Bullying has long been an issue in schools, but with technology at our fingertips, the problem has gone from something that ends when the final school bell rings to an around-the-clock, nonstop force which often hurts today’s children.
One Sylvania-area student has turned her own struggle with bullies into an empowering group that helps local kids face their peers and stand up for themselves. Madi Shook, a sixth grader at Timberstone Junior High, and her friend, Justin Harrison, of Brunswick, Ohio, co-founded the group Bullfrogs Against Bullying in 2015 as a way to cope with issues they were experiencing in school. The two decided they wanted to help other kids in situations similar to theirs.
The peer-to-peer support group is youth led. They decide together how to hold their meetings, what types of service projects to get involved in, and which outings to attend. The group has meetings here in Toledo, as well as in Brunswick, outside of Cleveland. Monthly meetings recently were put on hold, but the group still has some future events planned.
Most of the group’s events are shared on their Facebook and Instagram pages.
“You can feel comfortable there and talk about your day and be free,” Madi said about the group.
Madi said she has coped with bad days by turning to music, journaling and reading. One of her favorite things to do to overcome internet bullying is to write an inspirational quote on a sticky note and put it on her wall.
Coaching victims and bullies
Kelli Shook, Madi’s mother and advisor to the Sylvania group, helped create lesson plans on mindfulness, self care, art therapy, and topics, to help at the monthly sessions. Shook, a pediatric nurse and certified youth and parent life coach, has experience advising families and schools on how to handle bullying and similar issues.
The group isn’t just about helping victims of bullying, but also helping bullies, as both victims and bullies need to learn healthy coping skills, Shook said. “There are going to be bad days and people will be hurtful,” Shook said. “But we have to move on and not dwell—it’s a reflection of the person doing the bullying and not the person receiving it.” Bullying can affect children of any age. Shook said she has seen problems arise in children as young as five years old.
Parents can support their children by helping them identify their emotions and teaching them to be respectful of others. Shook said it is important to reiterate school and bus rules to children so they know what is expected. “We can’t expect that our child will get bullied and come home and tell us about it,” she said. Some signs to look for in younger children include being withdrawn and quiet. Parents should ask plenty of questions and be specific, such as, “Is someone hurting you?” If there are physical signs of abuse, the child may not want to talk about where the bruises came from, Shook explained.
For older kids, Shook suggests that parents do plenty of research about apps their children use and take the time to learn the hidden dangers involved, pointing out that open communication is key when combating bullying with both schools and parents playing a vital role in keeping bullying to a minimum.
Madi’s advice for other kids experiencing bullying is to “keep moving forward and learn from any mistakes that happened. Make sure you don’t turn around and do what has happened to you.”