Bullying

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The big news out of South Hadley, Mass. recently is the tragic story of Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old high school student who committed suicide because she was relentlessly bullied by a group of girls at her high school.

Prince moved to Massachusetts six months ago from Ireland. For some reason, a group of real life “Mean Girls” made it their mission to turn Phoebe’s life into a living hell. They called her an “Irish slut” at school and used social media networking sites to bombard her with a steady stream of insults and put-downs. Apparently it was over Phoebe’s date to a big school dance that was coming up. And despite school officials counseling all the students involved and doling out unspecified punishments, Phoebe hung herself in her house earlier this month.

And perhaps the most disgusting part of all of this is the fact that even after her death, the Mean Girls continued to log onto Facebook and other similar sites to trash Phoebe further.

Let’s get one thing clear and out in the open: the girls who did this to Phoebe are disgusting human beings. I don’t care that they’re teenagers. Anyone who would take these extreme measures through verbal attacks, texts and online assaults to the point that a poor girl hangs herself, is a deadbeat and a rotten human being. It’s yet to be seen if the schools could’ve done something more to prevent this, but now school officials say they’ve taken some sort of disciplinary action against the girls.

Personally I think they should be suspended or possibly even expelled depending on the details which haven’t been fully divulged yet. After driving a girl to suicide and then, even worse, continuing to degrade her even in her death, they should not be allowed to cause more trouble at their current school. And this should go on their permanent academic records so any other schools they attend will know what kind of horrid person they’re getting.

However, I do not think they should be charged criminally.

Let’s face it folks, bullying is a part of growing up. Sure it’s something that’s gotten worse and harder to protect against as technology has expanded, but whether it’s someone pummeling you in the halls and stealing your lunch money, or the mind fuck teenage girls are so adept at inflicting on one another, it is inescapable.

Should there be increased programs to raise awareness of the dangers of bullying? Yes. Should school officials be more aware of the dangers of bullying and perhaps step in sooner to prevent tragedies. Yes. But I have to draw the line at trying to legislate this problem away.

You can’t legislate a rite of passage. You legislate the fact that kids are going to pick on one another. Besides, if it gets to the point of stalking or criminal harassment there are already laws on the books that cover those situations. But a law against bullying? Hey, I’d love to make it illegal for assholes to be out in public or for fat people to wear tank tops at the grocery store. But these are annoying things that are going to happen no matter what we do. And unfortunately, there will always be bullies. The trick is to teach kids how to stand up to them and try to convince them not to become one.

The one problem I do have is that the schools haven’t released the names of the girls who did the bullying. And I’m sorry, I don’t give a shit that they’re minors. They deserve to have their names publicized for what they’ve done. Think about it. These high school kids have their names released to the media for making the honor roll, athletic achievements, etc. No one ever complains about that. But then people have the audacity to say their names shouldn’t be made public when they’ve been linked to another student’s death? Bullshit! They need to be held accountable and they should feel the full weight of the consequences of their decision to be a no-good bullying Mean Girl.

I’d love to think this latest episode will serve as a wake up call to teens everywhere. I’d love to think the silver lining of Phoebe’s death is a greater awareness regarding the dangers of bullying. But unfortunately, this kind of thing seems to happen all too regularly around the country.

As parents, we are the single greatest influence and determining factor in how our children behave. Let’s make sure they not only know that being a bully is despicable, but let’s teach them that it’s also important to rise up against bullies and stand up for those who are being picked on, even if it’s not them.

And we should tell them about Phoebe.

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9 thoughts on “Bullying

  1. It starts so early. And it’s hard to predict who will be the bully and who will stand up for those being picked on. Even though my son is only 11, he has seen his share of bullies. And I hope that we’ve taught him that he can stand up for himself and others and that he better not start a fight, but he can sure as hell finish it.

  2. So you are saying that you want to teach Will not to be a bully, but at the same time boast about nicknames you have given girls? How is this not the same? Don’t you think that one day he will read these entries?

    P.S. My friend’s boyfriend at the time worked with you and turned me onto your blog and I love it. Provides lots of great laughs while reading on my blackberry in staff meetings.

  3. Lisa: Good point re: “we’ve taught him that he can stand up for himself and others and that he better not start a fight, but he can sure as hell finish it.” Well said!

    Sea Donkey: Like the vast majority of people, I bullied at times and was bullied by others. I’m not pretending to be innocent by any means. It goes back to my point that you’ll never be able to stop other people from making fun of each other. Exactly where it becomes “bullying” is an ever-shifting line, and steps need to be taken to make sure it doesn’t get to that point. But I can say with complete certainty that I never tortured someone emotionally or physically to the point where they committed suicide, and then proceeded to continue bad-mouthing them even after they were dead. There’s a special place in hell reserved for people who are that cruel.

  4. After teaching 9-11 year olds I was constantly dealing with bullying and even sexual harassment throughout the year. It was scary that at that age it was already bad. The worst part was that there was little within my power to do. We would have meetings with both parents, they made special anti-bully groups for the “bad” kids. I honestly felt like more effort went into helping the bullies with their issues than protecting the victims. I saw nice, good students turn depressed, angry, or even violent after months of bullying by the same kids who have been at it (and will continue doing it) for years. I wish there was definitive punishment for bullies who continue daily. I get that every kid goes through it but there are also extremes in which adults need to step in and do something.

  5. You and I rarely agree about anything, but I think that we have some common ground here. The ‘mean girls’ are despicable. They definitely deserve public outing and humiliation. They need not be criminally charged, nor do we need to add more legislation on the books. I would like to them held responsible in civil court and that is an option to be explored.
    Their names will be protected from being publicly released, by law, because they are minors. Their names would be released for honor roll or athletics because their parents have signed a release form through the school at the beginning of each year for those events. I know because I have signed release forms year after year. If the parents sign a release with the local PD or paper, their names would be released in affiliation with this also. I’m not holding my breath. The only way to change that fact is to change the current law.
    In the mean time, I extend my condolences to the family of the girl who took her own life. I wish them strong support and the ability to heal from this heart-breaking, earth shattering tragedy that has happened to their world.

  6. Andrea: Good point. The bullies probably end up receiving more attention than the victims and that’s too bad. I honestly think the way to fix this problem is to address the good kids who don’t bully, but who stand by and do nothing while others are bullied. The kids need to know that if it gets to a certain point, they either have to stand up for each other or alert an adult.

    WM: Agreed on nearly everything. And I’m not sure about your state/school, but around here parents sign a blanket permission slip for the schools to release the names of kids to the media when appropriate. It doesn’t specify for honor roll, athletics, etc. It’s just a vague, blanket permission slip. Now I understand why the police can’t release their names, because they are prohibited by law from releasing the names of minors. But schools are not. And there is absolutely no law, despite what most people think, that prohibits a newspaper from printing the name of a minor. Everyone thinks that’s illegal but it isn’t. It’s a courtesy and policy most newspaper adhere to, but it would be perfectly legal for a newspaper to print the names of those girls. So in my mind, no laws would have to be changed (at least here in Mass.).

  7. I had a long talk with my oldest when he was being bullied last year. I explained the psychology behind why most bullies turn into bullies in the first place. I asked him some questions about the boy and it turned out he lives with his grandmother. We talked about reasons why someone would live with a family member other than a parent and how it’s almost NEVER a good reason. The next time the boy started saying mean things to him, Jr told him that he knew the kid was going through a lot and if he wanted to talk about it, he’d listen but if all he had to say was mean things that no one would ever listen. To this day I don’t know if the boy really appreciated having someone offer to listen or if hearing something that profound come out of a 9 year olds mouth just shocked his system but they became friends.

    Peer pressure can be used constructively. If your friends look down on you for being an asshole, then being an asshole will make you uncomfortable. I was quick to initially tell my son to stay away from bullies or don’t be friends with someone who acts like that, but what bullies probably need is friends that aren’t jerks. Now when he has to deal with a bully at school he feels bad for them. I took away any bullies ability to make my child feel bad about himself. I’m sure the nature of the problem will change as he gets older and they deal with more drama and emotions but hopefully I set a good foundation before that point.

    And if not….Well, I have a license to carry and I’m not above scaring the shit of some asshole teenager :D

  8. Jesus Jee! Easy there.

    I think one of the reasons bullying problems are getting so bad is the culture of “my kids are perfect” that is so pervasive. Attempts at significant discipline are met with that “right of passage” crap Aaron mentioned. And god forbid another kid sticks up for the one being picked on. They not only face the bully, but in many cases the wrath of the bully’s parents.

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