Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cyber Bullying Victim Hounded In Grave

There was always bullying in school. There is a certain bare knuckles quality to emotional cruelty in high school. In the age of the internet, such activities take on a frightening twist. On line, a cyber bullying victim doesn't know who is behind his or her torment. At a keyboard, you can be anyone you want. You can be few or many.

A young girl is dead in Massachusetts. Phoebe Prince, a 15 year old who had recently immigrated to Massachusetts from Ireland, committed suicide last week. Even in death, after saddened classmates posted a Facebook page in her memory, her memorial page was reportedly defaced with taunting comments. Fox News reports as follows.

"Prince died on Jan. 14 after a rough freshman year. Friends and school officials told MyFoxBoston.com that Prince had been picked on and taunted since moving to Massachusetts last fall.

South Hadley High Principal Daniel Smith sent out a letter to parents of students at the high school. In the letter, he called Prince "smart, charming, and as is the case with many teenagers, complicated . . . We will never know the specific reasons why she chose to take her life," Boston.com reported.

School bullies taunted Phoebe Prince through text messages, the computer and on Facebook and other social networking sites, Smith told the Boston Herald."

My heart goes out to Phoebe Prince and her family. Moving to a new community is traumatic for a child. Even a kid who was popular at home can feel that all the gains they made socially were lost in transit. With no support network built up, social rejection can hurt a great deal. The time after a child's family moves is indeed a risky time.

I remember such challenges very well. My family moved at a critical time when I was emerging from social awkwardness. Even though I was told I had a great opportunity, it only made me feel worse. I spun into a depression that took years to recover from. This was in the age before cyberspace. Today, anyone who wants to be a bully can be "the snot heard round the world".

Schools need to catch up with the challenges of cyber space. Children who attend a school should be required to declare any social networking sites or blogs they may have. Free speech should be clearly articulated to protect political speech and not personal attacks and slander. Schools need to cooperate with criminal prosecutions of those who electronically harass fellow students. Years ago, there was obscene phone calls and abuse of the mail. Today, texting and regular internet open new opportunities. Parents and administrators need to make it clear that character and social behavior are as important as anything that is taught in school.

Phoebe Prince should be honoured in death with a recognition of the ways technology has changed the social landscape in schools. A kid who wants to be a political commentator deserves the same protections of free speech enjoyed by any adult. Those who want to slander, torment and harass deserve no protection at all. If we refuse to recognise and act on the distinction between the two, we are creating a tormented and heartless generation. How many more children must suffer before we wake up?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's not right people are so cruel sometimes.It takes a lot to commit suicide and she must have felt hopeless and desperate...):