(WJBK) - Bully knows no boundaries. It can hurt anyone regardless of their gender, age, race or ethnicity - and now we're learning its impact can be long-lasting.
Bullying used to be thought of as a painful childhood rite of passage, but we now know it's actually very detrimental. A metro Detroit woman says bullying scarred her for decades.
"My self-esteem suffered greatly. I thought about suicide more than once. I had social anxiety; I had separation anxiety; I didn't want to leave home; I didn't want to go to school. I had stomach aches on a daily basis," Jennifer Gilman says. For her, the bullying started at the age of 7 and didn't stop until she switched school’s years later.
"It escalated around age 9 to kids telling me that, again, I was ugly, I was fat and I should kill myself; no one would miss me if I died. And this happened every single day at school."
Jennifer was afraid to confide in her parents, with good reason.
"A lot of parents think that, 'If I just approach the parent of the perpetrator we'll have this adult conversation and the behavior will stop,' - but evidence has really not born that out. Very often that escalates the situation and makes it much worse," says Dr. Marlene Seltzer, the Medical Director at Beaumont Children's No Bullying Live Empowered Program (NOBLE). She explains parents need to be observant.
"If your child has unexplained injuries or missing possessions, you want to probe why is that happening. If they have symptoms like headaches or stomach aches that's unusual for them, again, you want to try and figure out why that is. And also, if they want to avoid school or social situations. Again that would be a change of behavior but someone who may have loved school suddenly doesn't want to go anymore," she describes.
Let's be clear, there's a difference between kids teasing and bullying.
Here's what bullying is: repeated, unwanted aggressive behavior with the intent to do harm and usually it involves a real or perceived power imbalance.
The first step to helping a child is a conversation.
"The first thing you want to do, of course, is talk with your child," Dr. Seltzer says. "It's so important to keep those lines of communication open, and for your child to be able to trust that you can have a conversation about it."
There are also now school prevention programs, and schools offer resources to help students feel empowered to come forward with their fears.
For Jennifer, now in her 40s, years of therapy are helping to understand her childhood trauma doesn't define her.
"I learned that my uniqueness as a child was actually a strength and that I am a good person and I was a good little girl and I was a good teenager, and it wasn’t my fault. I learned to respect and love myself and not listen to what other people say."
The numbers say more than 20 percent of kids between 12-18 report being bullied at school.
A 24/7 crisis hotline is available at 1-855-UR-NOBLE. One-on-one texting is also available 24/7 through Common Ground. Text "hello" to 248-809-5550 to chat.