Mission warns against bullying

Published 2:00 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When Auburn graduate Jessica Brookshire launched a foundation to help combat bullying, her mission was simple.
“I wanted to teach kids to be nice,” she told an audience in Brewton Sunday for an anti-bullying seminar. “Our kids want to be nice; they want to help each other. Adults don’t believe me. They think bullying is not a big deal.”
But with youth suicide rates rising — and many linked to incidents of bullying — Brookshire said it is one of the worst problems children face today.
With an audience of mostly parents Sunday at Jefferson Davis Community College, Brookshire gave some practical tips for recognizing that a child is bullied — as well as how to limit their exposure and to get help for them.
Brookshire is a former Miss Alabama contestant who founded K.A.R.M.A. — Kids Against Ridicule, Meanness and Aggression — as part of her platform in pageants. She was invited to speak at JDCC as part of a seminar sponsored by the City of Brewton, Brewton City Schools, JDCC and Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa.
“Children often won’t tell parents about bullies,” said Brookshire, who recounted that she was bulled for many of her school years. “They are embarrassed. Look for the warning signs. Your kids won’t come to you first; they will come to you as a last resort. You have to take everything seriously.”
If a child’s grades are slipping, or if they have lost interest in school or an activity they loved, bullying could be the culprit, Brookshire said.
But if parents discover that a child is being bullied, Brookshire had what might seem to be unusual advice: Be calm.
“Be calm for your child, and be calm when you talk to the school,” she said. “Angry parents get doors closed in their faces.
“Every situation has two sides. When you tell the controlling adult, you have to give them time to fix it. And the school may not tell you what they are doing (to discipline the bully).”
Brookshire also advised parents to watch their children’s use of technology as a way to limit their exposure to bullies.
“I went home every day and escaped my bullies,” she said. “I would go home and rebuild myself. Your kids don’t do that. Bullies are writing things on Facebook and Twitter, or texting. They get no relief. As a parent, you have to step up to technology.”
Brookshire’s tips include:
•  If your child is under 13, they should not be on Facebook.
• If your child is under 16, the parent should have their Facebook password, not the child.
• Parents of children ages 16 to 18 should share passwords.
As for cell phones, Brookshire recommends that parents monitor their use and that children do not need to have access to picture messaging.
“Picture messaging is one of the scariest things our children have access to,” she said. “I see a lot of sexting that leads to bullying.”
In one case, Brookshire recalled, a girl sent an inappropriate photo of herself to a boy she was dating — and he sent it to all of his friends, which led to bullying at school.
What the teenagers might not realize, however, is that trading those photos can be illegal. In fact, much of the child pornography on the market is “created by children” when their photos are unwittingly disseminated to others.
Victims of bullying, Brookshire said, sometimes do one of two things: explode — causing harm to others — or implode — causing harm to themselves.
“Kids feel they have no one to turn to, so it’s important we stop this now,” she said.
“It’s our job to protect children. If you want this to be a good school system for your kids, stop bullying.”