The suicide of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Massachusetts high school student, has cast a bright light on the dire — sometimes fatal — consequences of extreme bullying. According to news reports, Prince was the target of self-described “mean girls” and male classmates who engaged in relentless name-calling, exclusion and harassment – in person, by text messages and on Facebook. Unfortunately, the school administration and staff failed to intervene in a timely manner. Many believe it was ultimately their silence and inaction that effectively allowed this bullying to escalate, with tragic consequences.
Phoebe Prince’s death, and the barrage of bullying she was subjected to, are not isolated incidents. According to the site How to Stop Bullying, school bullying statistics and cyberbullying statistics reveal that 77 percent of students are bullied mentally, verbally and physically. Every 7 minutes a child is bullied; adult intervention is 4 percent, peer intervention is 11 percent. There is no intervention a whopping 85 percent of the time.
One of the hardest questions for parents is whether their child is, in fact, being bullied. Dr Anthony Rao, co-author of The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World, says that first and foremost, parents should ask themselves whether they would put up with the behavior that their child is subject to.
“Imagine getting pushed in line at Starbuck’s or humiliated publicly at work,” says Rao, a psychologist with more than 20 years’ experience working with boys at Harvard Medical School and at Behavioral Solutions, his own practice. “Kids shouldn’t be subjected to anything we wouldn’t tolerate ourselves. We have bosses, human resource departments, laws and police to keep order and protect us — it’s our responsibility as adults to protect kids.”
Adults, school administration and staff need to get involved
According to Gayle Gregory, co-founder of both the Institute for Bully Free Living and Workplace Evolution, children (and the rest of us) look to our immediate surroundings to determine appropriate action.
“The inaction of others in supposed positions of power signals the maintenance of the status quo,” says Gregory. She says that if teachers and administrative staff at Prince’s school didn’t know about the bullying, that lack of awareness raises troubling questions about their oversight. “Phoebe’s action was sad and a great loss. For her, it was also a step free from an intolerable situation, [a step] that was within her control. If we do not, through our actions, show our children, friends, families and our society that there are other options, we channel powerlessness into a last option – the commission of suicide – as surely as rain falling from the skies lands upon the Earth.”