TEENAGE SUICIDE AND BULLYING: THE LATEST CASE
This Saturday morning I was getting ready to write my weekly blog post on name calling, insults and teasing when I decided to first glance over at the New York Times‘ front page. A wave of sadness washed over me as I spotted the following headline:
According to the Times, 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick leaped to her death after more than a year of being cyberbullied by a coterie of 15 middle-school children who urged her to kill herself.
Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, said the texts her daughter was receiving were full of hate: “Why are you still alive?” “You’re ugly.”
A number of suicides by young people have been linked to ask.fm, and online petitions have been started to make the site more responsive to bullying. The company ultimately responded this year by introducing an easy-to-see button to report bullying and saying it would hire more moderators.
Questions have been raised about whether Rebecca’s old school, Crystal Lake Middle School, did enough last year to help stop the bullying; some of it, including pushing and hitting, took place on school grounds. The same students also appear to be involved in sending out the hate-filled online messages away from school.
Nancy Woolcock, the assistant superintendent in charge of antibullying programs for Polk County Schools, said the school received one bullying complaint from Rebecca and her mother in December about traditional bullying, not cyberbullying. After law enforcement investigated, Rebecca’s class schedule was changed. Ms. Woolcock said the school also has an extensive antibullying campaign and takes reports seriously.
But Ms. Norman said the school should have done more. Officials told her that Rebecca would receive an escort as she switched classes, but that did not happen, she said.
Given the outcome, I too wish that more had been done. It is my sincere hope that all of my readers will take a minute to pause to experience this sad loss of Rebecca.
A few months ago I published a review of the movie, “Bully” (see BULLY AND BEYOND). Today, some of what I wrote back then bears repeating.
The movie’s emotional impact has been an important part of the emergence of a coalition working toward altering intolerable conditions too often regarded as “just kids being kids.”
The movie has spawned The Bully Project, an online site where people can learn more about dealing with bullying. There, kids who are bullied can learn that they are not alone. And educators can learn about how to set up a viewing of the movie for their entire school and to follow up the viewing with classroom discussions.
In one video that we can access at the site, we see an entire school going to the movie and then getting the reactions from students. One kid reports that there was not a dry eye in the auditorium. Others admitted that they had bullied, but now realized it was wrong.
As my regular readers know, also available online is this blog, Name Calling, Insults and Teasing: A Guide to Anger, Conflict and Respect. The blog can be used as a free curriculum that teaches the social skills to deal with these challenging experiences. For schools that already have an extensive antibullying program, the blog can be used to further reinforce its lessons. For schools that don’t have such a program, or has one that uses a mere one or two lessons per year, the blog can serve as an ongoing forum to promote peaceful conflict resolution techniques.
A particularly powerful way to teach skills that deal with bullying is through narratives that are designed to change the valuation of bullying to make it signify ineptitude rather than manliness. The movie, “Bully,” is one such narrative. The Cool Steve Stories, a trilogy of novels, offers another.
There we become friends with a hero that rejects bullying and yet still manages to achieve respect.
Saturday’s gut-wrenching story about 12-year-old Rebecca’s suicide cries out to us that for too long we have not done enough to address the awful injustice we find in and around our schools. May her story spur us on to do better.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.