In the last decade, our nation has witnessed a new phenomenon among the youth in America.
A spike in bully-related suicides among teens and preteens has caused school administrators and legislators to rethink the current course of action when dealing with bullying in the school system. Currently, what often happens in response to bullying cases is something close to nothing.
Bullying, the trademark of angst-filled teenage years, has always been viewed as a rite of passage or just simply an unpleasant part of growing up. However, what began as “harmless” taunting has transformed into shocking acts of hatred, verbal harassment and physical abuse.
Unfortunately, the systems in place to protect the children entrusted to the public and private schools in this country have not evolved with the times. They continue to ignore and disregard bullying, leaving children to fend for themselves.
Yet, with the current disturbing rate of suicides, it has become overwhelmingly obvious that such treatment of bullying is neglectful if not unlawful.
But aside from the negligence of teachers and administrators, why the sudden swell in suicides?
Bullying just isn’t what it used to be. Kids aren’t necessarily crueler, but instead have a greater accessibility to methods of reaching their peers after the school bell rings.
Social networking tools like Facebook and MySpace have created an avenue for bullies to publish hateful stories, circulate false rumors to the masses at a rapid rate and destroy any refuge from the taunting and tormenting — even when the victim comes home.
In fact, according to I-Safe, an organization dedicated to Internet safety education, 42 percent of children have been subjected to online bullying. Of those, 58 percent have not told their parents.
When the latest case of bully-related suicides hit the press and airwaves in January, many were shocked. After all, Phoebe Prince, a transfer student from Ireland, was only 15 when she hung herself at her Massachusetts home after another high school day of relentless tormenting. Her younger sister discovered her body hanging in a closet.
If this case seems out of the ordinary, I can regrettably inform you it is anything but unique. More and more cases of bully-related suicides are occurring at younger and younger ages.
In the aftermath of a case like Prince’s, who should be held accountable for her death? The school administrators who blatantly ignored the taunting and teasing she endured each day? The wretched students who created the hell that was Prince’s life? Or perhaps the little mongrels’ parents, who are obviously not teaching their children the value of humanity, empathy or kindness?
In reality, no one is usually charged in these cases. Prince’s memory fades and the bullies choose a new victim to antagonize. Yet for whatever reason, these nine children involved with Prince’s demise are indeed facing criminal charges that include assault, human rights issues and even statutory rape. Should these children be found guilty of these charges when they are — with the exception of at least one — minors themselves? And should the new trend in cases like Prince’s be to criminally charge those thought to be most responsible for the victim’s angst?
In my mind, it is a travesty in this nation’s school system when teachers, who are grown adults and should possess a sense of moral obligation to help victimized children, stand by and watch a girl literally be tormented to death simply because they were too busy, too callous or too mean spirited to care.
The backlash against the students to me is justified, but in a sense, only one step towards solving a two-fold problem. School officials should be standing right next to the children involved, facing similar charges.
In order to convey the level at which bullying should not and cannot be tolerated because of tragedies just like Prince’s, the legal system needs to establish concrete laws delineating bullying as abuse.
Those responsible for these deaths must be held accountable for the abuse or negligence to stop it. It would appear that school officials should be able to internalize the problem and stop it without involving the legal system. Yet, time and time again, faculty members have demonstrated their unwillingness, or inability, to prevent physical and verbal abuse.
If school officials will not take responsibility for the safety of their students, someone must.