COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Nearly one in three students report being bullied during the school year, according to a study by the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Perhaps even more disturbing, it's said only 64 percent of children who are bullied do not report it. The mother of a Lexington 12-year-old boy who committed suicide in December said bullying at school led to his death.
Kris Huntley said her son Kyler's death blindsided her and her ex-husband, as they never saw any indications their son was being bullied at school. Now, she's working with local organizations and speaking with parents about bullying and what can be done at home and at school, to try to prevent it.
Patrick Blake is a school counselor at Richland Northeast High School and said there are certain red flags and warning signs parents can be on the lookout for if they suspect their child is falling victim to a bully.
"There are some outward signs, like out of the ordinary health, social or emotional behavior," he said. "Things like unexplained headaches, sleeplessness, or irritability."
Additionally, Blake said some children exhibit emotional outbursts such as crying, anger or depression. But, in some cases like Kyler's, children won't show any outward signs.
"A great thing to do to support anyone that's a victim of bullying is let them know they're okay," Blake said. "Let them know they're a good person and equal to everyone else on the planet. All people are equal and those of us who don't recognize that we have a level of ignorance that needs to be educated."
Blake said while bullying has always been present in school settings, it has evolved into different mediums which can make it more damaging and long-lasting.
"I think it happens just as much as it did in the past, but in some places like the Internet, it happens and it doesn't go away," he said. "It hangs out there forever and that can really weigh on a victim."
Educating children before trying to fix the problem is how Blake recommends parents go about trying to eradicate a bullying situation.
"This is a very human problem. It's something parents need to educate their own children as to what it is, which is an unwanted aggressive behavior that uses an imbalance of power that's repeated."
Peers can have the strongest impact on victims of bullying, even more so than parents or teachers, according to Blake. Having a classmate or friend console the victim and reaffirm they're okay and not at fault is key to the victim becoming a survivor.
"The bystander becomes a hero if they go to that victim and let them know they're okay and become part of the healing process," he said. "It's this concept of a positive peer culture and it can take over the school."
In doing so, he said bullies begin to realize their behavior is no longer socially acceptable and seen as weak and ignorant.
"It's all about educating that ignorance and getting to the root of why the bully is acting the way they are," Blake said.
For more information on cyberbullying and how to identify it, go to http://iwitnessbullying.org.
A power lifting competition in April will help honor bullying victims like Kyler. On Saturday, April 21 from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. the "Power Lifters Against Bullying" 2018 USA Power Lifting Words Have Weight competition will take place at the National Guard Armory at 1225 Bluff Road in Columbia.
If you're interested in getting involved, visit Kyler's family's Facebook page, Stop Bullying-NOW.