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Tampa Bay girl spreading awareness about bullying

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Posted at 9:51 PM, Oct 21, 2021

TAMPA, Fla — Cosplaying, art, and Billie Eilish.

For 12-year-old Phoenix Hurst, those are a few of her favorite things.

"The name of the song is 'I don't want to be you anymore,'" she said.

They're creative outlets, the preteen says she's been using more than ever to cope with bullying.

"It made me feel upset that I was getting bullied for something that I have and other wigs wear wigs and nobody said anything about it," said Phoenix.

Phoenix has alopecia. She was diagnosed about two years ago and chooses to wear wigs to cope with it.

But over the last two school years, her mom Shanna Kennedy, says bullies have picked fights, pulled off her wig, and even posted videos of the incidents on social media.

"You know you're enraged because you want to be there to protect your children," said Kennedy.

Kennedy tells ABC Action News she knew something was wrong when she noticed a change in her daughter.

"I saw that she began to not express herself as much. I noticed that she didn't want to take pictures. I noticed that she wasn't communicating. Her grades were slipping," said Kennedy.

Dr. Alise Bartley is the Director of the Community Counseling Center at Florida Gulf Coast University. She says those warnings signs Kennedy saw, can sometimes go unnoticed. And she encourages parents to ask their kids specific questions about their lives to find out what's going on.

"Our kids get home from school, we ask the question 'How was your day?' and our kids say either 'Fine' or 'I don't know,'" she said.

She also says reports of bullying have gone up since kids have returned to the classroom.

To help curb that behavior, she says parents should also ask themselves this question:

"What kinds of things am I doing to connect with them and show them that they matter," she said.

It's a sentiment Kennedy agrees with.

"You have to get involved with your kids, with the school. You have to listen to your children," said Kennedy.

She is currently working to get the issue resolved in school. But in the meantime, she says she will continue to encourage Phoenix to speak out about it, in hopes that it helps others.

"Tell your parents, or tell a teacher or tell any adult you know," said Phoenix.

The CDCand the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services both have resources that address bullying and how to talk about it.