Article by Michelle Kimball, PhD
This past Spring, The Roberts family enrolled their children in a school near their new home outside Fort Benning, Ga. Within five weeks, they would face a harrowing ordeal at the hands of their son’s schoolmates.
Ambra Roberts, an Army spouse, had applied for permission for her children to attend a school out of the area where their new home was zoned, but the request had been denied. She sent her kids to the new school with trepidation, worried that her son would emotionally regress after years of struggle.
Ashton Roberts, now 17, had struggled with life as a military child, and at 13, he had attempted suicide. But things were looking up. In the three years that followed, Ashton was doing very well – he was into sports, he was an A student, and he was a leader in JROTC, Roberts said.
Almost immediately at his new school, he had trouble adjusting. Roberts noticed that Ashton was doing whatever he could to avoid school – telling her he didn’t want to attend, or calling her to get him because he had headaches. “Whatever he could to get out of school,” Roberts said, “and this is a child who had pretty much perfect attendance at the other school.”
One afternoon, Roberts noticed that Ashton had not responded to her calls telling him she was picking him up. When he got in her car, she asked him about it. He became very emotional, and he told her that someone took his cell phone. Roberts went right inside the school and spoke with the principal about it. They tried to get police assistance, but there was no officer on duty at the school that day.
About 24 hours later, Roberts received the kind of phone call every parent dreads.
The school called to inform her that her son had been beaten and robbed in the school bathroom, and she needed to come pick him up.
“They strangled him and beat him until he passed out. They broke his nose,” Roberts said. “And then they left him after kicking him on the floor.”
School administration reviewed security footage and found video of the beating. The students responsible were charged as adults. Ashton had to undergo surgery to repair his nose. “It is traumatic. Who would ever think this could happen in high school?” Roberts said. “As a military family, we teach our children to get along with everybody.”
Roberts said she believes Ashton was targeted because he was new to the school. “So he was the one who was picked on,” she said.
Military children may face bullying more often due to some of the specific aspects of their lifestyles, like moving often and being the new kid in school. Joel Haber, Ph.D., author of Bullyproof Your Child For Life, said two main issues that exacerbate the problem for military families are the constantly changing social structures and increased stresses of military family life.