New efforts by state of Michigan underway to combat bullying

New efforts by state of Michigan underway to combat bullying (FILE)

LANSING, Mich. (SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP) - Seventy percent of young people say they've seen bullying in their schools.

According to StopBullying(dot)gov, when bystanders intervene, bullying stops within ten seconds most of the time.

But not every kid feels safe standing up to bullies. So, the state of Michigan has an app for that.

Bullying no longer stops at the classroom door and on the playground. Kids are now bringing it home with them on their phones. Cyberbullying on social media has increased by 88% in five years, according to the NSPCC, and now the state of Michigan is fighting back.

Julian is nine years old. His mom Shawn says his school is responsive to addressing bullies.

"They kind of want to nip it in the bud as fast as possible," she said.

"Peace out!" Julian said.

"I taught them that when they were really little. If somebody didn't want to be your friend or they weren't being nice to you, to make light of it seems to be easier," Shawn explained.

For now, it seems to be working.

"At my other school, I did kind of have a bully, but he stopped after a while," Julian said.

But when Julian and Payton get to middle school, chances are they will see more unkind behavior.

"It's a little different than it used to be just a few years ago," said Andrea Bitely, the communications director for the Michigan Attorney General's office.

The Attorney General's office knows cyber bullying is on the rise. So, it launched the OK2Say app.

All kids have to do is fill in their school information, then report what they are seeing, whether it's cyberbullying, fighting, human trafficking, or sexting.

The app also helps kids considering suicide.

"This will instantly take you to one of our operators who are specially trained to deal with children in traumatic situations," Bitely said.

OK2Say also lets kids report sexual assault and abuse from home.

"We've had cases where students find out about their friends being abused at home and they report that to us on the OK2Say app," said Bitely.

In addition to answering the call for help, the state is dispatching anti-bullying advocates like basketball star Anthony Ianni to give presentations to kids on how to be kind.

Ianni has an autism spectrum disorder.

"I've been to schools where I've had teachers and principals tell me look, a lot of our kids with ASD are picked on the most," he said. "Because a lot of our students don't really understand what these individuals go through."

My God-daugher Kendall starts kindergarten this year.

"Have you met your teacher yet?" I asked her.

"All I know is her name is Mrs. C," she said.

She's excited for school and ready to learn "a whole bunch of stuff."

Like Ianni, it's hard to tell Kendall has ASD.

Because of how she and others process information, kids like her are at a higher risk for bullying. Acceptance and understanding is what Ianni wants to drive home to young minds in Michigan.

"I've always been like, until you've walked in my shoes, until you've been in my parents shoes for the last 28 years, don't say anything to me because you've got to know me before you say something," he said.

Ianni says stopping school bullies is up to kids and their parents.

"Like we all learn in kindergarten and like it says in the Bible to treat others the way you want to be treated. If we all did that the world would be a better place," Shawn said.

Before your kid downloads the OK2Say app, be sure the let them know that sending in false information on the app is just like filing a false police report: it's illegal.

The OK2Say app is available on iPhone and Android.

If you'd like Anthony Ianni to speak to your school, click here

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