It isn’t easy being the kid who is “different” at school.
Far too many children, including Latino children, labeled as “different” – whether because of their skin color, sexual orientation, cultural heritage or a disability – experience bullying in one form or another.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, turning a spotlight on efforts to stop kids from bullying each other, and on educating parents and other caregivers about how to create an environment that is safe for children.
One of the reasons bullying is in the national spotlight lately is because of high profile cases of school violence and suicide, but behind these cases there are many other children who are suffering silently through being teased or physically tormented by their peers.
Children are also experiencing bullying online, called “cyberbullying, which includes bullying on social networking sites like Facebook or Instagram.
Nationally, around 22 percent of Latino students report being bullied at school, which is a rate similar to the national average for all children. But Jesús Villaseñor, an advocate and educator for the National Bullying Prevention Center, said he believes Latino students are sometimes afraid to speak out when they experience bullying at school.
While emphasizing that the term Latino applies to a large and diverse population, Villaseñor said some Latino parents are reluctant to tell school authorities when their children experience problems at school, or instead of intervening they tell their children to just stand up for themselves.
But parents need to know that they have the power to help their children, he said. And they need to keep the lines of communication open with their children so they feel like they can tell their parents when something happens at school.
Villaseñor said parents should watch out for the “symptoms” of bullying – like excessive absences, falling grades, or unexplained illnesses. Bullying can also lead to depression and even violence or self-harm.
Children who are labeled as “different” are more at risk for being targeted by their peers, according to an article written by Jo Ann Freiberg, a school climate consultant for the Connecticut’s Department of Education. The article was in The Standard, a journal published by the National Association of State Boards of Education.
Too often, she says, children who are bullied in school are told to stand up for themselves by adults, when what is needed is a school climate where there is zero tolerance for cruel behavior.
In 2011, Connecticut adopted a new state law to address bullying. The law requires schools to adopt a clear policy against bullying and to train teachers and staff to know how to spot and prevent bullying.
Because of the high level of local control in Connecticut, it is up to individual school districts to define bullying and to decide how they will deal with those behaviors, said Steven Hernández, director of public policy and research for Connecticut Commission on Children.
But communities, parents, schools and teachers can all be involved in making sure there are no “dark corners” in children’s lives, including online, on the bus and other places they may be out of sight of direct adult supervision, he said.
Bringing light to those dark corners doesn’t mean an adult is always present, but rather that children know how to respond when they experience emotional or physical violence, and know that they have adults who they can trust and who they can talk to about it, he said.