Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Insults and threats followed 15-year-old Phoebe Prince almost from her first day at South Hadley High School, targeting the Irish immigrant in the halls, library and in vicious cell phone text messages.

Phoebe, ostracized for having a brief relationship with a popular boy, reached her breaking point and hanged herself after one particularly hellish day in January — a day that, according to officials, included being hounded with slurs and pelted with a beverage container as she walked home from school.

Now, nine teenagers face charges in what a prosecutor called "unrelenting" bullying, including two teen boys charged with statutory rape and a clique of girls charged with stalking, criminal harassment and violating Phoebe's civil rights.

School officials won't be charged, even though authorities say they knew about the bullying and that Phoebe's mother brought her concerns to at least two of them.

Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel, who announced the charges Monday, said the events before Phoebe's death on Jan. 14 were "the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm" widely known among the student body. (As reported by the
Star Tribune.)

So why are these things happening on an almost weekly basis? Why are kids so much more vicious than they were? I know there have always been bullies and gossips. But what is happening now is beyond what we knew, it is beyond natural boundaries of behavior.

I can't help but wonder if it stems from what has happened in "entertainment" over the years. Reality TV shows are all about pitting people against each other, not so much to see who is the most accomplished, but to see how mean they can be about each other, if they can lie and cheat to improve their position. Year after year the shows are more focused on nastiness and one up manship than anything else.

Then there is Simon Cowell, the leader of the snarky judge movement. The sad thing is that he is very knowledgeable and would be helpful to the aspiring contestants if he weren't so interested in making it about him.

There is a whole cadre of the mean girls shows where fights break out, they call each other names and generally display themselves to be sad, self-esteem lacking women who could actually use a great big dose of sisterhood and kindness in their lives.

The youth culture has taken to calling women bitches, whores and sluts because that is what they are called in the music. The videos and music also appear to advocate violence in the face of "disrespect." We think this stuff is just happening in gang infested areas; we are wrong. It is a pervasive part of the youth culture and has been for years.

Our kids have learned a lot of this behavior from us - we have brought this into our homes and allowed it to be consumed as entertainment. I, personally, can't bear to watch shows, including Survivor and Idol because of the meanness. Many shows women tell me are guilty pleasures are things I would never watch because I think they are so demeaning to women. I have discussed with my kids my distaste for references to women as sluts, etc. I speak up when I think someone is being unkind on a show we are watching. I interrupt if my daughter and her friends are gossiping. I do try to intervene and set a good example. I hope my kids would not stand by and let someone be bullied.

I think this woman is very naive and many are like her, which is why it is important that charges have been filed in this case and I will be watching to see what happens. We need to stop calling this "bullying" and label it what is is - harassment, assault, stalking and whatever other terms necessary to make people wake up to the seriousness of what is happening.

I can't help agonizing a little for the students who tormented her too. How profoundly have they been failed by their own community, that nobody stopped them? How much brutality have they already seen in their lives to be so skilled, so young, at directing it at others? How lost must they be that a handful of them were still taunting Prince even after she died, on her Facebook memorial page? Four of the kids up on charges now are girls under the age of 16. That's far too young to be that vicious -- although frankly I can't fathom that level of savagery in anyone, at any age.

Oh, please.


Nan said...

It does seem like the level of meanness has ratcheted way up in the past couple decades. My thoughts on why are similar to yours.

phd in yogurtry said...

Very sad. Horrifically sad. I think the school officials should be held accountable in some fashion since it was brought to their attention. Many schools have anti-bullying procedures in place. These need to be strictly enforced. School versions of restraining orders can be put into effect. But the interpersonal bullying is hard to observe. So much of it is word of mouth.

phd in yogurtry said...

Oh and I agree regarding Simon Cowell. He is such an abusive judge. He supposedly wants to cultivate talent but his approach is to crush the spirit of these young, impressionable entertainers. I get so frustrated with him. Give them constructive feedback not cunning hits below the belt.

knittergran said...

And the Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins of the world don't help any. And the people who idolize them. And the mean politicians. And the .........

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I had the same thought when I read the Salon piece by MEW--is she mad?

You can teach your children kindness, empathy and you can refuse to tolerate any bullying of any kind. You must teach your children this.

I fear that those bullies are apples who did not fall far from the trees.

Wenderina said...

What Jenn said. Yeah. I'm not a parent, and cannot even fathom raising a child in this complicated world. There are so many opportunities for blame - but overall it shows a failure of our culture to adapt to acceptance and kindness. Sometimes, I'm sure we are getting more savage, not less.