Justice for Phoebe?
You may know that I’ve been on an intense crusade against teen bullying for the last several years. Right now, I am outraged! Bullying takes many forms. It happens with both boys and girls, on playgrounds and school buses, and now with cell phones and computers, there’s cyberbullying — omnipresent, electronic stalkers who can go after their targets day and night.
What’s happening before our very eyes is scary, and we are seeing sickeningly tragic results. Case in point, the recent heart-breaking and outrageous story of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince. Sadly, this is not an isolated story, as I have dealt with many heart-breaking stories of unchecked bullying many times over the last several years, some resulting in death.
If you’ve missed it, here is what has been reported in the national media: Phoebe moved to South Hadley, a quiet suburb in Massachusetts, with her family from Ireland. A freshman in high school, she had a brief relationship with a senior football player, which got her on the wrong side with a group of girls at the school, dubbed the “Mean Girls.” For three months, they went after her. They called her a slut. They confronted her in the hallways and pushed her around. One afternoon this past January, the girls drove past Phoebe as she was walking home. They shouted at her and threw an energy drink at her. “Phoebe kept walking, past the abuse, past the can, past the white picket fence, into her house,” wrote Kevin Cullen, a Boston Globe columnist. “Then she walked into a closet and hanged herself …You would think this would give the bullies who hounded Phoebe some pause. Instead, they went on Facebook and mocked her in death.”
Afterwards, there was the usual talk from some school administrators about how this bullying, sadly, happens in every school. The obligatory promises were made to hold more school assemblies to teach students about the dangers of bullying. Politicians made some vague statements about passing legislation to toughen anti-bullying laws. All good sentiments, albeit too late for Phoebe, and perhaps of some value if there is follow through.
But this past Monday, local District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel did something completely unexpected and unprecedented. She announced criminal indictments against nine teens who allegedly had bullied Phoebe — the charges ranging from criminal harassment and stalking to statutory rape. (Allegedly, at least a couple of boys who were indicted sexually assaulted Phoebe.)
Never before, say legal experts, has such a strong message been sent by a prosecutor about the consequences of teenage bullying. And though I have no idea if the charges will lead to criminal convictions in a court of law, I said, “It’s about time.” I hope that other prosecutors and police officers will take note of what happened to Phoebe. I also hope they think twice before dismissing bullying episodes in their own jurisdictions as nothing more than a case of “kids being kids.” The time has come to treat bullying as a public health issue — no different than teen smoking and drunk driving — and that means giving our teens a wake-up call.
But I do have one very big question for you: What do you think should happen to the parents of the kids accused of these crimes? Should they be given a free pass because they didn’t know what their children were up to? The police can’t monitor all bullying – especially cyber-bullying. But parents are right there to monitor what’s going on with their kids. So, should we hold parents of bullying and cyber-bullying kids more responsible? Is it crazy and reactionary to consider charging them criminally?
And what actions do you think should be taken against school officials who apparently knew what was going on? As I said on Anderson Cooper’s show on CNN on Tuesday night, “It’s always tragic when a kid takes life, but when it happens in a system that is supposed to protect children, it’s even more outrageous.” Phoebe’s parents say they spoke to at least a couple of faculty members and administrators. I’ll be curious to hear what the school has to say.
If you think I’m just going after the adults, let me make it clear that we’ve also got to teach our kids one major lesson. We have to teach them that if they stand by passively and watch someone being bullied, then they are just as guilty as those who did the bullying. We have to teach them that it is uncool to become a bully. And if that means arresting bullies and sending them off to prison, regardless of their age, then I’m all for it.
If a friend or loved one is talking about or planning to take his or her life, reach out for help now. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255) or go to DrPhil.com for more resources and suggestions).
This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 at 4:44 pm and is filed under Featured, In The News, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.