Study: Kids rate bullying and teasing as 'big problem'
Survey finds children don't think parents hear their safety concerns
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A new report finds bullying and teasing tops the list of children's school troubles and that many students say talking with their parents does little to ease the stress.
The pain brought about by taunts and shunning at school appears to have played a role in recent fatal school shootings -- evidence that this unrelieved stress may explode into tragedy.
The children who knew Charles Andrew Williams, the suspected teen-age shooter at Santana High School in Santee, California, told a familiar story: "His ears stuck out, he was small, skinny, had a high voice," said Scott Bryan, a friend of Williams', "so people always picked on him 'cause he was the little kid."
Like the teen-agers at Colorado's Columbine High School who shot their schoolmates because they felt like outcasts, there are suspicions that Williams, 15, might have been prone to attack other students because he was the target of teasing and taunting.
Authors of the survey "Talking With Kids About Tough Issues," by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Nickelodeon, asked 1,249 parents of children ages 8 to 15 and 823 children ages 8 to 15 about their problems and whether they sort them out by talking to each other.
Seventy-four percent of 8- to 11-year-olds say teasing and bullying occur at their school, more than smoking or drinking or drugs or sex. As kids get older -- 12- to 15-year-olds were a separate group in the survey -- the number rises to 86 percent, still higher than substance abuse or sex. And both age groups called the teasing and bullying "big problems" that rank higher than racism, AIDS, the pressure to have sex or to try alcohol or drugs.
Tough topics need ongoing attention
Yet kids who say they've discussed these problems with their parents say the conversations were infrequent and not very memorable. One in two 8- to 11-year-olds whose parents say they discussed their troubles with them don't even remember the conversations.
"What parents are saying is an issue they've discussed is not always getting through to their kid," said Tina Hoff, who oversaw the survey for Kaiser Family Foundation.
Parents acknowledge that sticky topics are often brought up first by the children, particularly issues surrounding sex, puberty and AIDS. Yet while those topics aren't addressed at home, even the younger kids say they are feeling the pressure at school. One third of 10- to 11-year-olds called the pressure to have sex a "big problem."
"This isn't an issue where you have a big talk and you check this off your to-do list," Hoff said. "These issues need to get talked about on an ongoing basis.
'We have too much going on'
"Some kids sometimes don't know how to tell their parents, 'I have this problem. This person is bothering me, I don't know what to do,' " said Victoria Zaras, 15, who responded to the survey. "Instead, some may take matters into their own hands."
Victoria's mother, Evelyn Feliciano, said parents also face a dilemma: "We have our kids scheduled for soccer, dancing, swimming and we have our own lives ... We sit at a computer and ignore our kid for an hour. We have too much going on, and we separate ourselves from our families."
Dominic Cappello, an expert on parent-child communications, said parents often think their children will never act out on their problems.
"Parents think, 'Oh my kids are not in high school yet. I guess I will wait to talk,' " he said. "What we say is 'Oh no -- when your child starts kindergarten, you have to start conversations about how you respect people. ... This is very serious. It is not just bullying and teasing. These are threats of violence.'
"They are little acts, but then they start adding up after first grade, second grade, third grade. By middle school, a lot of kids are really afraid of going to school," Cappello said.
At Santana High, schoolmates of "Andy" Williams never believed the taunting would provoke violence.
"He was picked on a lot, but he never really did anything," said Santana student Andrew Kaforey. "I mean, he talked a lot, but he never really did anything."
Investigators said the teen-ager's rage didn't seem specifically targeted at anyone.
"We don't know if he was mad at the school, mad at students, mad at life, mad at home," San Diego County Sheriff's Department Lt. Jerry Lewis said. "He was an angry young man."
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