Special Report: Beyond the Bullying

Posted by: Tonya Terry - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Bullying at school is a pervasive problem that affects millions of students every year. It's a part of everyday life for many students, with many of them suffering through daily attacks ranging from verbal attacks to serious physical injuries.

Many already know the story of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince. She's the young girl who killed herself after being bullied relentlessly for over a year. Her tormentors, nine teenagers, are now charged with a variety of felonies.

One doesn't have to go to Massachusetts, where Prince lived, to find victims of bullying. It happens in schools everywhere, and it's not just the kids being tortured who feel the pain.

Parents, who want nothing more than protection for their children, hurt as well.

"One student beat him in the face with a jump rope," said Tonya Hardin, whose son was terrorized at school for over a year. He told her what was happening, but it really struck a cord when someone from the school came to her worried about her son's safety.

"Even a teacher came to me, very emotional and upset, and said these are some of the cruelest kids that I've ever seen," Hardin recalled. Those students seemed to be calling the shots. Hardin says they were called to the office, maybe out of class for a while, but a few hours later they would be right back. Back to make her son's life miserable.

"He seemed to start showing signs of becoming depressed. His grades dropped off tremendously, and it just didn't seem to end," Hardin explained. After repeated visits to the school, and even sessions with counselors and therapists, the mother took a drastic measure. She unenrolled her child from the school.

It's not just the victims and their families who suffer. There's often pain and confusion behind the bullies actions. Even years later, some of them are affected by what they did to others.

Prime example: Melissa McNeil. She recalls her days as a bully back in grade school. "For us it was just play," she said, "not thinking how we were hurting somebody."

McNeil says she and others targeted kids out of jealousy. The students who got the attention, clothes and opportunities were the ones they went after. She says her bullying days ended after a fateful conversation with a teacher after one of her many run-ins with another student.

"She talked to me and told me she thought I was smart, intelligent, all the things I didn't think people saw in me," McNeil said, her voice cracking as she tried not to cry.

McNeil says that teacher changed her life. Her bullying stopped and she re-focused her energy in a more positive direction.

That's not the only happy ending here. Tonya Hardin's son enrolled in another school, and the change was almost immediate. His grades improved, he seems happy and his mother says he's a completely different kid.

Two sides of the bullying problem. Both found their happy ending, and both are hopeful that others get the help they need.

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