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Speaking out important to combat impact of bullying

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -

A new study says bullying can affect children not just for a few years, but well into middle age.

It’s more evidence of why prompt intervention to bullying is so important.

One mother and her teenage son dealt with bullying for years before turning to a community resource for help.

They said because bullying isn’t just a school issue, they are pushing for more community involvement in bullying prevention.

Playing trumpet is just one of the things eight-grader Riley Smith enjoys about school these days, but he hasn’t always been the confident student he is today.

“He was called idiot, stupid,” said Terri Smith. “They would take his glasses and throw them. They’d threaten him.”

Those are just some of the ways riley’s mother terri smith remembers him being bullied between 2nd and 6th grades. She said it was definitely more than normal teasing.

“It got to a point where it was threatening,” she said. “That’s where it becomes bullying, and where you’re being intimidated – ‘Well, you don’t say anything. Don’t tell.’”

“I felt nervous that if I don’t tell something is going to happen worse,” Riley Smith said.

So Riley did speak up, but it seemed there was always another bully, and eventually he felt suicidal.

“I think every single bully, person, that has bullied me, each one has been a lot worse than the first,” he said.

“It almost seemed like he would handle one situation and there’d be a new one, and it, like he said, would be bigger and then bigger to the point where we needed help,” his mother said.

A new study in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests bullying creates a cycle of victimization that can continue into middle age.

According to the study, children who were bullied at age 7 and 11 had a higher rate of depression, anxiety and suicide at age 45. And at age 50 people, who’d been bullied were more likely to have worse memory and to report poor general health.

The researchers say that’s why it’s key to stop bullying as early as possible and that starts with speaking up.

“ I think it’ll help a lot more kids who are getting bullied to talk out, stand up for themselves,” Riley Smith said.

“ If your child is speaking up and saying something you have to believe them because it took a lot of courage for that child to go against that bully to say, “Mom, Dad, I need help. This is what’s happening,’” Terri Smith said.

Once Riley and his mom realized stopping one bully wasn’t enough, they had to improve how riley felt about himself and how he reacted to bullies. So they turned to Brenda Jackson, a mother who has turned her own experiences dealing with bullies into a consulting business.

“I was noticing on the news day after day, this child died, or this child got bullied, and it was just more and more, and I just kept trying to say what can I do. What can I do to help someone?” Jackson said.

Jackson works with schools on bullying prevention. And when she gives advice to bullying victims and their families on how they should deal with bullying, she also meets with the bully. She said that is usually the source an underlying problem.

“ Maybe someone’s lost a job. Maybe they had a death in their family. Maybe the father’s not there no more, or maybe the mother,” she said. “Sometimes they take their anger out on other people.”

Now she’s working to be a go-to resource for her wake forest community and perhaps start support groups for parents who don’t know where to turn. Since bullying doesn’t happen just at school she and smith say parents need to know more about how to stop bullying wherever it may happen.

“We can save so many more children from them just feeling like they’re not being heard. Just give them a voice, that’s what I want is just to give these kids a voice and to be able to stand up to these bullies,” Terri Smith said.

They say listening to that voice, giving full support and immediately investigating reports of bullying go a long way to boosting a child’s confidence and eliminating the bully problem at its source.

“When they’re being bullied they’re feeling threatened, and they think they can’t do anything about it, but they really can,” Riley Smith said.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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