Children dealing with a heavy topic

Photo By Daniel Jackovino
From left are Emely Fernandez, Jocelyn Soto, guidance counselor Marissa Acosta, Samara Abasali and Layla Armstrong.

The community division of the Bloomfield Police Department spoke Tuesday, March 5, to Carteret Elementary School fifth- and sixth-graders about the harm and prevention of bullying.

The presentation was by Lt. Naomi Zepeda, the division commander; Detective James Romano and Officer Godson Noel.

Zepeda said student bullying is a huge problem, whether in-person or online.

“It’s real and it hurts,” she said. ”Our presentation is constantly being updated to make a positive and powerful impact on the students. You never know what someone is going through.”

Marissa Acosta, the school guidance counselor, said bullying is a “heavy topic” for the kids.

“Words are powerful and we must remember that we have to think before we speak,” she said.

Four girls spoke to The Independent Press in Acosta’s office the day following the assembly: fifth-graders Emely Fernandez and Jocelyn Soto; and sixth-graders Samara Abasali and Layla Armstrong. All the girls said they had not been bullied or did they bully anyone.

One message, sixth-grader Layla said she got from the assembly, was that an insignificant comment from one person may land hard on someone else.

“You might be playing around,” she said, “but the other person might be having something going on in their life.”

Acosta said the presentation tried to distinguish between joking around and bullying. Emely agreed, saying there was a difference between joking or “roasting” and bullying.

“Roasting is when you can say something about somebody and they shouldn’t take it to heart,” she said.

But Jocelyn said a person will say something kiddingly and forget it, but the other person will always remember it.

“I think bullying and getting your feelings hurt are two different things,” she said. “Bullying is something that happens over and over again and sometimes you get your feelings hurt and it’s only a misunderstanding.”

“If someone tells you to stop and you don’t,” Layla said, “you’ve crossed over into bullying.”

Cyber-bullying was also discussed during the assembly, Samara said.

“It’s common,” she said. “That was a big reminder when we get to middle and high school. It can lead to suicide, mental health issues and self-harming.”

Self-harming, Emely said, is when someone says something negative about you and you cut yourself.

Samara spoke up again and said if someone criticizes a person over and over again, that person might start to believe it and cut or harm themselves.

“That’s what I think,” she said. “A lot of people talk and we try to stay away from those people. You might get a text that says KYS. That means kill yourself. They think of it as a joke, but we don’t think it’s a joke.”

Layla agreed that some people said it with malicious intent.

Emely said someone, to get you to do something, might say they will kill themselves if you do not do it.

“I know this,” she said.

“That’s emotional blackmail,” Layla interjected.

“It comes from the boys,” Emely continued. “Some will say, ‘Oh, go kill yourself.’ Or if you’re going to tell Ms. Acosta, they’ll call you a snitch. If they think you’re the only one who knows what they said, they think you told Ms. Acosta, if she finds out.”

“Everything falls down onto you because you’re the only one they told,” Jocelyn said. “If you receive a really bad text, tell a teacher. The police said sometimes it’s better not to respond.”

If you learn a friend has been bullied, Samara said try to motivate them to speak up.

“You should comfort them and tell them to tell someone,” Emely said. “Don’t bottle it up.”

“Tell them to stop responding or it will only get bigger and bigger,” Jocelyn said.

“Listen to what they say,” said Layla.

Acosta is the anti-bullying coordinator at Carteret Elementary. Children should definitely come to an adult in the building, for help, she said, if they know of bullying.

“I also encourage that the parents are involved,” Acosta said. “They should ask their child how their day was. If someone is bullied, I investigate and tell the parents. Often the parent is very aware of the situation.”

When bullying occurs, the students are brought together to talk it out.

“Usually a bully has been bullied,” Acosta said. “They’re hurting people because they’ve been hurt.”

Zepeda told this newspaper that many children utilize gaming and social media apps that have the ability to connect with possible predators.

“Understanding Internet safely is so important to keeping kids safe,” she advised.

Zepeda also warned that a child should know they don’t have to be everybody’s friend, but they should always be nice.

“We don’t ever want anyone to feel helpless or alone,” she said. “We are always here for you, no matter what.”