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The fight against bullying

RED WING, Minn. -- Whether it's done in person, through texts or over the Internet, bullying causes more than 160,000 children across the nation to miss school every day.

PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center said the fear of being teased or intimidated by fellow students is enough to keep some kids from getting to the classroom and receiving the education they need. The center labels October as National Bullying Prevention Month and is hoping to get more people involved in standing up to bullies.

"Silence is not an acceptable response to bullying," PACER's NBPC director Julie Hertzog said. "People who are bullied need to know they are not alone."

Bullying at every age

It's seen everywhere from sandboxes to senior high cliques, but Twin Bluff Middle School social worker Jamie Lang said she thinks bullying becomes the worst when it hits grades 5 through 7.

"At this age, every child wants to fit in and be the same," Lang said, adding that many times kids are teased for simply standing out in a crowd.

At Twin Bluff, character education is taught to fifth-graders on a weekly basis, and sixth- and seventh-graders once a month.

"We try to be preventative on anything we can," Twin Bluff Middle School counselor Megan Latch said.

After bullying has already happened, however, they address the issue as soon as they are aware of it.

Lang and Latch not only talk with the bully -- and sometimes turn him or her over to the vice principal for discipline -- but they also counsel the child who was bullied and offer advice on how to handle the situation.

"So they're no longer the target," Latch noted.

Students at Twin Bluff are encouraged to use their "W.I.T.S." when being bullied. They're asked to tell the bully to stop, ignore them if things continue, walk away from the situation and seek help.

Some students are too shy or afraid to ask for help, but continuous bullying is likely to have a negative effect on their school work.

"Sometimes that's kind of a symptom, if you will, that something's going on," Lang said.

Other signs of bullying that parents and friends can watch out for are sudden changes in a child's mood or appearance.

"Definitely self-esteem takes a hit," Lang added.

Not only do the social worker and counselor look out for signs of bullying, but adults monitor Twin Bluff's hallways between classes.

"We try to have eyes and ears in a lot of places," Latch said.

Teachers also don't hesitate to report behavior differences in their students.

"They're the key player here," Latch said. "They often say, 'Can you check in on so-and-so?'"

Taking bullying home

As the Internet becomes more and more prevalent in homes, it can be harder for children to escape the type of teasing they sometimes experience at school.

According to PACER, more than one in three young people have been a victim of cyber bullying. So instead of just being affected by bullies in the classroom and school setting, kids come home to mean emails and hurtful web posts on social media sites.

"Rather than being excited about life, they are burdened with this anxiety that there are people who will hurt them

emotionally and even physically," psychiatrist Barry Garfinkel of the Center for Developmental Psychopharmacology in Minneapolis said.

PACER reports that 55 percent of bullying situations are stopped when a peer intervenes, and although October is officially National Bullying Prevention Month, the organization encourages people to interfere in acts of bullying year-round.

"Talk to your child. Ask them some questions," Latch said. "If they don't want to open up to you, you could call the school."

Carstensen is a writer for the Republican Eagle in Red Wing, Minn., which is owned by Forum Communications Co.