.”
Bullying in Schools
Not all school districts track the same bullying information and statistics.
Team 10 requested information from districts across San Diego County regarding the total number of reports and allegations of bullying, confirmed incidents, and students disciplined.
We thought that information would help give better insight into how big the problem is and how school districts respond.
While some gave us the information for all three categories, others could only provide the total number of students disciplined or number of confirmed reports.
If you add up the number of reported incidents and allegations from the districts across San Diego County that did provide, it’s more than 1,500.
The majority, or 1,399 reports, happened in the San Diego Unified School District from July 2016 to June 2017.
According to the district, “Many of the reports, especially at the middle school level, require investigation/follow up from the staff, but are not bullying. So the data we can provide would be on confirmed reports that warranted follow-up from the site, with the caveat that the events may not have risen to the level of bullying. An example of this is friends mutually angry/name calling each other and reporting each other via the online bullying report.”
The district said during that time period there were 941 confirmed reports that warranted follow-up from staff; “events may not have risen to the level of bullying.”
When 10News asked for the total number of students disciplined for bullying, the district was unable to provide us a number.
“It is safe to say that the vast majority of the cases reported in 15-16 and 16-17 – even those that warranted follow-up – did not result in discipline (i.e., suspension). There may have been minor correction actions, such as skipping recess, talking to your classmate involved in an issue, etc…This was seen as a proactive approach and had parent/community input and is different from what other districts do as a preventative measure, the goal is to stop bullying before it escalates to something that requires formal discipline.”
While not all of the alleged incidents are confirmed, numbers from across the county show districts discipline hundreds of students each year for some type of bullying.
The cost of bullying
We’ve known there’s an emotional cost to bullying, but researchers discovered there’s also a financial cost.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found when children avoid school to avoid bullying states can lose millions of dollars in funding.
According to their study, “California schools lose $276 million dollars a year when students miss school because they don’t feel safe.”
The study used data collected from the 2011-2013 California Health Kids Survey and information from the state’s department of education.
According to a release from the university “researchers analyzed survey’s of seventh, ninth, and 11th grade students from about half of the schools across the state. They also calculated the average amount of money allocated for each student each day based on average daily attendance funding.”
According to the analyses, “10.4 percent of students reported they missed at least one day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe. This extrapolates to an estimated 301,000 students missing school because of feeling unsafe and $276 million in lost revenue each year in California public schools.”
“Bullying is a big social problem that not only creates an unhealthy climate for individuals but also undermines schools and communities,” says Stephen Russell, professor and chair of human development and family sciences at UT Austin. “We are interested in the economics of bullying and how it can affect a whole school system.”
Solving the Problem
Children should be encouraged to speak up against bullying and to treat others the way they want to be treated.
According to experts at Sharp, if children are aware of other kids being bullied they can help by talking with and supporting them, sitting with them at lunch, playing with them at recess, or by making trusted adults aware of the situation.
VIDEO: ANTHNOY CEJA - "HOW TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM"
"The most effective way to reduce bullying is to not just depend on the school administration and the teachers, you have to use your most important resource which are your students,” said Anthony Ceja senior manger of student attendance, safety and well-being with the San Diego County Office of Education.[sdcoe.net] Ceja said part of his job is getting districts the most up to date information and effective ways of educating kids and creating a positive school climate.
He believes a little empathy goes a long way, and schools that buy in to a change of climate are seeing results.
"The more energy the school puts on developing that positive school climate, I find then that there's less bullying,” Ceja said.
At San Marcos Unified, kids are preventing bullying and making new friends.
New students are paired up with 8th graders for a mentorship program called "web” or where everybody belongs.
In Poway, schools are engaging in the Kind campaign, where kids spread the message of kindness around campus.
At San Diego Unified[sandiegounified.org] they've gone mobile with an online form that lets studentsanonymously report bullies.
The Chula Vista Elementary School District also has an online reporting site that walks parents and students through bullying prevention.
In an interview with 10News This Morning, San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten explained how the district fights bullying.
“When you see something, you say something and that’s the best way to combat bullying. That students talk to each other, they talk to their families when they go home at night stay involved and listen to conversations and know that at San Diego Unified we address this immediately and we care very much about our students feeling safe, but it takes everybody doing it together and you must report.”
VIDEO: SAN DIEGO UNIFIED COMBATS BULLYING
- California Department of Education Bullying Resources and Publications: - http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/ss/se/bullyres.asp
- Federal Information - https://www.stopbullying.gov/about-us/index.html
- Bullying Prevention from the Chula Vista Elementary School District - http://www.cvesd.org/parents/health_and_safety/bullying_prevention
- National Center for Education Statistics Report - https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017122.pdf
The Association Between Electronic Bullying and School Absenteeism Among High School Students in the United States
“Electronic bullying's association with absenteeism places it among already recognized negative influences such as depression and binge drinking, necessitating schools to implement policies to mediate the resulting harmful effects.” - http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/josh.12476/full
It's Up to Us campaign is designed to empower San Diegans to talk openly about mental illness, recognize symptoms, utilize local resources and seek help. - http://up2sd.org/