ATLANTA — Israel Price had endured name calling and schoolyard taunts for years, but he said what happened weeks into this school year surprised even him.
First, two Riverdale Middle School classmates slashed his bicycle tires. Then two others cornered him in the school restroom and pushed him so hard into the brick wall he suffered a concussion that left him unable to walk or talk.
After weeks of rehabilitation, the 13-year-old probably won’t be able to return to school at least for another month, his mother said.
But even if he could, he’s afraid to.
As daunting and difficult as his ordeal has been, he and his mother, Charleia Price, know it could be worse. Israel could have been Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a Florida girl who jumped to her death from an abandoned cement factory silo after enduring a year of face-to-face and online bullying. Two of Sedwick’s female classmates, ages 12 and 14, were arrested last month on felony charges for bullying in connection with her death.
“When you send your kids to school, you expect them to come home the way they left,” Charleia Price said. “When I learned he had a concussion, I thought he might get a headache or feel dizzy, not a month of dealing with this. It’s been completely life altering.”
Charles Whites, spokesman for the Clayton, Ga., County School District, would not respond to specific questions about the incident involving Israel Price, saying the “district does not comment on disciplinary matters, but takes bullying very seriously.”
Although cyber-bullying has received a lot of attention of late, it is one of the least common forms of bullying, said Clemson University professor Susan Limber.
Six percent of boys and 4 percent of girls experience cyber-bullying, compared with 16 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys who experience verbal bullying, according to a recent survey of 20,000 students in grades 3-12.
What’s worse, Limber said, is that 39 percent of bullied students indicate they have been bullied one year or longer. Many have told no one. “In fact, more than one quarter of bullied middle school students and one-third of bullied high school students have not told anyone of their experiences,” Limber said.
Price said Israel never complained to her, but did report being bullied to his teacher three times. Nothing was done.
Price said Israel has been a magnet for bullies since third grade. At just 85 pounds, he’s smaller than most kids his age. He likes to forge his own path. He prefers to dress in a shirt and tie rather than big T-shirts like most kids.
She said many of his Riverdale classmates rejected him, calling him “a punk” who wouldn’t fight. On Sept. 19, the bullies assaulted him. The blow to the head left the aspiring singer unable to walk, and after a month in rehab he still doesn’t have feeling on his right side. He’s walking better, but his balance is still off. His cognitive abilities aren’t yet 100 percent.
Price said bullying is an epidemic, but “Teachers don’t take it seriously. Parents don’t take it seriously. None of us do until something tragic happens.”
But we should, said Limber, and here’s why: “Research confirms that bullying can have negative effects on kids’ emotional and physical well-being, as well as their academic achievement,” she said. “Kids who are bullied are more likely than those who aren’t to be depressed, feel anxious, feel lonely, experience health problems such as headaches, backaches, stomach aches, sleeping problems and poor appetite, and want to avoid going to school, and have lower academic achievement.”
There is also evidence that some of these problems – particularly depression and anxiety – may persist into adulthood, Limber said.
Debra Tucker, executive director of the nonprofit Parent to Parent of Georgia, said stories like Sedwick’s, the Florida girl, are becoming more frequent.
“What’s particularly disturbing is the reaction of the parents of the alleged bullies,” Tucker said. “Understandably, they are denying their child’s involvement in the case, but in reality, they likely have no idea how their child interacts with their fellow schoolmates, especially via social media where many parents are prevented from seeing their child’s postings.”
Sahara Byrne, a professor of communication at Cornell University and an expert in online communication, says research indicates most parents would be surprised by what their kids are doing on the Internet.
“Youth believe that social media is their turf and they are somewhat correct,” Byrne said. “Parents sometimes have no idea what their kids are doing online until it’s too late.”