CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - "Bullying." Say the word to ten different people and you might get ten different definitions.
Studies show it's often middle school students who are being bullied, are the bullies or who are witnessing fellow students being hurt by bullies. With that in mind, we formed a panel of eight middle school students to get the real deal on what they're thinking when it comes to this word we all hear now more than ever. All students in this story are from Mount Mourne School in the Iredell-Statesville District, between the ages of 11-14, and said they were willing to talk candidly.
What do they say is bullying?
"It's being hurt in a way that really tears down your confidence and tries to take away your power," said 11-year-old Brigid.
"It's intentionally hurting someone whether with your mouth or your fists," said 12-year-old Foluwa.
"There's three main things that define bullying," said 12-year-old Sam. "The imbalance of power, the intention to hurt and either the repetition or potential to be repetitious in the act itself." (Editor's note: Sam is actually quoting the definition as defined by the Iredell-Statesville District in its handbook.)
When asked WHERE bullying happens, all eight kids agreed three main places – on a bus, in a cafeteria or online. They say cyber-bullying is what's most common.
"There's a site called ask.fm where you can be anonymous and ask questions," said 13-year-old Casey. "People ask really mean questions. Like, 'Why are you so ugly' and 'Why do you have no friends'."
Besides ask.fm, these students say kids are using the following sites to gang up on and bully others: Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, SnapChat, Facebook and YouTube.
"If someone comments on YouTube and says 'Oh that's a really good video' and someone else says 'That wasn't your best video', flame wars happen in an instant," says Michael, who's 12 years old.
What's a flame war?
"Heated back and forth comments online," Michael says. "It can get to an inflated state where everyone is just throwing insults out there hoping to hurt someone just because they don't agree with them."
"Those flame wars might not be classified as bullying," says Brigid, "but it still hurts in the way bullying does."
"Yeah," adds 13-year-old Cole. "A lot of times bullies have been bullied before. They just keep it going."
"But some of it is really mean," said 12-year-old Shanti. "Let's be honest. Gossip is just about as bad as bullying in person. Gossip hurts. Flame wars can hurt."
As for the social media sites, Mount Mourne school counselor Kori Thompson says you've got to not only check your kids accounts, but also their text messages.
And remember, Thompson says, times have changed. The kids back that up.
"There's a saying that sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me," said Foluwa. "That might have been the case in the past, but now it's the biggest lie ever."
Research shows one in five kids are bullied. The following results are from the 2013 North Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey:
- 19.2% of students were bullied on school property in past 12 months.
- 12.5% of students said they were “electronically bullied” in past 12 months.
- 59.1% of students saw other students being bullied in their school the past 12 months.
Would kids tell their parents if they're being bullied?
In our panel, six kids said yes. Foluwa wasn't sure – he said it would depend on the situation – and Brigid said probably not because parents don't always understand and might be too forceful in getting involved.
This week former WWF and WCW wrestler Marc Mero is visiting Iredell County to talk about how he says he was bullied, and how he also admits he bullied others. We sat in on his motivational presentation to Lake Norman High School, which got a strong response from students.
"After touring for 8 years with this presentation, I feel like we're making a difference," he said in an interview afterwards. "We've talked at more than 1,000 schools. We get letters from parents saying we're making a difference. But the truth is, bullying is getting worse, it's not getting better. We're seeing more and more kids carrying guns to school, they're feeling hopeless."
To see part of the speech he gave Lake Norman High, which he says brings some students to tears, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WI0Twlt1aek
Mero says to combat bullies you teach kids that they are supported and loved.
How do the kids we spoke with say you combat bullies?
Believe in yourself. No matter how hard.
"If you know something is not true, you should let it slide right by you," said 14-year-old Amanda. "It is hard for some people, but you should have confidence in yourself to keep those negative things away."
They say it's really about surrounding yourself with the right people and knowing at least one good quality about yourself.
And as far as advice from these kids as to what THEY think parents should know? Here are their eight responses:
Casey: "To approach your kid calmly when they do come to you about bullying."
Shanti: "Pretend you're in their shoes."
Sam: "Don't be overprotective."
Michael: "Be aware not everything is going to be perfect."
Cole: "I think all parents SHOULD have a conversation with kids about bullying."
Amanda: "But they shouldn't freak out when you talk about it, they should stay calm."
Brigid: "Trust your kid. Trust them that they know who their friends are and aren't."
Foluwa: "I agree with all those comments. Take the time to talk with your child."
To hear more from the kids that wasn't aired in the story at 11pm and more of our one-on-one with Marc Mero, click the attached web extras.