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Phoebe Prince: Another Bullying Victim Suicide

Written by Katrina Moncure Mar 30, 2010

There’s a lot that could be said about what happened to poor Phoebe Prince that has all been said before, but it bears repeating, as these bully victim suicides have got to stop.

Phoebe Prince, a new arrival at South Hadley High School from a tiny seaside hamlet in County Clare, was mercilessly tormented by a cadre of classmates later dubbed the “Mean Girls” by Massachusetts newspapers.

“The investigation revealed relentless activity directed towards Phoebe designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to remain at school,” said District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel.

“The bullying for her became intolerable.”

According to students, Phoebe was called “Irish slut” and “whore” on Twitter, Craigslist, Facebook and Formspring.

Her books were routinely knocked out of her hands, items were flung at her, her face was scribbled out of photographs on the school walls, and threatening text messages were sent to her cell phone.

Once more, a young student is bullied and tormented relentlessly. Every day, she must go to school with people who mean to harm her. And, apparently, this is just part of a normal teenager’s life. I mean, I wish this surprised me.

Imagine if you had to live like that. An adult has many options to get out of such a dangerous situation. If you’re a teen and this isn’t your life, you’re a lucky one, since if you had to live like this, you’d find yourself not only limited but with very little support. The so-called “Mean Girls” are horrible and very much deserve what punishments they get for this. But even that is only happening after a lot of petitioning. Initially, the adults simply did not care.

Unveiling the indictments Monday, Scheibel said numerous faculty members, staff members and administrators at South Hadley High School were aware of the bullying – some even witnessed physical abuse – and did nothing.

She said the investigation looked at whether the adults’ failure to help Phoebe amounted to criminal behavior.

“In our opinion, it did not,” she said. “Nevertheless, the actions or inactions of some adults at the school are troublesome.”

Yeah, it is pretty troublesome. A student was being harassed and hurt right before their eyes, and they did and said nothing. So with no other way out, she ended it all herself. It’s bad enough school officials tend to take it upon themselves oftentimes to claim students beong to them, but even then to just look the other way when the students they claim to protect are in peril is just astonishing.

A bigger issue here is that our society sees high school bullying as just a part of the teenage experience. Being perpetually miserable is just part of the teenage experience. Think about that for a moment. Don’t you find it incredibly reprehensible that our society considers it normal, perhaps even right, that you spend several years of your life, the teen years specifically, constantly depressed? That any hardship you endure during that period is trivial, and you’ll just grow out of it soon? Teen problems are only given any notice when they involve a lot of money being either spent or gained, or (sometimes) when a life is lost.

After all, it wasn’t until after Phoebe Prince died anyone even noticed her situation. That is what happened with her. That is what happened to Hope Witsell and Jaheem Herrera and Megan Meier. And countless others. All of them tragic casualties of the marginalization of teenagers.

I don’t mean to be taking any blame off her actual classmate tormentors at all. In fact, that is part of it. Teens are not innately cruel, at least no more so than any other age group. But part of this complacency over a teen’s hardships, particularly those at the hands of other teens, comes from this idea that part of being a teenager, along with the perpetual misery, is being irrationally unkind and abusive to one another. Phoebe Prince died for real, but her tormentors were just being “typical teens”, right? Um, no. They were being very cruel PEOPLE, who knew fully well what they were doing and ought to be held responsible for it, for driving another person to take her own life. Instead, this behavior is being seen as expected from teenagers, when the vast majority of teenagers do not act this way, and when things like this happen, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s worth taking a good long look at how the high school environment breeds this sort of thing.

Think maybe people will rethink how we look at and deal with teens? Or will they just see that a few social networking sites got mentioned in the article and act like censoring teens’ internet usage is what needs to be done here? Yeah, unless somehow these Mean Girls accomplished what so many frustrated forums users and blog commenters have only dreamed of longingly and figured out how to physically attack someone via the series of tubes, somehow I think worrying about teen social networking might be just a bit beside the point!

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