Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bullying Must End

A few weeks ago, a fifteen year old Massachusetts girl who had been the victim of bullying at her high school went home and hanged herself. Phoebe Prince moved with her family from Ireland to a small town and tried to acclimate herself to all the changes and being in a new place. I imagine she was very nervous about it all and struggling to make friends. She was a pretty girl and, since she was new, got a lot of attention from the boys. This didn't make a particular gang of girls happy so they tormented her mercilessly for months. Phoebe's parents alerted school officials who did nothing.

So finally one day, Phoebe did what others failed to do. She ended it. The finality of her suicide wasn't the answer. We all know that. The grief of those who love her must be the most awful thing ever. Nine kids have been arrested for their harrassment of this young girl and today three of them will be arraigned in court. Shortly after Phoebe's death the people of Hadleyville went into 'rage mode' protested about WHY such an awful thing happened and how it had progressed so far. Why were school officials so negligent in not putting a stop to this? How could they let these kids ratchet up the bullying to the point Phoebe felt nothing but desperation and despair.

The really horrible thing is we read these stories every day. A child is teased about her weight. A boy is beaten to death because he has red hair. A mother taunts a girl on MySpace until she, too, commits suicide. Crowds of young people gather around to watch the gang rape of a young girl who is leaving a school dance. Bullying must stop and I honestly think lessons on this topic should be taught not only at home but in churches and schools. Laws are currently being enacted in many states. It's about damn time.

I've raised teenagers and I know how hard it is for them to stand up to pressure from school friends but we must be able to stress to them that it's one thing to go along with the latest fashion fad but quite another to stand idly by and watch someone be bullied. How do we stop it? There must be first steps we can take, small things we can do to make a dent in this. In our home, we were always open with our kids and they never had problems talking to us about things that happened in their lives, at school or anywhere else. My husband and I heard about incidences of bullying in our own little part of the world. Fortunately, no suicides but definitely stories of isolation and depression among these victims. That my children recognized it and fought to help made me proud. What crosses the mind of a kid who thinks this behavior is okay? I just don't get it.


Madison Scott said...

It breaks my heart. It really does. I don't know what can be done, but we need to figure something out. These poor, poor kids. It starts younger and younger and is getting harsher and harsher. I really wish we could find something to do. I'm so scared for my girls. My oldest is in Kindergarten and has already come home in tears.

Again, breaks my heart.

Jennifer Bianco said...

Thanks for this post, Regina. I wrote about poor Phoebe last week. South Hadley isn't too far from me.

My daughter was bullied, here in my complex, not at school, for three years due to her weight. Well, that's wrong. It had nothing to do with her size. It had to do with the negative mental capacity of the children in the area who decided to take out their aggressions due to their crummy lives on my child, and used her weight as the catalyst.

We got through it isn't exactly true either. I'll never forget it. My daughter doesn't remember any of it, which troubles me, and of course, the kids were oblivious to even doing anything wrong.

Teaching kids not to be mean, to express their hurt and angry feelings productively and not taking it out on others, especially innocent bystanders, is the parents responsibility first and foremost. Unfortunately, most parents aren't away or deny their children behave this way. It's easier to look away and think "if the fat kid wasn't so fat, or if the short one grew or the one in the used, hand-me-down clothes had more..." It's also the mentality here that being picked on is something that all kids NEED to go through in order to learn how to handle bullies in adulthood.

I've been an adult for 24 years now, and I've never encountered another adult who made fun of me for my size or the way I'm dressed. This isn't acceptable behavior for adults and shouldn't be for children either.


Anne Rainey said...

I get so angry when I hear about these things. What's wrong with people?! I just don't understand it and I never will. What she must have been going through...I just can't understand why another human being has to be so damn cruel.

Regina Carlysle said...

I wonder what starts this? Do some people just project an 'victim' image? I don't know because bullying can be related to weight, hair color, beauty or lack of beauty. It seems these kids can find ANYTHING to bully someone over. Maybe teens just haven't learned to appreciate diversity in people. Some are inclined toward academics and science and tech stuff. We call them geeks. Is being a geek a BAD THING? No, it's not. Yet kids are teased about it. Is a poor girl who can't afford to wear the latest fashions and drive the coolest car deserving of bullying because of her life circumstances? Hell no. Our society has a long way to go in learning tolerance.

Unknown said...

Too often I hear these things and the place it happens most, the schools go into denial mode. Or they react after. A kid gets bullied to the point he fights back and HE gets punished, with no regard to the other forces. Schools are too often complicit in bullying when the bullied person is 'different' in any way. Gays, Muslims, visibly handicapped kids are all open targets in some schools. I'm not sure what the solution is. More education for sure, more proactive people taking a stand. And sad to say, maybe people who are complicit, like school authorities, need to be hit with some wallet hurting lawsuits. Nothing impresses people more than having to open their wallets because they let something happen or did nothing to stop it.

SilverWolf said...

This is sad to hear. It makes me so mad when this kind of thing happens. No kid should have to go through that kind of thing. When I was in school I had to deal with being made fun of because of my teeth and the fact that we wore homemade clothes. It's hard to deal with, I chose to become an intravert (spelling?) so I can understand how she must have felt. The problem is people don't want to get involved until it's too late or they can't believe it's really happening until it's to late. It even happens with adults, believe me I've seen it and it can get ugly. This is bad because suporvisors don't want to believe adults would behave this way. Or they are friends of the person doing it and just can't believe they would do such a thing. Education starts with your kids, and then outward. I sure hope it starts working soon. My youngest was picked on for being fat and when he finally had enough they left him alone. He had to fight back with a couple of them after repeately warning them to leave him alone. I only wished he had come to me cause I would have raised enough heck that I know something would have been done. I guess you can guess I'm for the underdog having been there myself and I'm not afraid to speak out NOW. However, parents need to teach their kids that it's ok to tell them about things like that and that they shouldn't have to fight that kind of thing alone. That's the hardest thing to get across to your kids that it's ok for them to ask help with that kind of thing and that it's not wrong for them to do it either. Ok I'll get off my soap box now, sorry to rant in your ear about this but NOBODY should have to deal with that kind of situation in life.

Regina Carlysle said...

Rant away, honey. We're all thinking about this. Decent people everywhere need to be ranting about this and maybe something will be done. Finally.

I don't think we should let schools get away with blowing this stuff off. It can be serious! It can be deadly. I was never more thrilled than when I heard the DA in Mass. considered holding the school accountable for their negligence. PA is right too. Hit em in the pocketbook and maybe they will take this seriously.

destiny wallace said...

My daughter is in the third grade and there is a boy in her class that she says "acts weird" because he says crazy stuff but doesn't talk most of the time, chews on his clothes, and some other things. I told her that he's probably going to be the kind of kid that others pick on, but she is never to pick on him and if she hears or sees others doing so, she needs to tell them that they shouldn't be mean to him.
My son's best friend is small and shy. My son is taller and not shy at all and helps the boy when he gets hurt. When a girl we knew came into his class in the middle of the school year, I told him to make sure no one picked on her because he was the only kid she knew since they played on the same soccer team.
So, even though he's in kindergarten, I'm trying to instill in both of my kids the role of protector. I don't want them to be sheep that follow behind bullies and I certainly don't want them to be bullies themselves. The only way to keep kids from bullies is by helping them empathize with others from a young age, then as they get older keep talking to them about it. Both of my kids are taller than their peers and very attractive. So, if they end up being the ones that others follow or look up to, it's my job to make sure that they become nice, intelligent people that don't fall in with weak minded mob mentality.

Debra Glass said...

What'da'ya do? The Internet has really opened up a whole new bully and because the laws haven't caught up, nothing can be done about it. My entire family has been bullied by a faction of crazy stalkers and because they don't cross the line into threatening something physical, the local authorities won't do anything about it. :::sigh:::

Regina Carlysle said...

This is perfect, Destiny. All parents should do this. I remember my daughter talking about a girl in middle school (my daughter is now in college) but she told me there was a girl who had no friends and every morning she held the door for kids as they rushed inside. About the middle of the school year, the girl approached her very shyly and said...I just wanted to say I think you are very nice. You are the only one who ever says thank you and it means so much to me.

She told me about a teacher she had in middle school who often talked to his class about bullies. He said he bumped into this really shy kid one day. Papers went everywhere and he stopped to help his gather everything up. They started talking. Time passed and they became very best friends. Finally one day the boy confessed that the day he'd dropped all his papers, he'd been planning to commit suicide that night. He was friendless and was alone and depressed. Instead he made a friend who had inadvertantly saved his life.

Regina Carlysle said...

Oh Debra! What absolute HELL. The laws need to catch up with technology and that's a fact! I've been reading lately about TROLLS. They show up at memorial pages on Facebook and post hateful, terrible things to parents who have lost a child. Where the FUCK do these people come from????

Unknown said...

when it's online cyber bullying you get into the whole freedom of speech argument. They'll claim they're just using their right to speak freely and the law can have trouble dealing with it.

I'm not sure there's much that can be done if they don't cross the line. Give stronger definitions of what stalking is, especially cyber stalking?

It's ugly that there are people out there who seem to delight in this kind of thing.

Unknown said...

If they can't stop Fred Phelps from picketing soldiers funerals then it's unlikely they'll be able to stop cyber bullies who do the same thing.

It's all under the umbrella of free speech. Sick minds, aren't they?

Leigh M. Lane said...

Speaking from the viewpoint of someone who was bullied terribly both as a child and a teenager, I cringe whenever I think about a young person being bullied to the point of suicide. Laws need to be passed nationwide; bullies should not be allowed to get away with such dispicable behavior. It does not "add character" to the abused; much to the contrary, it hinders the self esteem and leaves scars that can be long-lasting.

Fran Lee said...

I was never "popular" in school, by any means. I kept to myself. I got teased, but oddly, no one bullied me at school (just on the way to and from school). One day I saw about ten "popular" kids teasing and making horrible fun of a thin, delicate, big-eyed girl who wore pierced earrings and hand-me down clothes and shoes with the toes cut out (the old fashioned 'one-size-fits-you-for-another-year thingy)and one very big gal (about 5'10") shoved her and told her that her mother was a ho. (In the 50's, it was spelled differently).

I set my books down and walked over (shaking inside like a whole bunch of leaves) and offered a hand to help her up. The big bully Linda told me that I was choosing sides and they would happily beat the snot out of me. I told her that I was sick and tired of watching them bully the girl, and I would happily meet Linda after school that afternoon. (I was scared peeless)

The little girl followed me like a shadow all that day to stay out of reach of the bullies, and I had several girls taunt me that I was gonna be toast.

I waited after school, knowing I was going to die. No one but me showed up. A few kids saw me waiting, and told me that Linda and her buddies had left by the far exit and were telling everyone they'd tromped me good.

They never said a word to me about the incident after that. They never bullied little Janice. And kids NEVER teased or bugged me after that. I thought I was a big toughie.

Many years later one of my three older male cousins confided to me that they took Linda aside that day and told her in front of her bully buddies that if I got so much as a scratch on me, they would beat the tar out of her. So much for being a toughie.

But after that, I never tolerate seeing anyone bullied. And it started a trend in my small school.

And little delicate Janice? She became my very closest friend for the next five years until we moved to Utah. Did I mention that I was in 3rd grade at the time?

Serenity King said...

Hello All,

Very interesting topic and on time. I received an emailed letter from my son's high school informing us that a senior committed suicide last week from cyber bullying. The senior was an outstanding academic and athletic student. Apparently was being bullied all over the social networks (started at the school). A full investigation is being performed and the police are tracing IP addresses, text messages, facebook and all. I say it is about time. When I called the school today I was informed that this has been an issue in the school district for the past 2 years. A shame and a senseless loss.


Unknown said...

Right, it had been an issue at the school for two years, but it took a publicized suicide before they acted on it? Really, schools need to be held more accountable for their indifference in these things.

Cai said...

Great post, Regina.

My own Diva Daughter was bullied in high school - it broke my heart as she was soo looking forward to going to high school and thanks to two girls her age, she couldn't ride the bus home, couldn't participate in any after-school activities for fear that they'd attack her there, had to change her locker TWICE because they were able to break in and leave nasty notes and bags of dog crap in her locker. Needless to say, her grades and her excitement about being a freshman tanked!

What did I do? I reported each and every incident to the teachers and principal. When that didn't seem to help, I wrote a letter to the school board. When that didn't stop the harassment, and in fact, seemed to escalate it to the point that they threw a couple of cartons of raw eggs at our house and my car, I went to the chief of police in our little village. He brought the girls and their parents in to the police station and made the two girls do community service.

I then retained a lawyer who contacted their parents and told them if it didn't stop, he would be filing charges against THEM (the parents).I also wrote a letter to the state superintendant of schools who reprimanded the principal for not taking action to protect my child!

Though their verbal abuse and breaking into her locker stopped, I still moved her to another school for 10th grade. This was a direct result of listening to my child cry herself to sleep nearly every night because they just wouldn't leave her alone!

Now, she's healthy, happy, and about to graduate - and from what I hear of those two girls, one dropped out of school and has been in and out of juvenile detention and the other dropped out and has a drug problem. Makes one firmly believe in karma, doesn't it?

Naima Simone said...

I first read about this story a couple of weeks ago. It broke my heart that a child would feel so victimized and hopeless that the only solution she could find was to kill herself. I can't imagine the depth of pain she experienced. And now her family has to endure the same bullying and torment by hateful kids posting nasty comments on her memorial page. And people think that evil is just religious myth or belongs between the pages of paranormal fiction? This is the perfect example of evil.

At least these teenagers are being arrested for their despicable behavior. Some people have the nerve to say they aren't responsible for this young girl's actions. But if not for their hateful, relentless hatred and tormenting, she would be alive today. If not for their actions, she would not have had a reason to kill herself. So yes, they are directly responsible!

We once looked at stalking the same way we see bullying. Until people were hurt and killed and then laws were established. There should be laws against bullying. It's time out for "kids will be kids". To do otherwise would enable and foster criminals. And that's what those kids are, criminals. They might as well as looped the noose around her neck themselves.

My heart goes out to her family. We need to wake up to what our children are facing and fight to protect them.

Unknown said...

The stalking laws came into affect when a couple of celebrities were attacked and killed. Before that, police didn't take it seriously. Same with battered women. I lived through the indifference of the police when I was told I couldn't do anything about an abusive partner I was trying to leave until he did something and then I should call 911. Maybe this time the outrage will actually make something happen. Sure as hell schools don't do anything until they are forced to. And law makers ignore the problem until enough people take up the cry 'Do something'

Regina Carlysle said...

PA, don't even get me started on that bozo from Kansas who pickets soldiers' funerals. I'm all for the first amendment but I have serious problems with all of this hate. What has happened that haters are just everywhere? Maybe they've always been around but we just didn't realize it. Now with news 24/7 we see it all the time.

Regina Carlysle said...

Right, Lisa. A friend today said she was told by school officials that 'girls will be girls'. BULLSHIT. We get smacked in the face often enough with character building experiences. Who needs this?

Regina Carlysle said...

Aw Fran, my friend. You are not only a 'toughie' but a very nice one. Sometimes we have to take a stand for the right thing. Doing it as a third grader takes guts.

Regina Carlysle said...

Ohhhh Serenity. How awful. So tragic. Fast action is necessary to stop this. I swear, it's becoming an everyday event.

Regina Carlysle said...

Cai, I've come to believe Karma is a big bad bitch. Aint' it great??? I've been through my share of this stuff too and there is nothing worse that hearing you child cry and wonder what she did wrong. She did nothing but exist and that's all it takes for some of these people. Hiring a lawyer was a smooth move on your part and kudos to you for that. Nothing stops this crap faster than going for the pocket book and threatening bad publicity.

Funny, I once talked to my daughter about a girl who was especially nasty to her. I told her that she might grow up to be a perfectly nice adult woman some day but she sure as hell wasn't nice now. One wonders if these kids will grow up to one day have daughters of their own and will THEY have to endure this kind of treatment? My guess is guess. Because of that whole bitchy Karma thing.

Regina Carlysle said...

Amen Naime! I understand a number of states are enacting anti bullying laws and it's about time. If these little creeps figure out they'll be carted off to jail for this shit maybe they'll finally get a clue. And who are the parents of these kids? Were these children raised in a barn?

Unknown said...

I hope karma's a bitch. I hope the day Fred Phelps dies he finds out first hand what his hell is like. And it won't be full of gays and dead soldiers. Seriously, I think people like that exist today is they get a ton of news coverage everytime they show up. There are really only a tiny handful of church members who do these pickets. I've always thought the best way to fight them is form a ring around them and have everybody turn their back on them. No cameras could see them, they'd be blocked off from anyone else having to see those sick f****.

I do hope states start passing anti-bullying laws, but laws have to be enforced. And then they need to pass out sentences that mean something. Not a slap on the wrist or lecture.

Dalton Diaz said...

Great post! I honestly don't think there's anyone who hasn't experienced bullying in one form or another.
My oldest son was small for his age (over 6 ft military man now, so don't get me started on Phelps, either), and he was bullied. After one incident where a kid stole his lunch, then ripped up his homework b4 class, he finally told us. The kid denied it and the dean was going to leave it at that! We pushed back and got our son's story collaborated, so the dean calls this kid back into her office, sticks her finger in his face, and tells him she's watching him. Scuze me? We pushed back again and the parents were finally called. Dad was a prominent builder in town, and he was horrified. To his credit, treated it as we would have had we been the ones to get that call. Thing is, he never would have known his kid was behaving this had we not pushed!
My 2 youngest stick up for kids being bullied. One of my proudest moments as a mom was having another mom approach me, and with tears in her eyes, told me that my kid, big for his age and a black belt in karate, had stopped an incident happening to her son and made it clear that it better not happen again. My son never said a word, and when I asked him about it, his response was a shrug and confusion that it was even mentioned. It has happened a few times since in other scenarios, and to him, that's just what you do.
Cyber bullying is a whole new ballgame, and they'd better enact some laws fast. Starting with some serious jail time for those kids from Hadley.

Jo Ramsey said...

I live in Massachusetts, and the Phoebe Prince case has been all over the news, as has the subsequent anti-bullying legislation passed by the state. My 14-year-old came home the other day and said that her high school principal told her if she continues being bullied (she's run afoul of a few of what she calls the "preps" at her school), to report it immediately because it now must be reported to the police.

When we lived in Maine, my 14-year-old was bullied and sexually harassed at school, called a "dyke" and a "lesbian", and when she reported it, the administration did nothing. She struck back by going to school wearing a shirt she made herself that read "Bisexual Pride, we're only half the rainbow", and when she was called a dyke that day, pointed to her shirt and replied, "You're only half right."

I was bullied horribly from kindergarten right up through high school. There are people I went to school with who I will not speak to even now, 22 years after I graduated, because of how they treated me.

My YA series Reality Shift, although it deals with demons and malevolent dead spirits, has a strong antibullying sub-theme. The few school visits I've done so far to discuss the first book in the series, Connection, I've played up that theme. When I've asked the students, "Who here has been bullied or picked on," every single hand in every single room has gone up.

Because of that subtheme, my home town has made Connection required reading for all high school students this summer. If even one child stops bullying others, or sticks up for someone who's being bullied, because of reading that book, I'll have done my job.

Amber said...

I often carried a knife to school. I wonder if anyone had a clue how close I came to using it...or how often I reached into my pocket to touch it.