Tragic case of 9-year-old boy's suicide heightens concern about bullying as school set to start

SEATTLE -- Many Washington students go back to school next week. But a new school year means some heightened anxiety about social situations on school campuses. Experts say this week, before school starts, is a good time to talk to your children about bullying.

“I’m so sad that he thought that was his option,” Leia Pierce said about her 9-year-old son, who took his own life four days after starting the fourth grade in Denver.

Pierce says it was because of bullying.

“He was my sunshine because he was my only son,” said Pierce.

Home videos of 9-year-old Jamel Myles are what his mother holds onto after he took his life on Thursday.

“My son told my oldest daughter that the kids at school told him to kill himself. I’m just sad he didn’t come to me,” said Pierce.

National statistics show one in four students say they’ve been bullied at school and only about that many reaches out to adults for help.

“Give kids space to talk and make sure that they know that you’re listening,” said Rachel Kamb, a bullying prevention expert at Committee for Children. "One of the first things you may want to ask your child is: What is bullying, what does bullying mean to you?" Kamb said.

She says it’s important to define that bullying is different from other conflicts because it’s consistent and there is a power imbalance.

"Someone is more popular so there is a power imbalance, or someone is bigger or older. And then that child can’t make it stop. That can be different than a regular conflict,” said Kamb.

Kamb says regularly asking your child about their day will develop a routine of open dialogue.

"Hearing them, without responding and without feeling like you have to solve all of their problems,” said Kamb.

She says as children feel they are heard, they’ll feel safer to open up to parents without fear of getting into trouble. For those kids who don’t feel comfortable coming forward, Kamb says, parents should look for behaviors that are out of the norm.

“They’re more withdrawn than usual, not playing with friends, they’re having trouble sleeping,” Kamb said, citing some signs to look for.

Kamb also suggests that parents not call other parents directly about bullying; instead, let the school know and let the school be the mediator to help resolve those issues.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or depression, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). You can speak with someone who will provide free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To learn how to help someone in crisis, call the same number.