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A Father Fights to Prevent Child Bullying Suicides

What would you do if your child was bullied to the point where they decided life wasn't worth living…and so they committed suicide? In an instant, all of your hopes and dreams for your child would be gone. Could you have done something? What would you do now?

That's what happened to Kirk and Laura Smalley, who lost their son, Richard Ty Field-Smalley, in 2010 following a bullying episode. After that, Kirk and Laura worked tirelessly to prevent other families from suffering the same pain and loss.

They traveled all across the United States and visited several other countries spreading the message of love and support to children who need it, even meeting with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to talk about what can be done to ensure our children grow up safe and whole.

In 2020, Laura Smalley’s journey ended. After suffering a brain aneurysm, she was reunited with her beloved son. Kirk knows they are still with him, giving him the strength he needs to continue his mission: to give our children a safe future where each one can grow into the amazing individuals they are meant to be.

Kirk is our guest on both the Lean to the Left and Justice Counts podcasts, co-hosted by myself and legal thriller author Mark M. Bello, who has just published a new children's book, "Happy Jack, Sad Jack--a Bullying Story."

During the episode, Kirk Smalley candidly and emotionally explains that the most common form of bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems, he explains.

Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Physical bullying includes:

· Hitting/kicking/pinching

· Spitting

· Tripping/pushing

· Taking or breaking someone’s things

· Making mean or rude hand gestures

Bullying can be verbal or electronic, Smalley points out, noting that these activities include making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things. Verbal bullying includes:

· Teasing

· Name-calling

· Inappropriate sexual comments

· Taunting

· Threatening to cause harm

Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes:

· Leaving someone out on purpose

· Telling other children not to be friends with someone

· Spreading rumors about someone

· Embarrassing someone in public

Where and When Bullying Happens Smalley explains that bullying can occur during or after school hours. While most reported bullying happens in the school building, a significant percentage also happens in places like on the playground or the bus. It can also happen travelling to or from school, in the youth’s neighborhood, or on the Internet.

Bullying prevention in schools is a full-time exercise, he says, adding that for true change to take place, the culture of a school must be transformed. With a year-round bullying prevention program, clear expectations of faculty and staff and established guidelines for how to treat incidents, students and adults can be a part of a culture of caring.

10 strategies to prevent bullying in schools:

1. Establishment of school-wide policies and classroom procedures pertaining to bullying that are distributed to students, parents, and teachers.

2. Depiction on bulletin boards and in hallways that school and classrooms are bully-free zones, and that students treat each other with respect.

3. Develop strategies to recognize and reward positive social behavior.

4. Speak with ALL involved in a bullying situation separately and in private.

5. Develop separate intervention plans for children who are bullied, children who participate as bystanders, and children who bully others. Some intervention plans may need to include steps to address circumstances where a student who has been bullied also bullies others or vice versa.

6. Be mindful of class seating arrangements to promote positive role models and limit access.

7. Hold periodic class meetings and assemblies to remind children of bullying prevention.

8. Contact parents of all students involved in a bullying incident; meet separately with parents of each student to provide information about bullying; explain school’s bullying protocol; and address the specifics of the situation. Do not identify names of other students. Provide support and clarifications to address parents’ emotional reactions, as well as solicit parent input and review intervention plan. Assess extent of social/emotional/family problems in conjunction with the school counselor and ensure that appropriate referrals are given to parents.

9. Establish procedures for documenting episodes of bullying and intervention.

10. Assign all students classroom allies/buddies and periodically re-arrange the assignments.

Tips to keep your kids safe online

It’s important for parents to be informed about their kids’ digital lives, especially when it comes to issues that involve their safety. These simple tips can help make sure their online experience is a positive one.

Set up internet filtering

Use your router or internet service provider’s security app to configure child-safe internet filtering. This works just like the filtering system on library and public school computers and lets you control which websites your child can access.

Most internet service providers have a manual detailing how to do this. There of the manuals on how to set up internet filtering from all the major providers like xfinity, frontier, and Verizon.

Block websites and keywords you don’t want your child to access

Blocking websites and keywords is the easiest way to ensure your child only has access to trusted internet content. You can block websites and keywords through your router or internet service provider’s security app.

Another way to configure internet filtering is by only allowing your child access to certain websites and keywords. Rather than blocking specific content, you grant access to approved website URLs and keywords. This means all other content is blocked.

Schedule when your child can access the internet

Setting an internet schedule, or a window of time when your child has internet access, is another great option for keeping him or her safe online. Similar to blocking websites and keywords, you can set up access times through your router or internet service provider’s security app.

Add your “trusted devices” to bypass parental control settings

Some internet service providers let you set your personal devices as “trusted devices.” These devices will be able to access websites blocked by parental control settings. This way, you can keep parental controls in place on your child’s devices while bypassing them on your own.

Know the child safety laws in your state.

For almost as long as the internet has been around, there have been laws protecting children from its risks. In 2000, Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to address concerns about access to content that is explicit or harmful to children. The act requires that schools or libraries which receive discounted internet access impose certain safeguards for children. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued updates to these rules as recently as 2011.

While many states have adopted additional internet safety laws, CIPA applies to all schools and libraries that receive E-Rate funding for internet service.

As part of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), every state in the country has laws in place for filtering internet content in public schools and libraries, and many have added additional measures, too. The website has an interactive map with every state’s child protection laws.

Listen to the podcast:

Watch the complete interview:

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