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The Bullying of Phoebe Prince

On January 14, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince took her own life after enduring a particularly harsh day of what had become repeated bullying by her classmates in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Nine of those classmates have been indicted for their roles in the bullying, and the DA has pointed a finger of moral, though not criminal, responsibility at teachers and administrators at the public high school that had become Phoebe’s personal place of torture. Phoebe had opened up about the bullying with her mother who had reported it to the school.  There are some reports that teachers witnessed it themselves. I don’t know the details or the character of the people involved in this case, but I do a few things for sure. First, while the teenage years are awkward and difficult, no child should ever be made to feel they are not survivable. Second, our schools are failing at the kind of character education that teaches kids, and teens in particular, that they are accountable for their actions and that they owe themselves and each other a certain minimum standard of respect. Third, our public high schools ought to be equipped to handle the social complexities of adolescence, at least enough to respond to parents and children who are crying out for help. Phoebe Prince’s story terrifies me. I am terrified that my daughter could be a victim of bullying, and I am terrified that she could become a bully herself. I once would have felt that the most important thing I can do is to be close to my child so that I know what she is up to and how she feels, and that even in those awkward teenage years that she can confide in me, and I can advocate for her. But, then again, isn’t that what Phoebe’s mother did? As parents we have an enormous responsibility to instill strong moral character in our own children; I think it’s time our schools share responsibility for backing us up.

There has been extensive news coverage of Phoebe Prince and the bullying at South Hadley High School. Some of the best and most thoughtful coverage has been by Emily Bazelon who has been writing about cyber bullying for Slate. Here is a link to one of her most recent articles on the topic.

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