I just read an article, “Girl’s Suicide Increases Urgency to Prevent Teen Bullying,” which appeared in The Seattle Times April 7, 2010.
Teen-age bullying is once again in the news with the tragic suicide of fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince. This horrific story is all the more poignant as Phoebe and her family had recently immigrated to Massachusetts from a small town in Ireland and entered school only last year. “She was new and she was from a different country and she didn’t really know the school very well,” Ashlee Dunn, a sixteen-year old sophomore, said. (This quote and all others are from The Seattle Times article.)
I can see the movie version now: idyllic Irish town where Phoebe is popular and respected by peers versus the daily hell of harassment she endured at South Hadley High. After a brief relationship with a popular senior boy, some students called her an “Irish slut” and began sending her abusive text messages. District Attorney Elizabeth Schelbel said the events leading to Phoebe’s death were “the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm.” Yet no one did anything to stop this harassment.
On the last day of school, Phoebe was viciously harassed. As she studied in the library, students taunted her while others including a teacher watched. A canned drink was thrown at her on her way home from school. “It appears Phoebe’s death on January 14 followed a tortuous day for her in which she was subjected to verbal harassment and threatened physical abuse,” Scheibel said. Her sister discovered her body, dressed in school clothes, hanging in the stairwell.
Parents at South Hadley want accountability. Why hadn’t teachers or administrators intervened? Why wasn’t someone looking out for this young girl, new to the school and to America? Last year in Springfield, MA an eleven-year-old boy committed suicide. He too was unable to endure painful bullying. Many of us experienced bullying at school but in our day other than a nasty phone call, bullying did not follow you into your home. Today there is texting is at every teenager’s fingertips and Facebook is accessible 24/7 to friends and enemies. The opportunities for bullying have grown exponentially.
Parents, listen to your children. Ask you child each day how the day went. If your child might be experiencing mood swings, depression or unwillingness to talk, seek out a therapist. If there’s any hint of peer harrassment or cyberbullying, go immediately to the school principal. Ask the principal not only to speak to those bullying but their parents. If this harrassment is happening in class, visit the teacher. Ask to sit in the class. Speak to the school counselor. If the school does not respond, consider removing your child from school and homeschooling at least for a period. None of us would put up with this environment in the workplace. Why should we put up with it in our schools?
We need a new model of schools, smaller schools with more counselors. In smaller schools, students are better cared for and better supervised. Teachers have fewer students and know them better. Their job is easier. No child in our schools need endure what Phoebe Prince endured. No family should lose a child because of harassment or bullying by peers. We must protect our children. Coming to America should not mean losing a child to suicide because of teen bullying.