If you have children, chances are they've experienced bullying. The website DoSomething.org says about 90 percent of children in grades 4 through 8 have been bullied.
That's why 13 WREX reached out to students across the area. We didn't just talk to them about bullying, we found out what happens when the roles are reversed and they see someone being bullied. Would they do anything to stop it?
Typically you can't see the effects of bullying. But if you take a moment to talk to bullied students, there's no doubt you can feel it.
"People would shove me in lockers and they would say, 'Kill yourself no one deserves you,'" said Liberty, a student who's dealt with bullying.
"When I'd get home in bed I just thought about, the next day is gonna be worst than the last probably," said Dylan, another bullied student.
Their stories are heart wrenching. And their pain is very real.
"I've been really bullied since I was in preschool or something. And I've transferred schools like sic times," said one girl named Emma.
"They called me a midget and they've just been really mean to where I've gotten cyber bullied on Facebook. They called me ugly, they called me a rat. It just got so bad to where I have to be home schooled now," said another student named Samantha.
"I got cyber bullied. I got death threats by people, and I got teased by their friends," another student said. "Things like, "If you don't date me I'm going to bring a gun to school and kill you.'"
The students are from different school districts. They're different ages with different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common. Something they wish they didn't. They're bullied. Some have one bully, others have multiple. Several transferred schools to get away from it, others continue to endure it.
"I get bullied at school by three kids. And I only have like one friend now," said Anthony, who's in 4th grade.
"It causes depression, anxiety. Certainly bad grades and a lot of physical complaints," said licensed family therapist Martha Daniels.
Daniels works at Family Counseling Services in Rockford. She's treated a variety of people, even adults who are still struggling to cope with bullying they experienced during childhood. The problem is many people who are bullied don't want to talk about it.
"It is so painful to talk about it. Because it brings up the most exquisitely painful feeling of all and that is shame," said Daniels.
As painful as it may be, talking is the first step in getting help. 13 WREX invited more than a dozen students and their parents to join the conversation about bullying. The parents, along with Daniels, watched from another room as the students shared their stories.
One young girl who struggles with a stutter says kids make fun of her for it. She's changed schools several times because of bullying. Another girl, named Josie, expresses her pain when her best friends turned into her bullies.
"I didn't feel safe going to that school at all because I wanted to hang out with them because I thought it would make my life better. I wasn't popular and I thought I wanted to be," said Josie.
Every student we talked to knows how painful bullying is. But what if they saw someone else getting bullied? Would they do anything to stop it? We decided to see for ourselves and with the parents permission, 13 WREX planted four child actors in the room. Two of them would play out a bullying scenario, what we're calling the "Bully Test".
We left the room with the cameras rolling, but the kids think they're off. We also had a hidden camera in the ceiling. The two actors are named Jacob and Anna. Jacob plays the role of a bully, and takes Anna's phone away from her. He taunts her and Anna begs him to stop. At first it seems like no one in the room notices. Our two other child actors, Genevieve and Richie, are mingling with the other students.
But a few minutes into the test, we notice Anthony start to squirm in his seat. Then he stands up, marches over to Jacob, and rips the phone out of his hand. He hands the phone back to Anna and sits back down. Another young boy named Rylan also stepped in, telling Jacob to give the phone back to Anna. Once Anthony gave Anna her phone back, Rylan told him, "Good job!"
We come back into the room an announce the students just unknowingly went through a test. Some were surprised to hear bullying was going on right under their noses. We turned to Anthony and asked why he got involved.
"Because if I hear someone get bullied I will stand up for them," he said.
For some students it's not that simple. As our therapist, Daniels, watched from the other room, she said Anthony's involvement took her by surprise.
"That took courage. Even as an adult I have a hard time helping someone else being bullied. It's really hard to do. I really admire a youngster who can do it," she said.
We asked her if it's common for kids to get involved, she said "no".
We asked the students why it's so hard to stand up for someone who's being bullied. Their responses were all the same.
"Because you're nervous because then you don't want to get bullied," said Rylan.
Once all was said and done, we turned to the parents for their reaction on what they saw and heard.
"As she was telling her story in the room it was hard for me to not cry. It shouldn't happen. It shouldn't ever happen," said Ken Kauke, Josie's father.
"I was very heartbroken knowing that there were a lot more children involved in this than just what I've experienced. I don't feel like I'm alone. I don't feel like my daughter's alone," said Rosemarie Johnson, Emma's mother.
Irene Fender is Anthony's mom, the little boy who stood up to our fake bully Jake.
"Seeing him get up, at first I thought, what is he doing? And when he took that phone and handed it back to the other little girl I was just. I was so proud of him. And at the same time I was really sad that he couldn't do that for himself," said Fender.
Understanding why bullies pick on their kids is one of the hardest parts for these parents.
"I still don't know. I don't understand why. But I am so glad she was here, that she was able to talk about it," said Kauke.
Even Daniels was stunned by what the students are going through.
"Some of the stories that I've heard I couldn't imagine that that would really happen," she said.
But something came out of this bully test that we at 13 WREX didn't expect. The parents and the students formed a bond. Many exchanged phone numbers and left the room with a new alliance and new friends.
"Even though you had those actors in here, you saw the rest of them, talking. I mean how awesome is that? You've got a bunch of kids that are bullied that aren't introverts, that are talking," said Kauke.
Talking and taking comfort knowing they're not alone.
So what do you do if your child is being bullied? All the parents we spoke with say one of the most frustrating parts is feeling like there's nowhere to turn for help. Daniels suggests getting your child involved in programs at the YMCA or their church that have different kids other than their bullies.
There are several online resources for those who are dealing with bullying.You can find the links listed below.