The family photo of third-grader Gabriel Taye exudes happiness. The sharply dressed boy stands against a wall at his elementary school, grinning from ear to ear in a dress shirt, vest, and tie.
It would be among the last memories of the boy, except for a grainy, 24-minute surveillance video that shows him being pushed against a wall by a larger student while trying to stop another classmate from being picked on. Gabriel slumps to the ground, lying still for close to eight minutes before an adult helps him.
Two days later, Gabriel would be dead. His mother says it was bullying like that captured on the surveillance tape — an attack his mother says was not mentioned to her by Cincinnati school officials — that led the boy to wrap a tie around his neck and take his own life at age eight.
The school says Gabriel told a nurse he fainted, but his mother believes administrators either aren’t talking about or aren’t aware of the extent of the problem of bullying at the school.
At any school in any community, there is bullying. To think otherwise is unrealistic.
What makes it difficult to address, especially in a school setting, is the way bullying has changed through the generations. It used to be most everyone knew who the bullies were because their actions were physical. Yet intimidation and physical harm gradually have decreased through the years and account for about 13 percent of the acts of bullying against boys ages 2-17 and 12 percent of girls the same ages, according to a national survey by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Surprisingly, online harassment through the Internet or cell phones is the most infrequent form of bullying. Although more common for girls, it accounts for just four or five percent of such acts.
Here’s where it becomes difficult. The most serious and common acts of bullying involve relational aggression. That means the bully tries to do harm to a person by damaging their social status or their friendships. Thirty-three percent of boys and 38 percent of girls reported falling victim to such acts in 2014.
This type of bullying can do the most damage because it is psychological warfare at a time when children are at their most vulnerable. It also can be among the most emotionally devastating because of the isolation it can cause.
The results of such actions are long-lasting. Studies such as those by King’s College and Boston Children’s Hospital found the physical and mental health effects can last well into adulthood.
The good news, if there can be any, is that bullying is on the decline for schoolchildren. A study published in the journal Pediatrics said an extensive survey of children in grades four through high school found the rate of online and in-person bullying was nearly half in 2014 what it was in 2005.
That does not mean it is not a problem. What it seems to show, however, is that efforts to bring awareness to the situation are working.
They must continue, and it must be stressed to children and adults alike that silence only allows the wounds to fester.