Archived Story

National spotlight on the effects of bullying

Published 8:55am Thursday, April 8, 2010

By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star

Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Irish immigrant, probably didn’t know what to expect from her new school, South Hadley High School in Massachusetts after her parents decided to move her family to America.

As it would unfortunately turn out to be, the high school and the alleged actions of some of the students in it would be what nobody could have expected.

Following a reported three months of what has been called “relentless” taunts, insults and harassment, the 15-year-old girl took her own life on Jan. 14.

Now her accused bullies are facing felony criminal charges in a Massachusetts courtroom and a harsh, possibly long overdue spotlight has been put on bullying.

“There is nothing easy about any aspect of bullying,” said Marilyn Haslett, a counselor at Brandywine Middle School in Niles. “It is pervasive and it has been for centuries, I think. But with technology, it’s just made it so much easier for kids to say something mean online that they would maybe never said face to face to a person the old fashioned way. It has increased their ability to bully somebody without having to look them in the eye.”

In Prince’s case, the young girl whose photo has been print, Web and TV news reports, looking as though she could be any 15-year-old in any school, her accused bullies allegedly tormented her in person and via text message and online.

They reportedly called her names, insulted her and some accounts coming out of the high school claim they even allegedly told her she should die.

All of the accused have pleaded not guilty.

Dealing with bullying in school is a delicate situation, Haslett said.

In reporting bullying, those students being harassed face the possibility of even worse treatment after talking with a school official.

“Sometimes the kids will continue to bully,” she said. “And the hardest part is getting the kids to continue to report it.”

When a student comes into her office, Haslett said, “right then I know that it’s serious or that it’s serious to them. I never ignore a student” who reports bullying.”

Though districts have their own respective measures of disciplinary action should matters get to that point, counselors first have to get to the root of the problem and determine just how big of a problem it might be.

“When a student reports bullying to us we try to do a little investigating and see what it is and what is happening and then we approach the student from a counseling perspective,” Haslett said.

It’s hard to say what causes bullying.

“If I had to give one pat answer, it’s probably insecurity,” she said. “A person doesn’t bully another person if they’re happy with who they are.”

And there are some cases that are a matter of personality differences, something many would say is the treacherous waters teenagers are trying to figure out at their age already.

“Even if someone is truly just joking around or actually like the person … they might say something totally in jest and mean it as a joke, but the other person takes it personally and is profoundly affected by it,” Haslett said.

The number of cases in which bullying results in suicide of those who are being tormented is alarming.

So too, to some, the move to charge those accused of the behavior in criminal court. Doing so has sparked a nationwide debate on whether or not Prince’s accused bullies should face charges at all.

Either way, the severity of the situation is turning heads and challenging those who though bullying was just an unfortunate yet harmless fact of life to think again.

Even Gov. Jennifer Granholm renewed her call to state lawmakers to pass anti-bullying legislation.

“Here in Michigan and across the nation, suicides among young people who have been subjected to bullying demonstrate the need for anti-bullying legislation,” Granholm said.  “Just last month in the Upper Peninsula, a young girl committed suicide. A contributing factor may have been alleged bullying by a classmate. Protecting young people should be and must be our No. 1 concern.”

Granholm noted that Michigan is one of only nine states without an anti-bullying law.

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