Phoebe Prince left Ireland for America at the age of 15, just in time to start her freshman year at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts. Her family wanted her to experience America first hand; She wanted what most 15 year olds want: to be liked and accepted, to fit in, and to make friends. She found herself instead, as a quiet newcomer, on the wrong side of a group of self-described “Mean Girls.” These girls, along with a couple of their male friends, literally made Phoebe’s life a living hell.
Relentless, incessant bullying marked every one of Phoebe’s days. She endured threats, name calling, and exclusion – both in person, and after school by text messages and on Facebook. Day…after day…after day. Two days before the school’s big dance, Phoebe finally could take no more and she came home from school, went into her closet and hung herself. Her 12-year-old sister discovered her body. After her death, her tormentors wrote “accomplished” on her Facebook wall and not one of the 9 bullies showed even a tinge of remorse. The school carried on with the dance; there was barely any mention of this poor girl’s tragic end. Last week, the 9 bullies were charged with various crimes ranging from assault to human rights violations to, in an unexpected twist, statutory rape. The arraignment is today.
If you can read that story with dry eyes then you are a heck of a lot stronger than I am and I only picked the most recent bully-cide to discuss. I could have picked Carl Walker Hoover, who hung himself after non-stop threats, or Jaheem Harrera who came from the Virgin Islands and also hung himself after being repeatedly bullied, or one of dozens of other bully-cides in the last year. WHAT is going on here!? Who’s to blame? Society? The student bullies? The school system? The parents? The answer is Yes, yes, yes and yes.
Society: We live in a culture that’s permeated by violence. Television, the Internet, movies, video games, song lyrics. There are now psychological studies that show virtual violence desensitizes young people to real violence, which can play a role in increasing all violence. If you see enough virtual death, driving another kid to suicide just doesn’t seem to be real….or a big deal. Violence in the media is glorified and out of hand. We must take a stand against it. Now is the time to write your legislators and tell them ENOUGH.
Bullies: I’m not a big fan of legally prosecuting teens for bad behavior but this case in South Hadley, Mass. must be turned into an example. A girl DIED here and the message needs to be sent to all teens, their parents and the schools that bullying can have fatal consequences and will NEVER be acceptable or tolerated. Kudos to district attorney Elizabeth Scheibel for filing charges.
School Officials: There are several accounts in this case asserting that teachers and other school officials knew what was taking place and yet made NO effort to intervene! Phoebe’s mother even went and talked to these officials TWICE but still there was no action. The D.A. who filed charges against the teens stated that the “action or inaction” of school officials was “troublesome.” I say, again, that an example must be set here and charges must be filed against school employees that should have known (or knew) what was going on. It is NEVER acceptable as a teacher, administrator or principal to bury your head in the sand and claim ignorance. We entrust our children, our most precious resources, to the school system; as parents we must demand accountability.
Parents: So do the parents of Phoebe’s bullies have any culpability here? Absolutely. In fact, this may be the biggest problem of all. The bullies’ parents all claim they didn’t know that anything more than name calling was going on. They said that is what kids do, they call names.
Here’s my question to all of you parents out there: Do you know your children well enough to know that they would never participate in acts of cruelty like this? Have you ever talked to them about bullying? The disintegration of the American family is a crucial issue in this whole mess. Many parents work, have obligations, hobbies and other commitments. Their kids are left to their own devices without any guidance or support to know what is, or is not, acceptable behavior.
Now is the time to take a stand so that Phoebe’s death will not be in vain; it must happen in the courtroom, the legislature, the schools and most importantly in your own home. So, today, don’t work late or go to Happy Hour, cancel your dinner meeting and your workout, call your kids and tell them to cancel their plans. Tell them that it’s time to have a family talk. At the meeting, tell your family about the sad case of Phoebe Prince. Talk about bullying and violence in school and how to help kids who don’t fit in or have been targeted. Encourage them to help these kids that were bullied, and to tell you if they witness it. More than anything, tell them that it is never, ever, under any circumstances, acceptable. You can make a difference. Today, you can make a difference.
Dr. Dale Archer is a psychiatrist and frequent guest on FoxNews.com's "The Strategy Room." For more, visit his Web site: Dr.DaleArcher.com.
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