Polk schools work to combat bullying after teen's suicide

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) - A Lakeland girl's leap to her death two years ago carries a story that's now being used to change kid's behavior.

Two years ago, 14-year-old Rebecca Sedwick died of an apparent suicide and many think it's because she was fed up with bullying by her peers. It was a heartbreaking eye opener that made educators think differently about how they handle teasing and taunting in school.

On Wednesday, an anti-bullying advocate's talk at Central McKeel Academy was just one way they've stepped up the fight to end it. 15-year-old Jaylen Arnold is in his seventh year making stops at schools around the nation. He grabs the attention of hundreds and gives them a glimpse of what the jokes and jabs feel like on the inside.

He uses his own experiences of dealing with taunting about his Tourette's syndrome to help inspire students to think before they speak.

SLIDESHOW: Signs a child is bullying others 

"Looking out and seeing how it's affecting thousands of others really spoke to me and called me to do this," Arnold said.

Two years ago today, Jaylen was doing a similar presentation when he heard that one of the school's own students, Rebecca Sedwick, was found dead of an apparent suicide. Text messages show the hateful words thrown at her. Reports say she was encouraged by classmates to kill herself.

"Her story always comes to my mind. That's my fuel that drives me to help any and every kid that I can," Arnold said.

SLIDESHOW: Signs your child is being bullied

Jaylen believes kids need to understand the effects of bullying and stop it. His mother Robin thinks kids are starting to grasp on, but parents need to watch for signs of bullying, too.

"There are going to be signs there, but if you think your child is going to tell you their child is bullied they're not, you have to dig deep and you have to dig it out of them," Robin Arnold said.

Jaylen's mom said some of those red flags that your child may be the victim of bullying include changes in their eating or sleep habits and their attitude. Also, keep an eye out of if they are missing cellphones or tablets.

Besides hosting anti-bullying assemblies, the Polk County School District has also implemented several other ways to combat bullying. Among them are staff training and the launch of an app that allows students and parents to report bullying concerns.

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