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One of the saddest situations that I've seen
September 12, 2013 5:21 PM   Subscribe

After a fight with a former friend, reportedly over a "boyfriend situation", Rebecca Sedwick was suspended. When Rebecca reported she was being bullied, the school worked with Tricia, Rebecca's mother, to change Rebecca's schedule. Tricia had her daughter close her Facebook account, too.

Still, the troubles continued; after her Mom spotted scratches on her arms, Rebecca admitted she was cutting and was Baker-Acted into a mental hospital at the beginning of the calendar year.

Now, though, Rebecca was starting over, beginning the school year at a brand new school. Tricia was relieved to know her twelve year-old daughter never had to see those girls again.

What Tricia didn't know was that Rebecca still heard from her bullies all the time. The girl checked Kik Messenger, ask.fm, and Instagram incessantly, reading what they'd said about her, to her, responding with defeated and depressed agreement when they told her nobody cared about her. When they told her, "You should be dead," She changed her username to The Dead Girl, turned her screensaver into a picture of herself with her head resting across the railroad tracks near her home.

Last Monday, Rebecca skipped classes at her new school. The automated messaging system at Lawton Chiles Middle School malfunctioned in some way; Tricia never knew her daughter was absent. Though Rebecca contacted her friend Jameson with her intentions early that morning, perhaps reaching out for help, the boy chose not to tell anyone about the texts he received.

Sometime during that day, September 9th, twelve-year-old Rebecca Sedwick climbed the silo at an abandoned concrete factory near her home and committed suicide, jumping to her death.

The Polk County Sheriff's press conference details the circumstances of Rebecca's suicide, and the possibility of charges against the bullies--as many as fifteen girls who terrorized her online for months, suggesting, "Why don't you go kill yourself?"
posted by misha (223 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh my God. Only twelve years old.

.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 5:26 PM on September 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


What will the bullies do, now that Rebecca is gone? Will they change for the better of everybody within their reach and scope, or find a new victim? Because the second option is the one that scares me.
posted by datawrangler at 5:27 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


.
posted by Samizdata at 5:28 PM on September 12, 2013


I wonder what kind of "boyfriend situation" someone could have in the seventh grade.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 5:29 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So terrible.
.

Sidenote: I only just started hearing about Kik recently, is that the new thing all the kids use now? What is it taking the place of for them- Facebook? Twitter?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:30 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Prosecute those fucking little animals so that other kids may take a bit of a hint before being fuckwads to other humans.

This is my reactionary face.
posted by planetesimal at 5:30 PM on September 12, 2013 [48 favorites]


My gods.

When Rebecca reported she was being bullied, the school worked with Tricia, Rebecca's mother, to change Rebecca's schedule.


Why the fuck didn't they discipline the bullies? Making the victim rearrange their life to accommodate the bullies is nuts.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:32 PM on September 12, 2013 [138 favorites]


So... so... wrong. So terribly wrong.
posted by Hicksu at 5:32 PM on September 12, 2013


.

This is the exact thing that I dread about my kid getting older -- I feel totally prepared to support her with boy issues, sex, relationships, emotions, all of that stuff. But the bullying by other girls especially. Ugh. I don't know how I'll do it. Especially with the social media that was non existent when I was a teenager.
posted by gaspode at 5:33 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


> Why the fuck didn't they discipline the bullies?

Usually, it's arithmetic. One set of upset parents to deal with versus 4-6 or more. Plus, there's usually a bigger asshole in one of those sets of parents who will try to throw a bit of weight around to push it back on the school.
posted by planetesimal at 5:36 PM on September 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


Why the fuck didn't they discipline the bullies?

When I was bullied in the 5th grade, the fact that I put up a fight was used as evidence that this was a "dispute," and to resolve the "dispute" I had to sit at the 2nd grader's lunch table for half the year.

So.... yeah, I'm not surprised. It's a form of victim-blaming, really. If the bully victim isn't a model victim in every way, he or she is clearly partly at fault, and bears the burden of resolving it because they're the one complaining about it.
posted by muddgirl at 5:36 PM on September 12, 2013 [90 favorites]


Whenever I hear about terrible news like this, I always wonder what happens in the aftermath to the bullies themselves. In this case, it sounds like there are repercussions, but over the last decade I've heard about 3-4 of these each year and I always wanted to see a reporter track down bullies maybe ten years on, ask them how their lives changed when the person they abused/hounded for years actually passed on.

I'm an optimist, but I hope and think there'd be lots of stories of somewhat grown-up 25 year olds that turned a corner and felt very sorry about the teenage atrocities they helped take place.
posted by mathowie at 5:38 PM on September 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


So.... yeah, I'm not surprised. It's a form of victim-blaming, really.

Exactly. This is appalling.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:38 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Usually, it's arithmetic. One set of upset parents versus 4-6 or more. Plus, there's usually a bigger asshole in one of those sets of parents who will try to throw a bit of weight around to push it back on the school.

I agree, but it in no way excuses the school's behavior. Maybe start adding do-nothing administrators/teachers to the prosecution list...
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:40 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Do they teach kids in US schools about how to use social media? Like, how to block people who are harrassing you, and to tell someone you trust that you are being harrassed online? Shouldn't this stuff be Teenagers 101 these days?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:40 PM on September 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


Or even that it's OK to block people that are harassing you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:41 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


How could one kid be failed so badly? By the school, by her peers, by her peers' parents...? When will laws and rules catch up to this kind of problem?

I'm so sorry, Rebecca. I'm so sorry. Rest in peace.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:42 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


ThePinkSuperhero: Kik is an IM/text-messaging phone app that uses phone data plans or Wifi to send messages--a very popular style of app, WhatsApp and Snapchat are others IIRC. You can use it to get around phone plan text-message limits or the prohibitive costs of texting people internationally. It also has group chats, which is less hassle than mass-texting people. Basically Rebecca was being harassed through text messages.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:42 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was the subject of girl bullying at a Catholic grammar school in the 1950's.

I was an outsider and the older we all go the more apparent it was that I didn't fit in. The summer between 8th grade and high school was pure torture as they would walk by our house at late at night and call my name over and over in this mocking sing songy voice - then one would run across the street and ring our doorbell and run. You can't imagine how I dreaded their nightly visits. I was so humiliated in front of my family and neighbors to be so unpopular.

I was about hysterical til my dear mom came up with a plan. She glued a tack on our doorbell. The next morning it was lying on the welcome mat. They never came back after that.
How can you thank a mom like that? She saved me but 50 years later I can recall the pain of that summer.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 5:46 PM on September 12, 2013 [166 favorites]


.
posted by limeonaire at 5:47 PM on September 12, 2013


Or even that it's OK to block people that are harassing you.

When you're twelve though, I think it would kill you to not know what they're saying. Knowing that they could be saying anything and not knowing seems like it would be worse than actually knowing what they are saying.

Anne Lamott writes about that age, and I'm misquoting, but it's something like 'hurt beyond hurting, never to forget' and it really is soul destroying.

I hope that if this happens to Little Llama and I will know and be there for her, but this girl's mother couldn't prevent the hell she went through--she didn't know how desperate the situation was until it was too late, and it sounds like she worked really hard. It's horrifying that she could do all these right things and it wouldn't be enough.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:47 PM on September 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


I was bullied pretty severely in Grade 8. I decided to fight this Grade 9 kid and the whole school showed up for the fight in a vacant lot. My mother drove by and told me to get in the car. There was a lot of fallout (some kids had stolen my clothes and my schoolbag so my mom went to their house to retrieve them).

So I was bullied even more severely. I changed schools and had a great Grade 9 and 10 (and then went back with the bullies in high school).

This was back in 1985, before social media. I can't imagine what would happen today.

These were boys (although there were some pretty awful girls at Arbutus Junior High), and it was a very strange and dark atmosphere in that part of town, an affluent suburb with newer houses. A lot of lawyers and real estate agents and construction contractors.

The River's Edge really reminds me of the social milieu, actually. An almost nihilistic and quite violent youth culture at that junior high school that revolved around drugs and booze and Metallica and Venom.

The school that I transferred to had its problems, but it was a more civilized, less dysfuntional place.

Where are the bullies now? I don't even recognize them.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:47 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm an optimist, but I hope and think there'd be lots of stories of somewhat grown-up 25 year olds that turned a corner and felt very sorry about the teenage atrocities they helped take place.

This is pretty much the reason I will never, ever go to a reunion. All the assholes that made my life miserable for almost my entire teenage life are going to be nice to me now and act like nothing happened? Nope, sorry.
posted by nevercalm at 5:50 PM on September 12, 2013 [62 favorites]


Usually, it's arithmetic. One set of upset parents versus 4-6 or more. Plus, there's usually a bigger asshole in one of those sets of parents who will try to throw a bit of weight around to push it back on the school.

This is a possibility, but in my experience its more likely to be because the victim requests it out of fear that any punishment aimed at the bullies will make it worse. Note that the bulk of the bullying in this case was online. Pushing your bullies into another class isn't going to make them go away - its just going to piss them off. To a bully (especially a teenage or tweenage bully), punishment is just another reason to attack the victim because in the bully's mind, tattling on them is infinitely worse than any torment they might inflict on the victim.

In the case of social media bullying, no amount of standard disciplinary action is going to help. Things like Peer Mediation tend to be much more effective.

At any rate I firmly agree that the school should have done more no matter what their rationale for the decision to move her to another class actually was. The problem was the bullies and the school clearly didn't address them effectively at all.

As for now, beyond whatever discipline the kids get legally (and they deserve it), I'd suggest making them and their parents look at pictures of her body would go a long way towards driving home the point that there are consequences to their action. Making things real for kids is a challenge sometimes. Seeing the grim results of their behavior is sometimes the thing needed to make them realize they are monsters and need to change.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:53 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Now, though, Rebecca was starting over, beginning the school year at a brand new school. Tricia was relieved to know her twelve year-old daughter never had to see those girls again.

More than one kid from my class in my K-8 school moved to different schools because of how vicious the bullying was. I sure wished my parents would have let me move but I was not very good at communicating just how fucked up toxic those kids were. Anyway, the thing is back then when you moved away you were pretty much cut off from the old school even if you did want to find out what was going on with those people. That isn't the case anymore. Moving schools is a terrible old band aid to this problem and hopefully schools will start to confront these issues now that it won't be as easy to pass the buck.

in about 85 percent of bullying cases, no intervention or effort is made by a teacher or administration member of the school to stop the bullying from taking place.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:53 PM on September 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


.
posted by bilabial at 5:54 PM on September 12, 2013


Actually, pulling a quote from the mother from the article:
"Crystal Lake should have disciplined these girls bullying her, taken it it more seriously. They blew it off," says Norman.
The mother, at least, firmly believes the school didn't take it seriously. Yeah, the school needs to be raked over the coals for this.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:56 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


As bad as I was bullied as a kid, no one ever told me to go kill myself. I don't think it would've occurred to even my most persistent bullies to ever say such a thing, to anyone.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:56 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


The girl checked Kik Messenger, ask.fm, and Instagram incessantly, reading what they'd said about her, to her, responding with defeated and depressed agreement when they told her nobody cared about her.

I think I'd have destroyed every phone in the house, and probably burned the PC as well, if I knew that torrent of bullshit was just out there waiting for one of our kids. Move schools, burn the lot of them, unplug completely (for a long, long while) and try to rebuild.
posted by jquinby at 5:57 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Let me add one more thing - the parents of those girls should have been monitoring their online behavior better. 12 is a little young to be allowed to have totally unmonitored usage of social media. Without guidance or adult role models, its Lord of the Flies in the teenage corners of the internet. Yes, yes, privacy is important, but let them learn some responsibility and then earn some privacy.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:02 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


If a 12 year old is old enough to suffer enough mental trauma that she climbs a goddam silo to jump to her death, at the direct suggestion of her classmates, than her little demon classmates are certainly old enough to be tried as adults and sent to fucking jail for the rest of their horrible little lives. If they don't have parents who will discipline them and stop this shit, the state needs to do it, to protect the innocent.

These kind of stories are becoming commonplace and its an appalling atrocity. Drop the drug war and free up the prison system for bullies like these.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:05 PM on September 12, 2013 [34 favorites]


in about 85 percent of bullying cases, no intervention or effort is made by a teacher or administration member of the school to stop the bullying from taking place.

The teachers may not recognize or understand the psychological or emotional intensity of what is happening. Teachers also adopt some of the "culture" of their students as well.

Students are also good at hiding things.

I studied for my Education degree a couple of years after a young girl (14 or so) was murdered in my town by several of her peers. Some of the teachers from that school taught us "trainee teachers", and they said that it was utterly shocking to them that many, many students would have known about the murder (the girl went missing for over a week and was found floating in the waterway close to the school) but never told anyone about the rumours that were floating around the school.

As well, kids at that age (12-16ish) can be intense, mercurial beings, and not every teacher or administrator is emotionally or psychologically equipped to deal with them. Once you cross these kids and create a negative dynamic, it can be hellish.

While I was bullied in the early part of middle school, I really did like teaching that grade level the best, for some reason.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:05 PM on September 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Or even that it's OK to block people that are harassing you.

I've dealt with internet drama over the years, first as a teenager on the internet and now as a professional. And even as an adult, who has never been suicidal, who has been in therapy, when you're feeling like shit about yourself it's almost impossible not to want to read the crappy things people are saying. It's totally self-harmy and creates this echo-chamber of hate. You suspect you are terrible. And look, see? These people agree.

Maybe people who are very, very emotionally robust have the inner strength to ignore or block people like these, but a depressed twelve year old? No way.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:06 PM on September 12, 2013 [32 favorites]


This is pretty much the reason I will never, ever go to a reunion. All the assholes that made my life miserable for almost my entire teenage life are going to be nice to me now and act like nothing happened? Nope, sorry.

I went to my 10 year reunion, an I was glad I did. One of the kids who had bullied the hell out of me as a kid actually approached me and apologized. I was initially pissed, because I had put that behind me and why does he have to dig it up to make himself feel better ?

But, then, I slowly realized that he was a kid when that happened. One that had been damaged as I was by his actions. One who really didn't know any better at the time and was poorly served by the adults who were supposed to help guide him. Also - and not to victim-blame - but, there was much I could have done that would have made it better and I was also poorly served by the adults who were supposed to help guide me.

So, ultimately, his apology led to my forgiving him and placing the blame for the hell and torment where it belongs - on the teachers, and bus drivers, and principals who had failed not just me, but my bullies also.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:06 PM on September 12, 2013 [26 favorites]


I fear I will beat the crap out of some kid if my kid gets bullied.
posted by Bubbles Devere at 6:09 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've typed about fifty different responses and erased each one because they were all knee jerk reactions overflowing with vitriol.

Prosecute all of them. Prosecute them hard. Don't take "I was just following the crowd" as an excuse and prosecute them all.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 6:10 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Prosecute all of them. Prosecute them hard. Don't take "I was just following the crowd" as an excuse and prosecute them all.

Surely a "restorative justice" model would work better.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:13 PM on September 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


The girls who drove this child - and SHE WAS STILL A CHILD - to her death should be prosecuted as adults and should be reminded of the heinous thing that they did for the rest of their lives. They were up there with Rebecca when she jumped and they pushed her over. They should be made to go to every school they can and talk about this horrible thing that they have caused.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 6:13 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Maybe people who are very, very emotionally robust have the inner strength to ignore or block people like these, but a depressed twelve year old? No way.

Yes. That's why I feel like they need someone to help them do it (technically, and psychologically).

There's no silver bullet. Schools have to discipline bullies (meaningfully), young people need to be supervised online, and they need to be taught to protect themselves as well as not to harm others. Social media platforms need to react better to claims of harassment.

Unfortunately, none of these things seem to be being done.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:13 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu-

Much better idea. These people need to see their victims. Although, at the same time, I am scared they might display some foolish teenage bravado in front of the parents and make the situation all the worse.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 6:17 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Prosecuting 12 year olds as adults is barbaric, even these 12 year olds.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:17 PM on September 12, 2013 [147 favorites]


Anyway, I am just done reading news today. I realized I am sitting here seething over this and thinking horrible thoughts about a group of teenagers. Good night, all.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 6:18 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Let me add one more thing - the parents of those girls should have been monitoring their online behavior better.

Sure, but who can keep up? It moves so fast! New apps every second! Plus it's not like teenage girls are desperate for their parents to see everything they do online. Parents must make an effort but I can see how it is very hard.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:19 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


.
posted by Wordshore at 6:19 PM on September 12, 2013


Whenever I hear about terrible news like this, I always wonder what happens in the aftermath to the bullies themselves.

They grow up, get business degrees, and enjoy their career in management.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:19 PM on September 12, 2013 [37 favorites]


Between this, this post from earlier today, and this post from two days ago, I'm definitely encouraging my husband, who's en route to becoming a high-school teacher, to learn as much as he can about how bullying works these days and how to combat it.
posted by limeonaire at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Find the people who bullied this young victim, make them do community service for 4 summers (full time) + time in juvenile detention for 1 year + deprive them of ANY access to any digital device for 10 years. In addition, make every one of them publicly apologize, on video, on youtube, for what they did.

Do this over and over and over again, every time this happens.

Next: SUE Facebook for its lax practice of letting anyone younger than 13 start up a Facebook page. I don't care how much they have to spend to monitor their site. They need to be made liable if they don't, period.
posted by Vibrissae at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sure, but who can keep up? It moves so fast! New apps every second! Plus it's not like teenage girls are desperate for their parents to see everything they do online. Parents must make an effort but I can see how it is very hard.

Very, very hard. I have to keep up with this stuff for professional reasons - I get paid to - and I still can't keep across all the new communications channels. I don't know how a working parent is supposed to.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


not to single out any particular comments but this thread is rife with variations on the assumption that somehow these bullies just came to be, that they're not also human with their own stories which, if we knew them, might go along way to explaining a thing or two as to how this happened. Which isn't to suggest that Rebeca Sedwick was in any way culpable ...

Also, I'm in complete agreement with KokuRyu on the restorative justice angle being the one to pursue.
posted by philip-random at 6:23 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Very, very hard. I have to keep up with this stuff for professional reasons - I get paid to - and I still can't keep across all the new communications channels. I don't know how a working parent is supposed to.

How about a working parent saying "no", you can't have a smartphone, because I don't think it's good for you"?
posted by Vibrissae at 6:24 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Or even that it's OK to block people that are harassing you

To a twelve year old, it's not harassment, it's a "natural consequence" of being inferior, and drawing attention to it by telling an adult is like wearing a humiliating banner proclaiming "I'm inferior! I'm garbage!" They're not actually experienced enough in the world to imagine anything more. They are in the human process of understanding the world, and that understanding is based on what's happening and what they see around them. And that's how the mean girls see it, too. They're not "bullying" anyone. They're just compelled to put that girl in her place (she's SO anNoyIng! GOD, you just don't understand!) to avoid being THE girl in THAT place.

Why are we still creating little islands of children who are all the same age in schools? Is there anywhere else in life that is age-specified to this degree? And while we're at it, let's remember that schooling is COMPULSORY. There is no escape, and what's more, we apply a rhetoric that it's for their "own good" that they go to this island of like-aged children everyday, sometimes with a wonderful human adult in charge and sometimes with a terrible human adult in charge. Even your parents, the ultimate authority in your life don't get a say about which kind human adult will be in charge of you.. We tell them that having to spend time with people they don't like is "good training for adulthood." We limit their opportunities for resistance and self-care because they must stay in school. We enforce who they will have in their social circle. I grew up in a rural area -- there were NO other schools to go to and I HAD to go to school. If you don't go to school, your parents get in BIG TROUBLE and a truant officer comes to your door.

Seriously. The whole set up is bizarre. WE'RE DOING IT WRONG!!!! Technology is just intensifying it, it was already wrong.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:25 PM on September 12, 2013 [65 favorites]


In principle, social media makes detecting this behavior easier, assuming parents eves drop. I'd issues with my parents not understanding online slang and conversations however, just too great a cultural leap.

I hope they rake the school over the coals and prosecute the bullies as juveniles. Juvenile halls surely takes rehabilitation considerably more seriously than our broken justice system, sounds like the bullies should spend a while there.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:25 PM on September 12, 2013


I'm an optimist, but I hope and think there'd be lots of stories of somewhat grown-up 25 year olds that turned a corner and felt very sorry about the teenage atrocities they helped take place.

Maybe I'm a pessimist, but I can't shake the feeling that some of them are part of the nasty backlash to anti-bullying laws (especially for LGBT youth) that has sprung up in recent years.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:26 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sure, but who can keep up? It moves so fast! New apps every second! Plus it's not like teenage girls are desperate for their parents to see everything they do online. Parents must make an effort but I can see how it is very hard.

Our son just turned 11, and sooner or later these issues are going to come up. I think the only thing we can do is to keep on trying to communicate and build a relationship of trust with him... "attachment parenting" never stops, I guess.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:26 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


her little demon classmates are certainly old enough to be tried as adults and sent to fucking jail for the rest of their horrible little lives

If you think lifetime incarceration is appropriate for pre-teens sending text messages, you're out of your mind, or an evil human being.
posted by dsfan at 6:26 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


Joey Michaels: In the case of social media bullying, no amount of standard disciplinary action is going to help.

Oh, I bet expulsion + a restraining order would go a looooong way.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:27 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's interesting to see the parents in this thread identify with the victim and speculate how they would respond if their child were bullied. What if your child is the bully?
posted by headnsouth at 6:27 PM on September 12, 2013 [45 favorites]


.



All I can think, once I stop being angry and frustrated, is that some kind of, I dunno, empathy training ought to be made mandatory curriculum elements in junior high and high school, and always should have been.
posted by kewb at 6:28 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


How about a working parent saying "no", you can't have a smartphone, because I don't think it's good for you"?

That's one strategy, certainly. It would have to be no phones at all - you can still get text messages on a dumb phone. I've seen increasingly younger kids with phone though, and to a certain extent that level of connectivity is becoming a central part of youth culture. It may be hard to deny your child access to a mobile phone.

Then you would also have to limit time online, and supervise it heavily, which is difficult when even 12 year olds are relying increasingly on computers to do their homework. Even then, the kids are generally way more tech savvy than their parents. For example, it's comparatively easy to set up portable apps that you keep on a memory stick, cover your tracks that way.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:29 PM on September 12, 2013


The effort of monitoring the smartphones, social networking, and other online activities of your children must add up to almost the work of having an extra child. I have a lot of sympathy parents in this aspect, since, realistically, cutting your child off is probably also going to be very damaging socially, and I'm glad this stuff wasn't here yet when I went through middle school and early high school. You couldn't pay me to do that again, no sir.
posted by thelonius at 6:30 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Girls are the worst. And in my personal experience, 7th-grade girls are the very worst.

I was also bullied in 7th grade. By a "friend." She made up a little song about me, called me "Boring [surname that, when mispronounced, rhymes with "boring"]," and would hum/sing it when I was in earshot, and all of the other girls would giggle. This was during that time when you'd pass your in-class quizzes to your neighbor for them to grade. She sat behind me in 7th-grade English, and she would give me back my quiz with little music notes drawn all over it to remind me of the "Boring [boring]" song. She made up this gesture of putting her finger across her top lip, sort of Hitler style, whenever I looked at her. Another girl told me it was because I had "straight teeth," but looking back at it I think it was probably because I was slightly buck-toothed as a 7th-grader.

Anyway, one day in English class she was humming the Boring [Boring] song behind me. She had her feet up on the book basket of my desk. I got fed up. I'd had it. I took the cap off of my red Pilot Point pen and held it up, Statue-of-Liberty-torch-style over my shoulder. The humming didn't stop. So I reached down and jammed that Pilot Point pen into her leg.

I'm not really ashamed of it. It was almost 30 years ago, and I feel no shame. But you know what, if that same exact situation occurred today -- *I'd* be the one who was disciplined. (Perhaps rightly, but still.)

I feel so sorry for bullied kids these days. The bullies have always had more tools at their disposal than the bullied, but the tools they have now have a much greater reach. And we adults, we're not keeping up with the times. Our protection against bullying is as paltry as it was when I was in 7th grade, while the bullies' tactics are evolving on a daily basis.

Kid bullies suck. But the bigger problem is with those of us who are old enough and have enough experience to stop them. We need to catch up. We are failing the bullied children.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:31 PM on September 12, 2013 [18 favorites]


Why are we still creating little islands of children who are all the same age in schools? Is there anywhere else in life that is age-specified to this degree?

Excellent point! At puberty, humans are wired to start identifying with peers. In years past, prior to compulsory public schooling, children had access to adults because they were in the co-op world of apprenticeships, farming, etc. Adults were a very prominent part of a young person's peer group. I don't want to romanticize the centuries prior to the 20th century, because it was not always fun to be a teenager (work, disease, no rights, poverty, etc), but public schooling has created an environment where one's peer group includes almost no adults, and where communication applications are mediated almost exclusively by that peer group. That's a formula for the disaster we see appearing with every one of these tragic stories.

I know kids who are relatively well-balanced who have been hit hard by gossip on Facebook and Instagram and Vine. It's a serious problem. These messages happen in real time, and they hapen within the context of immature teen understanding of life, with limited coping skills. It's a wonder we don't see more tragedy like this, and there are a LOT of walking wounded who don't take it to the ultimate form of self-destruction - suicide.
posted by Vibrissae at 6:32 PM on September 12, 2013 [26 favorites]


I was bullied in middle school to the point where I had to change schools once I got into ninth. This was just before AOL, so social media was never a part of it, but 20 years later, I can still dig up those feelings of self-hatred. And this is from someone who had very involved parents, a school that tried to help, etc. I can't even imagine how hard it is now.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:32 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is this kind of lethal bullying a uniquely or predominately American (U.S.) phenomenon? Or does it happen elsewhere?
posted by gottabefunky at 6:34 PM on September 12, 2013


Sidenote: I only just started hearing about Kik recently, is that the new thing all the kids use now?

Kik makes it easy to combine text, pictures and videos. The only groups I've run across using Kik seriously have been teens and middle-aged men.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:35 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I had my share of problems in school. Fat, smart kid, talks like a thesaurus, into D&D, Mom sent me to 8th grade in Toughskins jeans.....enough said

But when school was over, I was safe. I had my friends, my books, the woods and creeks. No one was sending me text messages telling me I was a fat loser freak as I did these things. What it is like for kids this age now, my God.
posted by thelonius at 6:36 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


"All I can think, once I stop being angry and frustrated, is that some kind of, I dunno, empathy training ought to be made mandatory curriculum elements in junior high and high school, and always should have been."

Now you're starting to think like a Buddhist.

This is a tragedy all around. The best that can come of it is that we learn something from it that can help others in this kind of situation in the future.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:37 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


mudpuppie - did she stop after that? I was bullied (it might be more accurate to call it sexually harassed, but in any event it was pretty grotesque) by a kid on the bus for several months, but he never took it onto school grounds. And then one day he did and I kicked him in the shins until he collapsed. Right there in the hallway. I can't believe no one noticed. And he never did it or even mentioned it again. It's one of those weird little lessons I carry with me in the dark corner of my heart and try not to learn too much from, but it's true - violence can solve problems, it certain very specific situations.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:38 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


The only groups I've run across using Kik seriously have been teens and middle-aged men.


Oh god, what's middle aged these days? I've never even heard of it...does that mean I'm missing out on a new way to feel bad about myself??
posted by nevercalm at 6:39 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Excellent point! At puberty, humans are wired to start identifying with peers. In years past, prior to compulsory public schooling, children had access to adults because they were in the co-op world of apprenticeships, farming, etc. Adults were a very prominent part of a young person's peer group

And not just adults, but younger and older children, too, who have different things to teach us.

But really, NOT going to school can be an act of self-preservation -- yet it is not an option. Children do not have a voice in their own self-governance in school; they cannot be involved in setting the terms of their engagement.

The school is their first bully.

And it creates the conditions for more.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:44 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


Someone asked what I would do if my kid was the bully. Well, I'd know I had failed, for one. Failed as big as it was possible to fail.

But I don't think confrontation/therapy/restitution should be something that the bullies and their families do separately. It should be something that the bullies, their parents, and the school adminstrators involved all have to do, together, by court order. That girl's life was in all of their hands, and now she's dead. It should take a long time. It should be blunt. It should involve seeing pictures of the girl's injuries after she fell. It should involve silently listening to the girl's parents describe their heartbreak, and the hopes and dreams they had for their daughter, and what it's like to go into her empty room, look at pictures, touch things she created or loved, see video of her now. It should involve testimony from other kids that were bullied by the same kids, kids who considered or did self-harm. It should be something they carry the rest of their lives.
posted by emjaybee at 6:47 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


mudpuppie - did she stop after that?

My memory of the whole thing gets fuzzy after that, but at some point afterwards she tried to be my friend again. I distinctly remember walking into school on the first day after xmas break and meeting her on the sidewalk.

"How are you, mudpuppie??" she asked very sincerely and kindly.
"Oh, Amy [her real name!], I don't know, I guess I'm kind of BORING."

I think it ended after that.

Until she contacted me on Facebook a few years ago. I didn't respond. So she started contacting me every four to six weeks, telling me she'd really like to catch up. In one of the messages, she told me that I'd always been one of her favorite people.

I deleted my Facebook account. I was 35, and felt bullied again.

I hate that bullied teens are driven to suicide, but I kind of understand it. This shit Stays. With. You. Especially when they resurface and act like nothing happened. You always wonder what you did to deserve it. Were you really that weird? Were you really that geeky? Were you really that ugly?

Bullying is the gift that keeps on giving. If you don't kill yourself first.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:52 PM on September 12, 2013 [33 favorites]


Is this kind of lethal bullying a uniquely or predominately American (U.S.) phenomenon? Or does it happen elsewhere?

I don't have actual references, but it certainly shows up in the pop culture of Japanese and Korean TV shows a LOT. Like, way more than it shows up in American television.
posted by maryr at 6:52 PM on September 12, 2013


Just a data point for other parents out there, I'm the father of 12 year old twin girls, and this story is so alien it may as well be taking place on the surface of Mars. It can happen, but it won't to you nor is it a generalized report on the situation about how the world will be for kids. It's an outlier on how the world is.

Plus, read your kids Kik account. And Instagram.
posted by Keith Talent at 6:54 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Prosecuting 12 year olds as adults is barbaric, even these 12 year olds.\

Barbaric is anyone, ever, at any age, having a valid reason to say to someone else: "Why don't you go kill yourself?"
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:55 PM on September 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


His thoughts were red thoughts: "Why the fuck didn't they discipline the bullies? Making the victim rearrange their life to accommodate the bullies is nuts."

Some of it is arithmetic (as someone said), but often the victim and the victim's parents WANT to change their schedule and get the victim into a new situation; sometimes they just are trying to change SOMETHING to make it better, sometimes they feel that even with the bully gone the dynamic in that particular class is too difficult.

In our district, it is the bully who is subject to a schedule change and we have gone to court over it (and won) when the bully's parents have objected. But generally the administration defers to the victim's parents, especially when the bullying wasn't serious enough for the bully to be suspended.

If, as occasionally happens, the bully and victim take out restraining orders against each other and cannot be in the same building, it's the bully who has to move schools. But again, sometimes the victim WANTS to move and be in a different environment. We try to offer the victim various options and counsel them on what seems like the best course, but we defer to their wishes as long as they're reasonable.

I spent the last year working on updating our district's bullying policy, including making sure it included cyberbullying and social media issues (including mandatory training for all students including the information that bullying is a criminal act and they can be prosecuted for it, and that by law they can be suspended or expelled even for internet bullying they do from their home computers), and honestly what I as a parent would tell parents of a victim of serious bullying is TAKE AWAY THEIR INTERNET ACCESS. Once a child is being bullied via social media, it is poison and the child NEVER gets a break from it. Make home a place where bullies can't reach them -- screen calls, cut off the internet, and call the cops if they show up physically. It sucks to "punish" your child for other people being shitty, but you have GOT to protect them from the immediate emotional damage social media bullying can do until it settles down.

And yeah, if the kids kept up the cyberbullying after complaints to the school, I would absolutely go to the police, and I would absolutely get a restraining order. Your kid may be like, "That'll make me even more of a target," but the things I have seen with the online bullying -- as a parent my priority would be to nuke it from orbit and make it stop. Better my child gets nasty looks from a thoroughly-cowed classmate under order to never speak to or of her again than that she gets facebook-harassed for the next three years.

We also this year have implemented a new bullying report form (we already had one, but we've updated it) that is simple enough for a child of 8 to fill out on his or her own, that is accessible in the school to all children without adult mediation (they can just pick one up). They turn them in and ALL report forms are to be investigated and then filed with an account of what the school discovered and whether any action was taken. The school board will be auditing them at the end of the year, in the hopes that if one school has 30 forms and they all say "Incident investigated, simple dispute, not bullying, no action taken," we'll know that school is being ineffective in addressing bullying.

There's no silver bullet and we know a lot of kids won't file forms no matter how bad it is, and we know a lot of bullying isn't as simple as kid A abusing kid B, and we know we can't just fix it by making new policies, but we're trying what we can. Modernizing and revising the policy, requiring training for ALL staff and students, creating report forms, auditing the reports, working with community organizations that focus on bullying prevention, and making training and materials available for parents on bullying, bullying prevention, and cyberbullying. We're hoping that by making a really strong stand, with a push for education and awareness, we can fight against cultural attitudes of "kids being kids."

Not to toot my own horn, but I led the committee that addressed the bullying issues, and I think it's what I'm proudest of in my five years of service.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:56 PM on September 12, 2013 [124 favorites]


Lawton Chiles principal Sharon Neuman tells 10 News that Rebecca had never complained of having any trouble at school or of being bullied.

I am so fucking sick of these piece of shit "educators" using this as an excuse. Here's a simple test:

1. Do any of your students look different to the majority of other students?
2. Do any of your students sit away from the majority of other students at lunch?
3. Do any of your students walk the halls of the school with their eyes down?
4. Do any of your students have a weight problem, to either extreme?
5. Are any of your students particularly quiet or isolated in class, with consistently average or below-average, or extremely above-average, grades?
6. Are any of your students particularly bad at sports, or consistently disinclined to play sports?
7. Are any of your students away "sick" from class more than average?
8. Do any of your students eat a vegan, vegetarian, or otherwise non-traditional or ethnic meal at lunch?
9. Is your student in an art, computer, or music class?

If your answer to any of the above is "yes", then that student is being fucking bullied and is either going to hang themselves in their wardrobe, or machine-gun the fucking swim team. Thank you.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:57 PM on September 12, 2013 [33 favorites]


Some justice served up from the school is certainly in order. I can't help but think of that viral video a year or so ago in which a school bus monitor was bullied by 3 or 4 little junior high shits. Reddit and others took up a collection and gave her a million dollars. The boys? Those little fuckers were fucking expelled, and I think had other punishments as well.

We need some clear cyber-bullying policy set by schools that if the bullying results in suicide, the bullies are expelled (this may be the case in some schools now). This gets into a legal grey area, for sure, as is often the case with bullies that there is a lead bully and some toadies perhaps reluctantly going along with it. But if ever there was a call for Zero Tolerance policy, it should be about this.
posted by zardoz at 6:58 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


mudpuppie: "I'm not really ashamed of it. It was almost 30 years ago, and I feel no shame. But you know what, if that same exact situation occurred today -- *I'd* be the one who was disciplined. (Perhaps rightly, but still.)"

In my district, you both would be. We specifically included in the policy "While a victim who retaliates against his or her bullies will be subject to discipline, the fact of retaliation does not release the bully from disciplinary action by school officials," and we made sure to emphasize it in the parent handbook. We also emphasized it in the training for principals. It's not great when a victim of bullying retaliates like that, but the problem is still the bullying and that needs to be dealt with.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:59 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


But if ever there was a call for Zero Tolerance policy, it should be about this.

Yeah, I'd be a little more okay with zero tolerance for bullying than things like little kids miming guns.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:59 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Do they teach kids in US schools about how to use social media? Like, how to block people who are harrassing you, and to tell someone you trust that you are being harrassed online? Shouldn't this stuff be Teenagers 101 these days?

I think that some districts do, but this is part of the toxic narrative of digital nativism. No kid is born knowing how to use digital technology, even if they have a lot of it from birth. Being "online" is no different from being in the "real" world, and it's important that we teach skills on how to communicate through electronic media. However, many people seem to think that kids know how to do this better than adults do (ridiculous - kids may know a lot about playing games and texting, but things like managing your life in online space is something that an adult has to lead them towards).
posted by codacorolla at 7:04 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Apparently, there were 15 girls involved. Their parents are cooperating with the police and have turned over their laptops and cellphones. - Source
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:05 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks for that, Eyebrows.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:05 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


SkylitDrawl, is there a cite for that?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:06 PM on September 12, 2013


I added a source.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:07 PM on September 12, 2013


Ack! I see there's a source, sorry.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:07 PM on September 12, 2013


No problem!
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:07 PM on September 12, 2013


The school board will be auditing them at the end of the year, in the hopes that if one school has 30 forms and they all say "Incident investigated, simple dispute, not bullying, no action taken," we'll know that school is being ineffective in addressing bullying.

As if any school board wants to see a form that says incident investigate, bullying, no/ineffective action taken, kid kills self. You can better believe by damn someone in that school knew it hadn't stopped, and either didn't have any recourse to stopping it, or just didn't give a damn about the odd kid out.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:19 PM on September 12, 2013


I was bullied as a kind and I was a bully as a kid, but at that time you had to be near people to talk to them or hit them.

I got in a lot of trouble, but got away with even more. Some terrible stuff, but the thought of getting caught kept things in some kind of check. People pointing fingers at the schools... remember this shit is mostly happening on phones and these are the same administrators and teachers whose budgets we keep cutting. Kids this age are crazily secretive, a fact bullies exploit. Back then everyone had a break when they went home.

I can only imagine the terrible shit that could have happened if everyone I knew had phones and the internet.
posted by French Fry at 7:34 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was bullied rather mercilessly in grades 6-9. I was poor, disabled, and smart. My mom got involved all the time, but they didn't take her seriously because she was a poor single mother. I remember the day in grade 6 some girls dropped a note in my desk asking me all sorts of questions like "Are you a lesbian?" and various weird things. I read it and turned it into the teacher immediately thereafter. Their punishment? No extracurricular activities for the rest of the year. It was early June. Super effective.

In grade 7 I decided to switch schools. My principal actually had a one on one meeting with me and tried to convince me not to switch. Something along the lines of "running away is not the problem". I actually think this was a major dick move, for an adult man to take a 13 year old aside and pressure her that way.

I switched schools anyway. It just started there too. I think the only reason I never tried suicide is that I don't think I knew it was an option. That and like someone said upthread, none of the bullies said shit like "You should kill yourself". Thank god. Because I might have.

But when school was over, I was safe. I had my friends, my books, the woods and creeks. No one was sending me text messages telling me I was a fat loser freak as I did these things. What it is like for kids this age now, my God.


This is also a HUGE part of it. HUGE. I had friends in my neighbourhood, despite not having any at school. I was ok once school was over. I would NOT have survived if this crap had followed me home. I really feel for the kids today.

This is pretty much the reason I will never, ever go to a reunion. All the assholes that made my life miserable for almost my entire teenage life are going to be nice to me now and act like nothing happened? Nope, sorry.

A few years ago I would have said the same thing, but you know what changed my mind? Social media. I was friended by a couple of old grade school classmates who had bullied me. I have never been quiet on social media about my experiences. And ultimately all 3 of the ones who friended me have individually reached out to me and sincerely apologized. We're all 35 now. Some have kids of their own. We've grown up. And they really do feel bad, and actually think I've been generous in my depiction of what it was like.
posted by aclevername at 7:41 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


"As if any school board wants to see a form that says incident investigate, bullying, no/ineffective action taken, kid kills self. You can better believe by damn someone in that school knew it hadn't stopped, and either didn't have any recourse to stopping it, or just didn't give a damn about the odd kid out."

You may have misunderstood; the forms are for students or parents to fill out. They can report bullying by a phone call or talking to a teacher or administrator, but they can also get a form in the school or online to fill out, which can be submitted to any principal or the central administration office. THOSE forms must be archived and will be audited at the end of the year. We know we'll get some that say "i punched billy because i dont like his backpack and he punched me back he is a bully" and the investigation will legitimately be "Tony was upset Billy had the same backpack as he did; problem solved by giving Tony stickers for his." But if we see that ALL the forms at one particular school say "not bullying, no action," we'll know there's something hinky there and the adults are not doing what they're supposed to do. It's not a silver bullet and it's not in PLACE of other traditional ways of trying to ensure that bullying is dealt with, but it's another way to make a report, create a paper trail, give children a way to express themselves without having to TALK to an adult or ask a parent to help, etc.

I know that not all of our teacher or principals care about bullying. I know that not all of them know what bullying can look like. But a lot of them do care, and we can educate people to know the insidious forms bullying can take, and the school board can insist that some of our very limited funds be put towards bullying prevention and training for staff about bullying. We can set a strong expectation that bullying will be dealt with, and we can back teachers and principals when parents of bullies who have been disciplined complain that their kid was just joking around.

If a bullying incident like this one happened at one of our schools, there had better DAMN sure be some paperwork from the school in question because otherwise someone is not doing their job -- someone noticed this and someone was responsible for dealing with it and recording it. Even if you think school boards are soulless inhuman reptiles, there is a buttload of liability for a school that fails to intervene in a serious bullying situation. (Even if you're found not liable, there's a big legal cost to defending the lawsuit.)

But really I care -- and I want to see these forms, and I want to know our teachers and principals are DEALING with bullying and not sweeping it under the rug -- because I'm a parent of a child who goes to school in this district. I was a child once, in a public school, who dealt with nice kids and mean kids and adolescence. I don't want to see MY child bullied and I don't want to see ANY child bullied. I mean, you don't spend 20 hours a week on an unpaid local school board position reading financial audit reports because you DON'T care what happens to children. Local school boards can be incompetent, misguided, and very very wrong sometimes, but most people do this because they care a lot about children and they care a lot about education. I'm a human being, man, I want to do everything I can to protect children from being hurt, and that means confronting the reality of the ways they're hurt, not just pretending everything's okay until something terrible happens.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:53 PM on September 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


The best piece about bullying that I've ever read is Memoirs of a Bullied Kid, from Dan Pearce's Single Dad Laughing blog. He gives a pretty awful description of being bullied himself from 5th grade through junior high school, then discusses how to end bullying.
posted by ogooglebar at 7:54 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am so fucking sick of these piece of shit "educators" using this as an excuse.

Speaking as a former sixth-grade teacher, I'd be really grateful if we could not refer to educators as "pieces of shit". If you're teaching middle school, odds are that you have over a hundred students who you see for about an hour and a half each a day. When they are in your classroom, so are twenty-five other kids. Teachers work really, REALLY hard and do their best for their students. If there are a hundred kids and one of you, you can't help in all the ways you want to help. You can't know everything about every kid. When I was teaching I would let kids sit in my room during my planning period if they needed to vent or calm down or get away for a little while, but there are definitely kids who needed help that I missed. It's not because I didn't care, it's because there are a lot of kids in pain out there and teachers, no matter how well-intentioned, can't do everything, especially with the amount of pressure on them from districts and administrators.

In addition, I see your list but I am not entirely sure what you are proposing be done. Do you mean that some sort of intervention should happen to all overweight children before school begins? Do you mean that if a kid who is good at sports says she is being bullied by a kid who eats vegetarian meals she must be lying? Yes, these are factors that might make students stand out as different, but identifying them doesn't really provide answers. What are we supposed to do with this list? I would estimate that almost fifty percent of my students fit into at least one of those categories; should we separate them from their peers who are all average weight with average grades and no interest in the arts? It's difficult to tell exactly what you are proposing here.

This is a really, really tragic story and a complicated issue and I don't know what the solution is. That said, referring to adults who are in exhausting and often thankless jobs as "pieces of shit" is probably not the answer.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:02 PM on September 12, 2013 [62 favorites]


Some of you might find this article interesting. It is from Australia and is an interview with a bully later in life. This particular bully was female, similar age to the story linked and involved a group of girls against one. I'm not saying 'and here is the answer to bullying' but for me, the standout quote is 'disapproval would have stopped me.'
posted by Trivia Newton John at 8:05 PM on September 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Damn ogooglebar, I've only read the first page-and-a-bit of that post and this really struck me:

As soon as I sat down, the blond hair boy sitting across from me (we will call him John) snickered the words “hey fatty”, aimed at me, and just loud enough for the class to hear. The students around me erupted with impaling giggles. The teacher only said, “John, that’s enough”.

That's where it started (which I think is the guy's point, I haven't read past this paragraph yet). The precedent was set, the bully was rewarded by his peers, the bully was not punished by the adult authority, the bully was not punished by the bullied with a fist square to his nose, and that was the end of that.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:06 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh and please permit me to share a really great movie my girlfriend and I watched the other night: Disconnect. Everybody should check it out, by my reckoning.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:11 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're in California and wondering about protections from bullying, well, Dept. of Ed. doesn't really know if anyone has them or whether they work.

Fairly scathing report here from the California State Auditor.
posted by klangklangston at 8:17 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Highlights include complaints (which by law require a determination within 60 days) being up to 305 days late (a whole year).
posted by klangklangston at 8:18 PM on September 12, 2013


As soon as I sat down, the blond hair boy sitting across from me (we will call him John) snickered the words “hey fatty”, aimed at me, and just loud enough for the class to hear. The students around me erupted with impaling giggles. The teacher only said, “John, that’s enough”.

I'm trying to imagine how I would handle a situation like that if I were a teacher. You can't call the bullies out on it in front of the class, because that would cause the bullied child to lose (even more) face and empower the bullies.

Maybe a Dead Poet's Society teachable moment, and appeal to the better nature of the class as a community? "Guys, I've been hearing you saying some pretty terrible things to each other. These are very ugly to hear, and make me very sad."

That might work depending on the status of the teacher in the school, and the power of the teacher's personality. During my teaching practicum I did witness a teacher do just that. A girl was called "stupid" for missing an answer, and the teacher angrily told the students they were being mean, and quickly moved on.

But that's a dicey situation that would work only with experienced lion tamers, "rock stars" or teachers with a good relationship with their class.

Pull the bullies aside after class and ask them why they're doing what they are doing? Do it individually so they don't lose face? Perhaps document with a date and time (students are shocked when teachers do this) the bullying?

Could work, but bullying is not done by individuals, it's done by a community. And a single conversation won't change things, it takes an intervention.

There is the idea that empathy can help transform our schools.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:19 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


0-tolerance programs for 'bullying' will eventually just become 0-tolerance programs for 'victims'. Because getting rid of a victim is a much easier problem than getting rid of a school full of bullies. They'll transfer them, or have them committed, or otherwise make them go away somehow.
posted by empath at 8:23 PM on September 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


As soon as I sat down, the blond hair boy sitting across from me (we will call him John) snickered the words “hey fatty”, aimed at me, and just loud enough for the class to hear. The students around me erupted with impaling giggles. The teacher only said, “John, that’s enough”.

I'm trying to imagine how I would handle a situation like that if I were a teacher. You can't call the bullies out on it in front of the class, because that would cause the bullied child to lose (even more) face and empower the bullies.


Yeah, I think this is really tricky, especially because there can be many moments like this over the course of one day. I think instead of "John, that's enough" you could give John a look and say "Not okay" and pause before moving on, but I know, from having been a super nerdy kid who was bullied a fair amount, that having the teacher defend you in front of the class when someone makes fun of you can be absolutely humiliating. When I was a kid I didn't want to be singled out for protection by the teacher; that just made it worse.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:24 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


The solution is not cramming a bunch of juvenile minds into a sow stall to teach them how to do their letters properly, or what's 2+2, or whatever it is children are being taught now. The solution is smaller classes, better-paid teachers, healthy food in the cafeteria, and curricula designed around social and psychological education and development. Teach children their own minds and teach them how to understand the minds of others and teach them to communicate and to listen and by Christ I guarantee the rest will fall into place like magic.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:24 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Thank you for the article Trivia Newton John, that was really eye opening.
posted by aclevername at 8:27 PM on September 12, 2013


If your answer to any of the above is "yes", then that student is being fucking bullied and is either going to hang themselves in their wardrobe, or machine-gun the fucking swim team.

You don't need to contribute to the stigmatization of bullying victims. I was bullied for years, and I mostly suffered quietly in silence and then spent a few years after school learning how to interact with people like a normal person and now I'm mostly a well-balanced individual. I neither attempted nor seriously considered killing myself or anybody else, thank you very much.
posted by empath at 8:27 PM on September 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


I think about this kind of thing and I know I'd be dead if we'd had social media when I was in school. I remember very clearly thinking many times between the ages of about ten and fifteen that my classmates would be happy if I died, and that they'd probably think it was funny to kill me if they could get away with it. I don't think that's precisely true, but I think my classmates would have thought trying to get me to die was a lot of fun. And it was only because I felt like I could hide a little bit from them that I felt okay at all ever.

I still hate those people.'

The girls who bullied this poor kid are all telling themselves that it wasn't their fault - it was one of the other members of the group who was worse, or the girl's fault for being mentally ill, or no one's fault at all and sometimes bad things just happen. They aren't blaming themselves. They're too young to have that kind of moral compass - if they could blame themselves they wouldn't have bullied her so egregiously. Their parents will reassure them and victim-blame. They'll bury this deep and forget it and grow up to be hollow, stupid, corporate people because they will have had to avoid any kind of reflection or values development in order to avoid thinking about this.

I still hate the people who bullied me. I've done a lot of therapy, I've made a good life for myself, I have friends I love, I am no longer consumed by the aftermath of being so bullied and friendless - feeling so worthless for so long, so vile, so utterly irredeemably deserving to be dead - and I think I've, most of the time, moved past it. I used to think that I'd get all self-actualized and stop hating them, but I don't think I ever will be able to.
posted by Frowner at 8:29 PM on September 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


having the teacher defend you in front of the class when someone makes fun of you can be absolutely humiliating.

That depends so heavily on the kid. I would much rather have had teachers more willing to intervene for the most part. I was a big kid who played sports and was just socially awkward. That meant that I could take care of myself if I had to fight someone, I wasn't worried about losing face in the end. I am a gentle and not violent person though so I was more likely to just take more than I should have. I did not have the social skills to resolve verbal bullying that well otherwise though so just stopping it via punishment would have been fine by me.

I would suggest defaulting to intervening too much rather than less should be a starting point unless a kid actually complains about it.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:30 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I neither attempted nor seriously considered killing myself or anybody else, thank you very much.

I think if you took my last sentence seriously then maybe you want to check the figures and consider why there aren't a million wardrobe hangings every day, and why we still have swim teams. My point isn't that these things literally happen, it's that severe damage is caused on one level or another and the fault is the system that it happens in. (And also that there is no excuse for the things I mention coming as a "surprise".)
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:33 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've mentioned before in other threads that, yes, I was pretty horrifically bullied (my 'best friends' told me the summer before middle school that they couldn't be my friends anymore, because now we were going to go to a real school, where things mattered. Later, they became, of course, ringleaders in making me miserable). It's scarred me for life, and I have pretty severe trust issues because of it.

Then, a couple years back, one of them got in touch with my mother. He was going through some sort of twelve step bullshit (I apologize if it worked for you or someone you know) where one step was asking for forgiveness from people he'd hurt. My mother, without asking me, gave my phone number to him. She at least had the decency to warn me about it before he called.

This fucker was one of the reasons I left my hometown. One of the reasons why it took me fifteen years to feel anything but outright dread at the idea of going back there. And here he is, years later, calling me here in Japan, asking me to forgive him for all of the shit he put me through.

I told him to go fuck himself. I told him that it thrilled me to know that he was suffering. I told him that it had taken me years to finally understand that, just maybe, my whole purpose on this earth wasn't to be a punchline to some sort of never ending joke. I told him that it had taken me years, years of my life to get where I was, which, at the time, was planning my wedding to an absolutely wonderful person who loved me. That I was happy, finally happy, and with friends in my life who truly cared about me, and, no, fuck you, I won't absolve you of the horrible shit you did to me so you can pass some bullshit step that will make you feel better about yourself.

And I'd hoped that that would give me something, that somehow I'd feel as if all of the weight that's been weighing me down since I was in elementary school would just go away. It didn't. For the days before he called, and a couple weeks after, I literally felt sick. My hands shook with a mix of tension and rage. I'd managed to get far enough away from it that everything was actually better in my life. One goddamn phone call made all those thousands of miles and all those years of trying to get past looking for what was wrong with me, what I had done, how I was to blame for the bullying, all of that was gone. I felt like I was back in junior high again. It took weeks to get over that, and just typing this now makes me feel sick.

Things need to change. Children can be utter monsters, and we make excuses for them because they are children. Acting like everything will be okay if you can just make it out of school alive is bullshit. The scars last forever.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:33 PM on September 12, 2013 [70 favorites]


The solution is not cramming a bunch of juvenile minds into a sow stall to teach them how to do their letters properly, or what's 2+2, or whatever it is children are being taught now. The solution is smaller classes, better-paid teachers, healthy food in the cafeteria, and curricula designed around social and psychological education and development. Teach children their own minds and teach them how to understand the minds of others and teach them to communicate and to listen and by Christ I guarantee the rest will fall into place like magic.

Are you talking about the schools in the U.S.? That's not done in the U.S. Though I have to say, students learning their letters properly and learning 2 + 2 is actually damn important, if we're talking about, say, kindergartners.
posted by zardoz at 8:34 PM on September 12, 2013


Man, a lot of people here must have really aced that fucking class on "Taking Stuff That Is Obviously Not Literal Really Totally Literally". Provide me with a list of all the exact precise things you learned in school and the teachers who taught them to you and how many hours a week you spent on them and the results of your examinations and assignments in those subjects and I will tailor the response to suit your purposes. Mother of God I feel like I'm taking crazy pills here.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:38 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've mentioned before in other threads that, yes, I was pretty horrifically bullied (my 'best friends' told me the summer before middle school that they couldn't be my friends anymore, because now we were going to go to a real school, where things mattered. Later, they became, of course, ringleaders in making me miserable). It's scarred me for life, and I have pretty severe trust issues because of it.

My best friend did that too. And the worst part was that I told her it was okay, because I accepted that there was no reason for my status to drag both of us down.

I assume a determined person from my hometown could find me if they wanted to, but I've moved relatively far and changed my name slightly and I have no social media presence. There are a lot of reasons for those things, but one of them is so that those people can't find me.
posted by Frowner at 8:39 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to imagine how I would handle a situation like that if I were a teacher.

Dan's advice on how to help the bullied child:
Part of the answer is a teacher doing more than simply telling the bullies to stop. The answer is a warm hand on her pupil’s shoulder, a listening ear, warm words of importance, and then finding a reason for the child to come back the next day, and the next, until that child knows that his presence is cherished.
And what to do for the bully:
People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer. Every bully that bullied me (and by the end of junior high there were at least a dozen of them) was a desperate and hurting individual. The victim of something going on around them. A soul that was probably crying in solitude as often as I was, even if the crying was silent.

And so, I will ask you now to not hate the bullies. Experience tells me that hating them, or being angry with them, will always make it worse. Instead, put your arm around them. Love them. Tell them that they are valuable. Tell them that you expect great things from them. They will stop the bullying. They will stop, because they will start to love themselves. And people who love themselves don’t bully others.

And with the bullies, it’s really that simple. If they actually believe that somebody loves them and believes in them, they will love themselves, they will become better people, and many will even become saviors to the bullied.
posted by ogooglebar at 8:39 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: "I am so fucking sick of these piece of shit "educators" using this as an excuse.

Speaking as a former sixth-grade teacher, I'd be really grateful if we could not refer to educators as "pieces of shit".
"

It seems they are pissed about pieces of shit being referred to as "educators" (there is a difference, though subtle it may be, in the re-arranging of the words and the placing of the quotes).

Fact is, despite our wonderful belief that teachers are the greatest thing in the world, there are schools that DO have piece of shit teachers. Not all teachers are shit, I have known some wonderful teachers that have done some amazingly courageous things. I have known teachers who were mundane, and I have known a teacher or two who were bullies in some manners themselves.

My ex-girlfriend was literally bullied by her teachers along with the students. It wasn't even that they were pretending to not see the bullying, they actively participated in the bullying. Would you that I say "oh, those educators, they're not pieces of shit". No, they are.

I don't think this person was referring to ALL teachers as pieces of shit, but the ones who remain complicit. This includes not just teachers, but more importantly the administrative appartchik of the school's systems of power, that is: Principals, Coaches, Superintendents, Janitors, Bus Drivers, Liaison Officers and Guidance Counselors (and whatever other institutions they have since implemented since I have been in school).

Those who, perchance, daydream out of existence a fight that is literally happening not 20 feet in front of them (a fit athletic jock with a cast on his hand, beating up a scrawnier "punk"), magically, as if nothing happened, and then, as someone else mentioned, the scrawny punk who chose to fight back gets in trouble for deigning to defend himself, when it should have been the systems of authority to do intervene.

So yeah - all those "teachers" and other faculty who would ignore the plight of the oppressed are utter pieces of shit for the reinforce the power structure of violence upon the most victimized in our society, leading them to a life of perhaps struggle in the least, and potentially a certain doom.

Just like all the cops who ignore the violence and racism and protect each others backs.

I know it's not easy, and sometimes it does take being more than human (more than being a good teacher already is), but that is unfortunately what we require of people in positions of authority. And it doesn't help when some of the bullies are stronger and more threatening to the teachers themselves, than the teachers ever are to the bullies, especially in High School, when the coaches get through with them and make them lean mean muscular machines. The teachers can be accomplices to the crimes, or they can also be victims. They can stand up and fight back or they can be quiet and ignore.

I'm not saying it's an easy choice, and I do feel bad for teachers who have to make that call, and I would much rather a teacher try their best and end up failing than literally being part of it, or ignoring it as if there is no problem.

If you see it, and you are afraid to confront it on your own as a teacher, then you report that shit to the fucking higher ups, and if the higher ups refuse to take action you go higher and higher until someone gets this shit taken care of. And until we have a movement to do exactly that, we will continue to cower in fear at bullies, and let them run the system.

And that is precisely what this is ultimately about. The school didn't do anything, because they knew better than anyone how that fucking system is played, and they know that their role is to maintain those social structures of hierarchy and oppression.
posted by symbioid at 8:40 PM on September 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Lawton Chiles principal Sharon Neuman tells 10 News that Rebecca had never complained of having any trouble at school or of being bullied.

turbid dahlia: I am so fucking sick of these piece of shit "educators" using this as an excuse.


Note that Lawton Chiles was her new school, and she had attended classes there for less than a month. The bullies were from her previous school, and none of the reports indicate that anyone from Lawton Chiles had participated in the bullying.
posted by 1367 at 8:42 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I had one bad year of being bullied -- also grade 7, though there was some earlier -- and by the end of it I was dreaming about killing myself (something which never really stopped), and I would not accept an apology today -- but also I do not think that the kids who did stuff to me should have been jailed or treated as adults. They weren't adults! That was the whole problem!
posted by jeather at 8:42 PM on September 12, 2013


Mrs. Pterodactyl: "I am so fucking sick of these piece of shit "educators" using this as an excuse.

Speaking as a former sixth-grade teacher, I'd be really grateful if we could not refer to educators as "pieces of shit". "


Sorry Mrs. Pterodactyl, I didn't notice your comment initially and I'll leave this thread alone after this, but you'll note I say "these" particular "educators", who claim that they don't know about bullying, and that renders them pieces of shit. Of course I don't believe all educators are pieces of shit.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:43 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah:

10. Is the student new to the school, or new to the class?
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:44 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have had more than one teacher that didn't just ignore bullying, they acted in ways which actively encouraged it. It's often the teacher that marks out certain kids as being problems and uses the class to enforce it, and it starts early.
posted by empath at 8:46 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


If your answer to any of the above is "yes", then that student is being fucking bullied and is either going to hang themselves in their wardrobe, or machine-gun the fucking swim team. Thank you.

While this is a very troubling and emotional topic, I don't think that this kind of comment is very helpful. First of all, it would be better if we didn't assume that the natural outcome of being bullied is suicide, homicide, or both.

But also, bullying is not an inevitable result of being different. I've attended several different schools due to changing school district lines and moving a lot, and at each one the culture was different. At only one school did other students attempt to bully me, and that was--I think--down to the school culture, which was only partly due to the administration. (The rest was the extremely homogenous, conservative, and reactionary population.)

Believe it or not, people who are different do make it through school without being tormented, and it would be excellent if we could figure out why and try to fix the places where the culture is so toxic.

Bullying is not a given. It should never be a given. When it happens, it's a sign that there's something bigger that has gone wrong.

Also, as a tangent, I missed a lot of school because I was chronically ill, and had the administration assumed that it was because I was trying to avoid imaginary tormenters, it would have been very hurtful, because I was already dealing with the suspicion that I was "faking it."
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:50 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I find it curious that almost no one suggests that counselling and help for the victim might have helped save her.

Even in situation where there is a clear cut bad guy, you can help the victims cope. Anger/rage/punishment is not the exclusive solution to problems, it is only part of the solution.
posted by Bovine Love at 8:51 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


turbid dahlia, speaking as someone who was relentlessly bullied in elementary and junior high school, the absolute last thing I would have wanted to have happen would have been to be singled out by the school administrators because I met some arbitrary list of criteria for being "at risk." That would have really reinforced the fact that I was different, an other, and thus deserving of ridicule and being ostracized. "Sincere concern" comes across as more reinforcement of negative self-views to someone who's already depressed: "See, even the administrators think I'm weird. These kids must be right."
posted by Noms_Tiem at 8:53 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


symbioid--

You make a good point about the complicity of bad teachers who ignore or even encourage bullying in students. With my (admittedly limited) teaching experience, I really really really think this dynamic is the exception to the rule. Most teachers detest bullies as much as anyone else. Many if not most teachers were themselves bullied as a child, so it's not like they are immune to the concept of bullying, as if they grew up in some bully-free Utopia.

The problem, as I see it, is one of resources. Teachers can't always see the bullying. Sometimes the bully and victim both keep the situation secret (for totally different reasons). And as with this story, the bullying didn't even happen at the school; it was completely online via social media. Teachers in this case may very well have been complicit in the way you portray in your post. But isn't it just as likely--or more likely--that the teacher was just completely ignorant of the situation?
posted by zardoz at 8:53 PM on September 12, 2013


mudpuppie: "Girls are the worst. And in my personal experience, 7th-grade girls are the very worst."

I am so fucking sick of this bullshit. And it is absolute bullshit. How many people in this thread alone mention male bullies who pull the same exclusionary, abusive, ridiculous shit that society likes to pretend only girls do? I mean, Christ, the only difference between the male bullies and the female bullies in my experience was how much sexual content they included (the girls still included some, but less actual assault). We tell boys over and over how 'good' it is that they beat the shit out of each other and move on, because that's our comforting narrative, when that's a load of shit and just reinforces to girls that they're bad and also how they should be bullying.

I know that wasn't the intent of you post, but I am increasingly irritated with it. I watch kids now, at my daughter's kindy and her peers, and there is no difference between them. None. Except the social bullying the boys do is almost legitimate - 'they aren't friends' so they don't have to play, and the physical is just 'boys will be boys'. But God help a little girl who says 'no, I don't want to play' or lashes out physically. Then it's bullying, and a crime, and a thing that must be stopped.*

The 'go kill yourself' seems to be one of those awful filter-down things. Like kindergarten kids having 'break ups'. A terrible lesson learned while imitating older siblings imitating older siblings imitating adults. How often do online arguments devolve into suicidal hyperbole? How often do we justify it with how much pain the person is in? Not as a reason, but as a justification? That they are in so much pain, that's why they told someone to kill themselves, or threatened to kill themselves? That suicide is a tool?

*Well, if you listened to the parents - luckily my daughter's educator is a big fan of not giving in to that bullshit, and mistreatment of peers is the same across genders BUT she also knows how vital it is for little girls to be able to be assertive. It's a fine line.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:54 PM on September 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


I received a piece of very helpful advice from a friend when I was being bullied as a child and that was "no matter what you do, not everybody is going to like you." The second most helpful advice (from an adult) was "if they do that to you again, whack them."
posted by borges at 9:01 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Here's what happens. Two kids get in a "fight", the kid who gets Cs and the kid who gets As get sat down next to each other in the principal's office as if it was a fight of equals. I got kicked off the school bus for a month once when I attacked by a bully on it. What the heck type of justice is that?

The teachers and staff know who are the bullies, and know who are the bullied. I'm sure social media makes it tougher to know (esp with girls), but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to look around the class and to know who is who.

I do blame the teachers and the administration who ignore the bullying I see going on in the local school. "I'm overworked" is no excuse. When parents entrust their kids with you, your #1 job is to keep them safe and your #2 job is to educate them. If you aren't doing anything about #1, I don't care how "good" of a teacher you are the rest of the time.

Never once did I have a teacher that said:

"I know that some of you are bullies. I know that some of you are bullied. School should be a safe place. If it is not, you can come to me. I expect over one in this classroom to defend your classmates if they are being bullied. If you see someone being bullied come to me privately."

Maybe no one will, but at least someone addresses the elephant in the room. I never once heard a teacher talk about bullying in school.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:02 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I had a conversation with a friend about bullying when we went out for lunch the other day, stemming from an offhand remark he made about the way his child handles bullying: by forcing the bully to work with the bullied child in order to work out the issue.

I was unimpressed.

I was bullied as a child. That's not really a secret to anyone who knows me well, although I suppose it's not immediately obvious from my current superficially extroverted personality. The degree and duration of the bullying was fairly notable, spanning from kindergarten through to my graduating year, ending only when I went to college for the first time.

There isn't a punishment great enough for these sorts of people. I do not exaggerate when I say this; I literally would not shed a tear for the dozens of people who bullied me for over a decade, no matter what suffering came their way, any more that I would shed a tear for any suffering experienced by the girls that drove Rebecca to her suicide. The fact that they're children does not lessen the pain they caused, and their inability to be held legally responsible does not reduce their moral responsibility one jot.

Hate is too weak a word.
posted by ChrisR at 9:10 PM on September 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Here's what happens. Two kids get in a "fight", the kid who gets Cs and the kid who gets As get sat down next to each other in the principal's office as if it was a fight of equals.

Which kid is supposed to be the bully here? Grades don't make you incapable of bullying or being bullied.
posted by maryr at 9:13 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was bullied pretty mercilessly in junior high. I realized a few years ago that I should be dead, that every year I've lived over 14 has truly been a gift. I honestly don't know how I emerged as unscathed as I did. I probably would have committed suicide if it weren't for the nascent internet. It was before social media, but post ICQ so I could talk to people all over the world who didn't hate me.

The thing that drives me crazy about these bullying narratives is that they're far too simplistic to encompass reality in any way. Middle school social webs are a mess of incredibly complex shifting social alliances and pecking orders, and I suspect most kids experience at least some bullying, and bully at least some others.

I was teased endlessly and mercilessly. But whenever I had the chance, I turned around and did some of the same shit to the few people that were lower on the social strata than I was. That pressure inside me had to go SOMEWHERE. Had any adult in my life cared enough about me to intervene I might have found a better outlet, but nobody did care, and shit kept rolling downhill.

The fault is not in the kids, the fault is in the system. We KNOW age-segregating kids without effective supervision leads to bullying. It's utterly horrible, and so utterly commonplace that it seems mundane and we totally ignore it until yet another kid kills themselves over it. Why on earth are we trying to bandaid the symptoms instead of fixing the causes?

The part I find most baffling is that so many parents who were bullied themselves turn around and allow their kids to be shoved into the public-school meat grinder. I swore I would never willingly put another human being through what I went through, not my worst enemy and sure as hell not my own child.
posted by zug at 9:14 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Man, a lot of people here must have really aced that fucking class on "Taking Stuff That Is Obviously Not Literal Really Totally Literally".

For fuck's sake, turbid dahlia. I know that you're Australian based, but school shootings are a real thing in the US, so using them as a rhetorical device in this thread of all threads is NOT HELPFUL. Chill.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:17 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


When I was young, I wasn't exactly bullied, but I was picked on a lot. I was smelly, quiet, wore a black raincoat all the time, into D&D, academic, from a poor family, wore clothes that weren't always serviceable, and my many other family members was sometimes on the wrong side of the law. I received a lot of razing and a lot of embarrassing call-outs, but luckily no physical attacks (I hid in the bathroom after wrestling practice in 7th grade when they were going to haze me). I think that a lot of the nicer popular kids just kinda felt sorry for me, so that somewhat protected me. I couldn't say. Looking back at it now, I'm not really that bitter looking back now. I sometimes fantasize about how I wish I could go back and turn the tables, but no, most of the kids that did this were, well, kids. I know that. I'm sure that they, in their turn were treated pretty badly by others, which doesn't somehow make how they acted towards me and others better, but puts it in context. I just . . . I'm happy where my life is now, and the people I have in it. The past is the past, and I don't hold grudges against any of them.

I've been a teacher these last few years. I guess I shouldn't make excuses for myself and my comrades in arms, but most of us do what we can, where we can. It's just . . . it's hard to see bullying, it hard to respond to it appropriately, it's hard to deal with any one student when a class will riot if given a lack of supervision for a moment. It's hard enough to keep them off my back, to keep them accountable for the things they say to me, and those I can actually try to do something about. Sorta. It's hard to be both teacher and independent disciplinarian for a group of all but the best behaved 9th graders.

Things look like two students fighting, until you find out it's not. It looks like one making fun of the other, until you realize the other is tormenting the one. And worst of all, it's not one kid. It can come from everything, everywhere, where a kid will just be one part of a huge psychological assault, but no one but the victim really sees the whole picture, and even they are blinded by their own pain to see clearly. And some kids make it out. And some don't. I really just don't' know what to say. I don't think anyone really does.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:21 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've worked as a substitute for almost eight years now, often with very long-term assignments and/or enough repeat business that I start developing relationships & rapports. I stick to high schools, but I occasionally take middle school jobs.

I look for bullying. Often, my "teaching" work is so light that I can devote all of my time to observing & interacting with students. I do all I can to keep my eyes open and talk to kids individually about bullying. Eight years, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've found something I could straight-up say is bullying. (And yes, I intervened, every time: phone calls home, coordinating with other teachers, all of it.)

I do not for a second believe that those five cases was even remotely the only bullying going on. It is often damn hard to identify even when you're an observant adult with regular contact. The kids don't easily extend trust to that level, nor are they clueless about covering it up. And that generational gap is significant.

I started at 30, and I'm 38 now, and I'm that cool sub that everyone loves. My most frequent school had a student forum on bullying last year, and kids begged me to come; when I showed up, the whole room went silent until a student said, "Oh, shit, it's Mr. K. This just got awesome." I don't say any of that to brag, because: five cases. I do not call that a good success rate in light of what I know must be going on in the schools.

I do not doubt that adults and the system failed Rebecca. It is absolutely batshit insane that she had to rearrange her schedule and her life around the bullies, rather than having their lives upended. It is pathetic that administrators often will not stand their ground and tell those 4-6 parents, "Yes, it's YOUR kids that are the problem here." But it happens. I am not apologizing for anyone here.

But when you read things like this, you should be aware that there are indeed teachers who care a lot, and who do pay attention to what goes on in the classrooms and the hallways... and yet it can still absolutely slip past any adult's notice.

I'm so sorry, Rebecca.

.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:37 PM on September 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


Someone asked what I would do if my kid was the bully. Well, I'd know I had failed, for one. Failed as big as it was possible to fail.

You know, in some ways I think that kind of interior dialogue is actually unhelpful for parenting, as it paints a binary (bullied/not bullied) that in my experience does not reflect the complex dynamics of bullying.

I say this, not only as a kid who once was bullied and bullied others myself, but also as someone who was a childcarer worker for five years, and also worked at our national science centre, dealing with kids every day.

In my experience, the majority of children bully, to a greater or lesser degree, at some stage in their childhood. Even good kids. Heck, even great kids. They may not think of what they are doing as bullying; they may think the victim deserves it or can handle it; they may feel it's retaliatory and thus justified; they may consider it one-off rather than part of a pattern. They definitely struggle to put themselves in the victim's shoes. I think it's important for parents to accept this.

This does not make the children monsters (much as they become monsters to us, as victims [or parents]), nor does it make their parents failures.

There is a huge gulf between the cost of being bullied, its impact and significance, and the cost of doing it, and the ease of doing it. This gulf can certainly be widened by home environments, education systems, peer groups, authority figures, other cultural factors, but in my experience it's pretty much always there.

What this means is that it can be very easy, almost trivially so, to bully someone to the point where its impact is severe. This snowballs when a small amount of bullying from a large number of children rests on a single target.

I expect my daughter to bully (perhaps she does already, though at 2 I grant everything seems rather red in tooth and claw), as I did. I also expect her to be a victim of bullying, as I was. Some of it may be inadvertent, some of it will be deliberate.

What I'm really concerned about is ensuring that she has the tools; cognitively, emotionally, institutionally and culturally, to deal with this when it happens, in a constructive, healthy way for both victim and bully - whichever role she is in. I don't want to get defensive about it, and pretend my little angel would never do that. Having worked with thousands of kids, little angels to it all the time.

I think it's important to bring it out, as bullying really thrives in secrecy. So many children - bully and bullied alike - could get the help they need if we had better systems in place, and took it more seriously as adults. It's never too late to help these kids (and the adults we turn into) until they end up where Rebecca is now.

Demonising children won't get us there, if anything it forces it deeper underground, and we'll see more of these situations. And it also lets us avoid culpability - not just as parents, but as a society.
posted by smoke at 9:37 PM on September 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


I fear I will beat the crap out of some kid if my kid gets bullied.

I was beaten by the father of a kid I'd had a fight with when I was five.

He saw the whole thing, and I think he may actually have put his kid up to it, because the kid came over from where his father was standing working on their car and took a swing at me (we both lived in very weird housing which had been quarters for married soldiers during WWII, and consisted of little duplexes in a big graveled area which had a number of poured foundations for houses that were never built), and we'd had a couple of fights before that he'd lost, and his was the kind of father who wanted his kid to be tough.

I didn't want to fight; his father was staring over at us, and besides we'd already fought twice and I thought we were supposed to be friends after that-- and I was desperate for a friend.

But he hit me right in the mouth and made me angry, I really went for it, and he abruptly turned and ran after only a few exchanges.

I already knew he was faster than me, and I was just screaming with rage and frustration as I chased him, so I looked around for a rock to throw-- and came up with a small railroad spike that had been half-buried in the dry soil, which I did throw, and watched in possibly retrospective horror as it turned over and over in the air and then hit him right in the back of the head. He fell flat on his face with his arms out to his sides and slid forward a couple of feet on the gravel. He did not move or make a sound for several moments, then started screaming, but not moving.

The next thing I remember is looking up into his father's contorted and brilliantly red face as he held me by my right arm just below the shoulder and screamed words that were completely incomprehensible to me. Then he made a fist and started to swing; I watched it coming, but didn't duck; he still had my arm, so it wouldn't have done much good anyway. I felt a tremendous shock on my cheekbone, then one on the other side as he backhanded me on the return, but no pain.

I don't know what else he did, if anything, but the next thing I remember is still standing there, only with him down on one knee wrapping both arms around me, bawling and sobbing till he choked and begging me again and again not to tell anyone what he had done.

And I never did.
posted by jamjam at 9:43 PM on September 12, 2013 [25 favorites]


I should also point out: the next time you hear teachers complaining about wanting smaller class sizes, it has nothing to do with wanting an easier work load.

It's so the teachers have a better chance of seeing things like this.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:57 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


There were six girls in my honors middle school classes. The popular four embraced my best friend, but not me, leaving me as the nerdy outcast. I still haven't fully gotten over that. My eleven year old daughter, who, due to a genetic disorder looks different, and is, by nature, a beautiful weirdo, is so much cooler and self-assured than I will ever be. When people question her gender (her hair hasn't grown since she was a toddler), she just rolls her eyes and patiently explains that yes, she is a girl, and when people call her weird, she just smiles and says thank you. She has a lot of friends, and makes a special effort to befriend those on the fringes. I recently, with her permission, read her journal, and on one page she wrote, "I'm ugly. I'm ugly and I'm PROUD." What do I do with that?

Rebecca, I wish my Bekah could have known you. She would have loved and defended you. I wish I could say the same about young me.
posted by Ruki at 10:12 PM on September 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Molly Ringwald's story of dealing with her young daughter's bullying comments to other kids. The daughter was 7, but the comments she was making will seem familiar, I think.
posted by amtho at 10:22 PM on September 12, 2013


I recently, with her permission, read her journal, and on one page she wrote, "I'm ugly. I'm ugly and I'm PROUD." What do I do with that?

Well, you can tell her that I think she's a total badass.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:29 PM on September 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


We KNOW age-segregating kids without effective supervision leads to bullying. It's utterly horrible, and so utterly commonplace that it seems mundane and we totally ignore it until yet another kid kills themselves over it.

Yeah. It's kind of like prison. Except kids lack the psychological and intellectual tools to know how to handle it and have done nothing to be put there.

Also, if teachers and principals are waiting for students to report bullying they're no better than Pilate washing his hands of the matter. That's usually not going to happen and part of your job is and should be watching over and protecting your students. Acting like Sergeant Schultz and going "I see nothing I know nothing" doesn't cut it. Kids are being abused on your watch and you failed them if you didn't see it and stop it.

In my experience, the majority of children bully, to a greater or lesser degree, at some stage in their childhood. Even good kids. Heck, even great kids.

I think you're really distorting the situation. I won't speculate as to why. But while it's true that even good kids will sometimes engage in behavior that could be qualified as bullying I think you're both exaggerating the universality of it and drawing a false equivalence. There's a huge difference between somebody who is mostly a good kid who once or twice in their life made fun of somebody for whatever reason and a bully who consistently and relentlessly engages in a pattern of abusive behavior over extended periods of time. It's just not comparable.
posted by Justinian at 10:39 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Let me add one more thing - the parents of those girls should have been monitoring their online behavior better.

I'll bring your attention to the earlier thread about the father who was monitoring his daughters' online activities, and the chorus of people who were saying this was a terrible thing, that teens need their privacy. Make up your freaking minds, people.
posted by happyroach at 10:46 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, if teachers and principals are waiting for students to report bullying they're no better than Pilate washing his hands of the matter. That's usually not going to happen and part of your job is and should be watching over and protecting your students. Acting like Sergeant Schultz and going "I see nothing I know nothing" doesn't cut it. Kids are being abused on your watch and you failed them if you didn't see it and stop it.


Sorry, this is bullshit. Bullying usually is not the standard mental image our subconscious whips up: a big, meaty kid grabbing the scrawny bespectacled nerd by the front of his shirt. Of course that's easy for teachers to spot and shut down. In the real world, bullying is a lot more clandestine and difficult to spot in the first place. Often bullies and victims hide what's happening from the teachers, if for totally different reasons.

Besides, teachers are generally busy focused other things that make that kind of surreptitious behavior hard to pinpoint. Things like teaching.
posted by zardoz at 10:46 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


The girls who drove this child - and SHE WAS STILL A CHILD - to her death should be prosecuted as adults and should be reminded of the heinous thing that they did for the rest of their lives.

Fuck no. That's not justice, that's revenge to make you feel better. It doesn't solve anything, just destroys more families and won't stop the bullying. Adults failed here: parents, teachers, the school system. Go after them, change the system, don't make these kids into scapegoats.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:48 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a reporter for a local news station and just tonight we received a Facebook message from the mother of a teenage girl who's being similarly tortured. She included text messages that the girls are sending her and her younger sister, who's being bullied just for being her sister. I want to cover this. I read this FPP after reading the Facebook message and I cannot stop shaking.

I want your help. I need to do this story. How do I do this right? I have a conscience, I was also tormented in school for three of the worst years of my life and now I have to wear long sleeves to cover my self-harm scars, I cannot let this go on, and I want to use whatever power I have to help this girl. Do you guys have any suggestions on how I can pitch this and how I should report this?

Talk to administrators, parents, the girl, the bullies, teachers -- and do a separate story on how parents can protect their kids or find out how they're treating others?

Should I not do this story at all because ... I can't think of a reason. The mother contacted us and she wants to tell her story. Her daughter has epilepsy and she's attempted suicide. I cannot in good conscience not cover this story and help her, not after reading this tonight, not after what happened to me, not after what I've read.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 10:54 PM on September 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sorry, this is bullshit

No, it isn't. If the kids are in your custody for 6 hours a day, you are responsible for their well-being. Seeing and stopping bullying may be difficult but it is the school's responsibility. Who else's would it be? The parents aren't present. There are no other adults around. This isn't, as I said in another thread, Lord of the Flies.
posted by Justinian at 10:55 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Although to be fair about it, zardoz, things are more complicated now than they were when I was in school. The internet and texting and so on make bullying an around the clock problem rather than something that occurs almost exclusively on school grounds during school hours.

I agree that it's very hard to argue teachers and school officials should be held responsible for something that occurs outside school hours and off school property. My worldview may not have caught up to technology.

It's the parents who are, of course, on the hook for the non-school-hours stuff.
posted by Justinian at 10:59 PM on September 12, 2013


Should I not do this story at all because ... I can't think of a reason. The mother contacted us and she wants to tell her story. Her daughter has epilepsy and she's attempted suicide. I cannot in good conscience not cover this story and help her, not after reading this tonight, not after what happened to me, not after what I've read.

Tread quietly and carefully, and get as much as you can from the girl and her parent before spreading out. Consider talking to the administrators and getting a sense of where this is, and perhaps tell them that you won't air the story if you get the sense that it will make things worse for the girl... and then see how that colors their input. Talk to them off the record first. The administrators may be real professionals doing their jobs, or they may be concerned about covering their asses.

Also, understand that I'm a teacher telling a professional journalist how to do professional journalism, so my advice may be of questionable worth. :)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:11 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, it isn't. If the kids are in your custody for 6 hours a day, you are responsible for their well-being. Seeing and stopping bullying may be difficult but it is the school's responsibility. Who else's would it be? The parents aren't present. There are no other adults around. This isn't, as I said in another thread, Lord of the Flies.

Justinian, have you worked in American public schools?

Being responsible for well-being and being adequately trained, equipped and able to manage behavior are not all the same things.

If your position is that the impossible should be done despite being impossible because the ideals say it should be done, then good on you for being an idealist, I guess. But if you genuinely think American teachers are capable of effectively dealing with this problem, I'm sorry, but it's far more complicated than that.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:16 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, understand that I'm a teacher

Good, that's what I need, is input from someone who's been inside of a classroom more recently than 2010.

Do you have suggestions for how to talk to teachers or administrators without coming across as accusatory? (I'm not planning on shoving a camera in their face and yelling, "WHY AREN'T YOU DOING ANYTHING," no matter how much I might feel like it, but obviously this situation is nuanced.)

What I need to avoid is my editors eventually declining to do the story if it comes to light that the victim has struck back in some way or otherwise not been "perfect." They have a habit of liking their stories very black and white. Car crashes. Fires. Shootings.

I know we would cover this story if the girl killed herself, is the sickening part. I want us to prevent it from happening.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 11:24 PM on September 12, 2013


Seeing and stopping bullying may be difficult but it is the school's responsibility.

Sure, the schools is more or less responsible. If. They. Know. It. Is. Happening. Your whole premise is based on the assumption that bullying is clear and obvious and all teachers have fully-functioning bully-dar. The unfortunate reality of bullying is not so black and white. I suggest you refer back to the comments on this thread made by actual teachers to help you with this point.

In this case, the school was aware of it and had the girl change her schedule around...that was clearly wrong and they should be held responsible for that. But that's rather different from what you're talking about. And yes, the cyber-bullying is yet another layer of complexity, but it's pretty damn complex to begin with.
posted by zardoz at 11:35 PM on September 12, 2013


If teachers and administrators can't catch bullying when it happens in their schools, maybe children shouldn't be forced to attend them. Maybe we should keep children safe at home.
posted by Nomyte at 11:39 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm a reporter for a local news station and just tonight we received a Facebook message from the mother of a teenage girl who's being similarly tortured. She included text messages that the girls are sending her and her younger sister, who's being bullied just for being her sister. I want to cover this. I read this FPP after reading the Facebook message and I cannot stop shaking.

I want your help. I need to do this story. How do I do this right?


none of these will bring disaster, I suggest you set up an AskMe, and link to it from this thread - the answers will be more focused, and won't get mixed up with the other issues being discussed here.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:40 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Tread quietly and carefully, and get as much as you can from the girl and her parent before spreading out. "

I'd actually go broader, and try to set the girl as an anecdotal through-line. That way, depending on the comfort of the girl, you can tie in a bigger pattern and show that she's not alone. That way, you keep the focus on where the responsibility lies while the girl illustrates the harms of the status quo. By not making the girl the sole focus of the story, you also take some of the pressure off her.

Obviously tread quietly and carefully with the girl, but feel free to raise hell everywhere else. Sometimes things don't get fixed without some kicking.
posted by klangklangston at 11:42 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Good call, His thoughts were red thoughts -- I did want to have a discussion and be able to respond and explain (sometimes people think they know how reporting is done so they make assumptions that influence the discussion) and AskMe isn't designed for that, but this thread may not be the place either.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 11:44 PM on September 12, 2013


I think you're both exaggerating the universality of it and drawing a false equivalence.

I can only attest to my experience in working with many children from ages 5-13 over several years. I was certainly not intending to lump bullying into a monolithic concept and I apologise if my comment came across that way. Naturally, bullying occurs a long a continuum with many many gradients.


. There's a huge difference between somebody who is mostly a good kid who once or twice in their life made fun of somebody for whatever reason and a bully who consistently and relentlessly engages in a pattern of abusive behavior over extended periods of time.

I stand by my core point, however, that the difference you perceive is not as readily discernible as you think, based on my experience. Certainly, there is a difference, but the results can be disturbingly similar in victims and further: what's making fun of someone to one person can genuinely be horrifying abuse to the victim, in their context. Children and adults-remembering-childhood, have very unreliable recall of their actions, and even less of their effects.

Lots of kids partake in regular, systemic bullying. They may only contribute a small part, but on the victim it accumulates.

I don't know, I think, with bullying in particular, there is a real tendency to turn something systemic and cultural into a narrative, and to turn children into heroes or villains; victims or psychopaths. I feel it obfuscates that this is a cultural issue; this is not about bad apples or whatever, and in my experience the majority of bullying is not a result of a single child, or core nucleus, those are just its most visible manifestations.

I am not denying that some kids bully more, have very problematic behaviours etc. Sometimes, removing those kids helps deal with specific incidences of harrassment, but sometimes another child will just step in to fill that role, and in other cases the harrassment is such a widespread and embedded phenomena, it scarcely makes a difference.
posted by smoke at 11:45 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are certain often difficult to detect things that could happen at school where, "We didn't see it" would not be accepted as an answer. Those are the things we take seriously. Even when we know they can't totally be solved, we demand more action because they are viewed as that important.

I mean I can't stop running this comment from Mrs.P through my head.

As soon as I sat down, the blond hair boy sitting across from me (we will call him John) snickered the words “hey fatty”, aimed at me, and just loud enough for the class to hear. The students around me erupted with impaling giggles. The teacher only said, “John, that’s enough”.

I'm trying to imagine how I would handle a situation like that if I were a teacher. You can't call the bullies out on it in front of the class, because that would cause the bullied child to lose (even more) face and empower the bullies.
-
Yeah, I think this is really tricky, especially because there can be many moments like this over the course of one day. I think instead of "John, that's enough" you could give John a look and say "Not okay" and pause before moving on, but I know, from having been a super nerdy kid who was bullied a fair amount, that having the teacher defend you in front of the class when someone makes fun of you can be absolutely humiliating. When I was a kid I didn't want to be singled out for protection by the teacher; that just made it worse.


I can't come up with a single reason why this should be tricky. The answer is you say "Go to the office, now!" and once they are in the office they should be immediately suspended because letting this go can lead to dead kids and kids with lifelong depression and a teacher witnessed it. This isn't an example of some hard to see hidden stuff. Once you do that, it's not going to happen multiple times a day in front of you anymore. And then it might happen less in the halls because kids think a teacher might hear and actually take it seriously. And if you do this every time the kid doesn't lose face because this is just what happens every time.

The online harassment is a matter for the police. If we need to update our laws to deal with it we shouldn't have too hard a time doing so. These kids leave evidence everywhere. I'll even let the NSA handle this one if it will help.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:54 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Whenever I read stories like this I'm so fucking grateful that I ignored my misgivings (was I a bad/incompetent mother, etc.) and family criticism (not overt, but there) and let my son bail out of high school for a few years and stay home until he was ready to return (to a very good alternative program, where he thrived). High school isn't necessary, not really: you can pick up the academics quickly at a community college or equivalency program, and then get on with real schooling at university. I never finished high school, but it didn't stop me from going to grad school, eventually.

I was another odd kid who had a hard time in high school, but the times were different and society was still a ways off from answering machines, let alone smart phones. I, like so many others here, suspect that I wouldn't have survived if the culture had been the same as it is today. I can't imagine how I'd have managed without zones of retreat: libraries, books, the woods. To be always within reach of that social poison must be torture.
posted by jokeefe at 11:58 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with those who say this is not an outlier. I only taught 8th grade ONE year, but I saw kids who were tortured from the moment they got on the bus (or to school) until the moment they got off the bus. I dealt with what I could--things in my class--but I'm surprised we don't have more school shootings/stabbings.

I only remember one bully--though I'm sure there were more. A kid named Kelly wore a black leather jacket, smoked in the 7th grade, and would thump my ear in class (he sat behind me). After weeks (or months?) I finally turned around and shoved him into the wall and demanded a fight, but he just held out his hand and explained that he'd only been trying to get me to stick up for myself all along.
posted by whatgorilla at 12:00 AM on September 13, 2013


I can't come up with a single reason why this should be tricky. The answer is you say "Go to the office, now!" and once they are in the office they should be immediately suspended because letting this go can lead to dead kids and kids with lifelong depression and a teacher witnessed it.

Because your administrator says you should handle problems in your classroom rather than sending the kid out.

Because you've tried this already, and you've realized that your administrator is incompetent, or weak, or batshit insane, and will inevitably make things worse.

Because the kid you've sent to the office is trying to get suspended, because in his mind, that's how he wins.

Because someone in this situation is damn good at playing the race card (and perhaps not without cause given their experiences).

Because giving that order will lead to another ten-minute confrontation in front of the entire class, which everyone will have to suffer through, and what will come of it is constant hallway talk that "John got kicked out of class because of little miss fatty over there."

Those are just things off the top of my head. I've experienced most of them.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:01 AM on September 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


On another note: some schools can and do enforce anti-bullying rules even when it comes to after-school internet use:

Earlier this year [2010], McClure Middle School in Queen Anne made headlines when Principal Sarah Pritchett demonstrated the district's zero-tolerance for online harassment.

She suspended 28 students for allegedly bullying a classmate on the Internet.

The incident involved a Facebook page and included both male and female students in grades sixth through eighth.

Pritchett says the off-campus activity spilled onto school grounds and created a hostile and intimidating environment, compromising the safety of students. Part of teaching the whole child says Pritchett is realizing what goes on beyond our [school] walls affects students' learning. "When you ignore things," says Pritchett," they tend to increase in magnitude."

posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:08 AM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


SBD, yes, to clarify I was suggesting people demand we change the administration response to all that. If it had been a punch instead of a remark the kid is gone regardless. We have to think of words the same way.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:09 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Also, Drinky Die, for the record: my reaction in that situation is usually to haul the kid outside and chew him out, and/or kick him out for the office, too... but it depends on the kid and it depends on the school, because these things are never equal. In a good situation, your suggestion is absolutely a reasonable course of action.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:10 AM on September 13, 2013


I can't come up with a single reason why this should be tricky. The answer is you say "Go to the office, now!" and once they are in the office they should be immediately suspended because letting this go can lead to dead kids and kids with lifelong depression and a teacher witnessed it.

If I don't have an escort to take them to the office, they're not going to the office. They'll wander around the halls, avoid the security, and maybe go to their next class. I'd write up a referral, but follow-up takes time, and I'm probably just trying to keep my lesson on track. The alternative—bring the entire class to halt over behavior like that—would grind things to a halt. Of course, most teachers wouldn't grab the initial comment anyway—we usually find out from the response, which means the victim is still going to have to make a statement and expose themselves to retaliation (or say nothing happened to move things along).

Oh, and a student won't automatically be suspended because they're sent to an office. It takes time, and paperwork, and that's not going to happen when the teacher is still teaching class. Once again, follow-up is hard.

Oh, and we don't observe students for 6 hours a day. We observe any given student for maybe 1.5 hours every other day (block schedule) or 50 minutes every day (regular schedule). When you're teaching a class, neither of those time limits is a lot, and with five minutes in between class, we're not exactly running around halls to patrol while our classroom is unattended.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:13 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


For perspective, I come from a school of about 1800 students with a strong principal (I don't always agree with her, but she's powerful and doesn't stand abuse), and at least two of the APs also rather on top of things, so even in a school with a good administration, these things are really hard to deal with. I'm not going to blame them for this either.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:17 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The alternative—bring the entire class to halt over behavior like that—would grind things to a halt.

I view it as a serious enough matter that the class should grind to a halt if it has to. I don't see how any effort to stop it can ever be succesfull if we don't see it as a serious enough matter to do so.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:21 AM on September 13, 2013


But any disruption could be bullying, is the problem. Someone making a off-handed remark, someone suddenly saying "Shut up!" and cursing at a comment that you didn't hear but they certainly did, someone passing a note with something terrible on it (on the plus side, you might have physical evidence if you catch that one), someone just poking fun at a friend—I can't send all of these scenarios to the office because they might be bullying. Bullying is usually at least partially stealthed to the powers that be.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:24 AM on September 13, 2013


To be clear, I'm talking specifically about the situation above where the teacher has seen exactly what occurred.

As soon as I sat down, the blond hair boy sitting across from me (we will call him John) snickered the words “hey fatty”, aimed at me, and just loud enough for the class to hear. The students around me erupted with impaling giggles. The teacher only said, “John, that’s enough”.


I'm not asking for every incident to be detected. I'm asking for people to insist administrators do not tolerate observed incidents and instead punish them severely like they would for something like having pot or punching someone.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:28 AM on September 13, 2013


someone passing a note with something terrible on it (on the plus side, you might have physical evidence if you catch that one)

I haven't seen a note passed in class in at least two years. It's all done over text messaging now.

And no, they're not supposed to have the cell phones in class, and that's another whole situation where if you enforce the rules, you can wind up disrupting the whole class for ten minutes or more.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:29 AM on September 13, 2013


I'm amazed, and horrified, that people here are calling for the bullies to be prosecuted as adults. I'm amazed and horrified that people here agree with that. Society is judged not just on how it treats its victims but also how it treats its criminals.

Twelve year old kids, cruel, clever and manipulative though they can be, are kids. Although they can be clever, cruel and manipulative and although they can do horrible things that doesn't make them adults. It is a grave mistake to assume that because kids grow up younger faster in ways we can see - like using technology - they assume adulthood earlier.

At a physiological level, kids' brains operate differently from those of adults, especially in terms of how they make decisions and how they solve problems. The bullies, and victim, in this case are both likely to have been impacted by this. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry defines the differences as: adolescents are more likely to: act on impulse, misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions, get into accidents of all kinds, get involved in fights, engage in dangerous or risky behavior. They are less likely to: think before they act, pause to consider the potential consequences of their actions, modify their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors.

It is a peculiar and disgusting function of the American criminal justice system that in a bid to make criminals pay fittingly for their crime, trial as an adult occurs. The right to childhood for victims and perpetrators of crime should be inalienable. Starting from the point that kids do not have the same level of responsibility as adults is not siding against the victim. Prosecuting kids as adults does not progress justice. Using the justice system as a sledgehammer for retribution is bad for society in a wider context and simply horrible in the context of 12 year olds.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:42 AM on September 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


Y'know, having engaged in this, I think I might see part of the disconnect between what teachers experience and what everyone else expects:

You remember back when you were in school, and someone did something they weren't supposed to (seriously minor stuff, like chewing gum or passing notes or whatever), and the teacher called it out and made them stop? Or the teacher made them hand over the note/toy/whatever?

Those days are gone in a lot of places. That doesn't happen anymore. Teachers can't actually make students do anything, and a lot of students know it. "Hand over the cell phone/note/whatever" becomes a six minute power struggle (10% of your class period, when you've already lost 10% to settling down and starting class). That kid just says no, and digs his/her heels in on it, and says they don't have to do what you say. That kid will take the trip to the office (where, as Lord Chancellor points out, they may never arrive) rather than obey instructions. Because what's the teacher gonna do? Wrestle them to the ground and take the note/cell phone/whatever? Get them arrested?

And consider: for a lot of these kids, their parents will always side with the kid over the mean, oppressive school, because they didn't like their teachers when they were in school, either.

Extrapolate the intensity of that resistance to bullying, where the consequences can be dire, and then you might have a better sense of what the teachers are up against.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:44 AM on September 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


I think we may be talking past each other a bit. There are some often trivial things like hat wearing or gum chewing you should probably not stop class for. There are other things like violence that you have to stop class for because it is endangering the safety of your students.

Parents need to demand we start putting bullying in the second group, because that is where it belongs.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:55 AM on September 13, 2013


Prosecuting 12 year olds as adults is barbaric, even these 12 year olds.\

Barbaric is anyone, ever, at any age, having a valid reason to say to someone else: "Why don't you go kill yourself?"


Yes. And as a society, we should strive to be better than the worst of its members. Ultimately, it's about justice, not revenge.
posted by snakeling at 1:05 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Teachers can't actually make students do anything, and a lot of students know it. "Hand over the cell phone/note/whatever" becomes a six minute power struggle (10% of your class period, when you've already lost 10% to settling down and starting class). That kid just says no, and digs his/her heels in on it, and says they don't have to do what you say. That kid will take the trip to the office (where, as Lord Chancellor points out, they may never arrive) rather than obey instructions. Because what's the teacher gonna do? Wrestle them to the ground and take the note/cell phone/whatever? Get them arrested?

This is so true, and so depressing.

One of the huge problems in combatting bullying is lack of consequences. While I was reading this, I was thinking back to when I was that little girl's age, at a private school in Australia in the mid-'80s.

One of the key differences was that if a teacher told you to stop behaving badly and you didn't, you would be going to the principal's office, and you would be punished, and your parents would be notified, and they would side with the school. And there would be Consequences at Home: stuff you cared about, like loss of tv privileges or being grounded, or extra chores. And if you behaved badly enough at school for long enough, you got expelled, and then your parents would be furious and your home life would suck immensely, and you would also feel the weight of public shame (because getting expelled from school was for losers).

Ergo, bad behaviour made your own life shit, and therefore you learned pretty quickly to pull your head in.

So don't blame the teachers. These days, they have no back-up from either the school system or the parents. Add in the fact that the type of bullying going on here is essentially invisible to adults. We (adults) have given kids the tools to torture each other in private. Back in the day, no kid was going to call your parents' home phone multiple times a night to tell you you were ugly. These days, they're hooked up to each other 24/7, with no parental oversight. Kids as young as 12 (and younger). This appals me.

Much as I despise what they did, the bullies in this story were failed as well - by the adult world in general. Calls to lock them up and throw away the key are completely misguided.
posted by Salamander at 1:14 AM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


none of these will bring disaster, her mom has to get her into a different school district (somehow). This is basically the only way to make it stop. I can't emphasize that enough. Once you've been assigned the role of class punching bag, it's almost impossible to get out of it. If she's in a different environment, she won't bring that with her. Most kids who get bullied a lot learn to be pretty thick-skinned and not to do anything that encourages harassment. It's not very likely that, with new people who don't already know they're supposed to hate her, the pattern will repeat again. She'll probably be able make friends.

If this is not possible (and I realize it might not be), her parents could try to get her into some kind of after-school or out-of-school activity with other people around her age who aren't the same people she's in school with that already hate her. This can be a life-saver. A couple people upthread have already mentioned how important it was to have friends outside school and feel safe outside that environment. If that doesn't already exist, try to replicate it.

For background, there's been a lot of research in psychology in the last few decades on bullying and ostracism in kids social groups and the long-term effects it has on people. The search term you want is "peer victimization" because that's the term psychologists use. It'll help if you have access to a university library. This might be helpful for her parents, and for her, when she gets older and is trying to get some perspective on what happened to her.

I hate to say this, but if you publish this story now, your contact's daughter will face retaliation, not only from other students, but from her teachers, because you wrote an article about her that made the school look bad. This is not hypothetical, it will happen.

Concentrate on helping her mother (or her parents, if she has two of them) find resources and hopefully get her the fuck out of there. By all means publish the story, but only when she's out of harm's way.
posted by nangar at 2:00 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heartbreaking. Yes it happens in the UK too, often enough that it doesn't make natioal headlines. A friend's family had such a tragedy recently.

My robust approach to managing school bullying stems from the experiences of my eldest son. Eight at the time, one of the 11 year olds was making his life a misery. He took matters into his own hands and flipped out one day, punching the othe chap to the ground and dragging him by the feet. Unlike the bullying this was noticed and my son as suspended and referred for psychological evaluation. The verdict was that he had reacted in a reasonable way considering the months of abuse. Thereafter I made sure my kids knew they had to tell me of any bullying and I made sure each incident was acted upon by the school. I take the view that teachers can't be expected to kow everything and kids will avoid potential fallout. My job is to make sure the teahers know and act and help my kid overcome that fear. Each subsequent incident has been resolved quickly and positively. In each case I had to escalate the matter to a senior colleague as the teachers were loathe to accept that they were unaware of the bullying taking place and would not act.
posted by BenPens at 3:03 AM on September 13, 2013


If she's in a different environment, she won't bring that with her. Most kids who get bullied a lot learn to be pretty thick-skinned and not to do anything that encourages harassment. It's not very likely that, with new people who don't already know they're supposed to hate her, the pattern will repeat again. She'll probably be able make friends.

What are you basing this on? Because it doesn't at all match my experience of being bullied. I moved to a new town and it started again within literally weeks of moving to a new county. People who are bullied are not just the victims of a bad draw in the school hierarchy lottery. In many cases, the victimization and bullying starts at home before they even get to school.
posted by empath at 3:54 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just went to the parents' night at my son's middle school. When addressing bullying, it was made clear to us that the school wasn't going to punish cyber harassment because it took place away from school grounds and after school hours. We were instructed that online harassment was a matter for the police.
posted by mneekadon at 4:02 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, the sixth graders are kept way the hell away from the seventh graders. I assume this is to limit transfer of the inevitable seventh grade emotional toxicity and to let the sixth graders develop their own relationships without too much input from the existing social pecking order.
posted by mneekadon at 4:07 AM on September 13, 2013


"It is a grave mistake to assume that because kids grow up younger faster in ways we can see - like using technology - they assume adulthood earlier.

At a physiological level, kids' brains operate differently from those of adults, especially in terms of how they make decisions and how they solve problems. The bullies, and victim, in this case are both likely to have been impacted by this."

Honestly, when we say that children are not capable of stoping themselves from bullying people to the point of suicide, we might rethink what kind of technology we are going to give them access to at what age.

If we know kids can't help it and aren't mature enough to realize that torturing people emotionally is the act of a sadistic monster, maybe they shouldn't have unsupervised access to internets or phones until they are mature enough to be held accountable for their actions.
posted by xarnop at 4:41 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


> What are you basing this on? Because it doesn't at all match my experience of being bullied. I moved to a new town and it started again within literally weeks of moving to a new county. People who are bullied are not just the victims of a bad draw in the school hierarchy lottery.

There has actually been empirical research on this. Kids who've been ostracized and bullied at one school aren't more likely than other kids to be ostracized and bullied when they transfer. A decent number of kids have the reverse experience – being reasonably popular at one school and then ostracized at a new one – enough to make 'being picked on because you're the new kid' a trope (topos?), even though they're not statistically at higher risk either.

It does look like 'people who are bullied are just the victims of a bad draw in the school hierarchy lottery'. A lot of the ostensible reasons kids get picked on – being fatter, smarter, dumber – aren't actually risk factors for being ostracized and bullied, neither are previous victimization or the lack of it. The only thing that seems to make a difference is being 'easy to pick on', that is, physical or emotional vulnerability.

And, yeah, it's totally possible to get a bad draw in the hierarchy lottery twice – and that sucks – but usually there doesn't seem to be a reason for it.

(This is what I remember from research I've read. My memory may be a bit off, and what I read certainly isn't up to date.)
posted by nangar at 5:40 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


They're not "bullying" anyone. They're just compelled to put that girl in her place (she's SO anNoyIng! GOD, you just don't understand!) to avoid being THE girl in THAT place.

And by the way, discourses about "personal choice" and "behaviors" that adults feed to children are the same discourses these kids who don't believe they're bullying anyone have going on in their heads. "She doesn't HAVE to be so annoying. She could CHOOSE to stop being annoying. If she'd just stop XXX, we wouldn't hate her so much."

Which is pretty much what adults/teachers/administrators say to children when their annoying humanness disrupts the school day. "We want you to make better choices. You could choose to have better behaviors."
posted by vitabellosi at 5:58 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Getting bullied sucked when I was a kid and it was just relentless torment at school, but at least ended when you got home. Being able to go into your room and bury yourself in other things (books, video games, family, whatever) is what allowed you to rebuild the thick skin that got you through it and made you ready to face another day of the same.

Thanks to the willful ignorance of adult about the power of social media, bullying can now occur 24/7/365 by mobs of indeterminate size with the victim given no relief and the perpetrators expecting no consequences for their sick, twisted, sadistic actions.

I would be fine if the perpetrators of the bullying were subjected to something so horrible, that they would beg... literally get on their fucking knees and beg... for it to stop, because that's all any victim of bullying wants. Not revenge/retribution/whatever you want to call it. They just want it to stop. And have a group of people standing by with the capability to make it stop, and not take action. That would be a punishment commensurate with what they put the victim through, and if you're looking for any sense of "justice," that's what it takes for bullies to get the message about the things they've done.

I don't give a flying fat fuck how young or old they are.

And the adults that just sit idly by while it's happening right in front of them... from the school personnel that stick their head in the sand to the administrators and legislators that tie their hands with idiotic rules and laws that protect the perpetrators of this shit... put them in prison. How many kids do we have to find dead for somebody to get the goddam message?
posted by prepmonkey at 6:37 AM on September 13, 2013


"There has actually been empirical research on this."

There has!
If this more recent research is accurate it would indicate empath is right: Chronic bullying across school transitions
"Regression analyses showed that children's early characteristics such as preexistent adjustment difficulties and IQ predicted chronic versus transitory victimization. Family risk factors for chronic victimization included socioeconomic disadvantage, low maternal warmth, and maltreatment"

It's likely that a lot of bullying is random, but that some kids make easier targets.

Either way, the real problem is that bullies think they have a right to prey on the vulnerable, not that people who are vulnerable should be expected to stop being vulnerable if they dare to want to stop being bullied.
posted by xarnop at 6:37 AM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I read a book some years ago that suggested that bullying was an emergent property of the schools themselves--that the school environment creates niches that kids will fill. I wish I could remember the book because the argument is so vague to me now that I can't even evaluate how convincing it was. But the idea has stuck with me.

My oldest son is very inflexible. He has anxiety and one of his strategies for managing that is to try to control his environment and the people in it. For years, he had a best friend who was incredibly easy-going and not inclined to stand up for himself. As a result, how they spent their time together was often almost entirely dictated by my son, whether it was what his friend wanted or not.

His mothers and I were aware of this dynamic and working with both boys to change it, but one thing we often commented on was that it was like watching a tropical depression that might become a tropical storm that might become a hurricane. You could so easily see how my son, a really decent, sweet boy, could have slid into a bullying role because of his anxiety and temperament, while their son slowly became a victim because of his.

We thought they were like a case study in how bully/victim might not be about one kid being a bad kid, or even necessarily mean, but about an unhealthy dynamic developing between them. And how adding other kids into the mix might ameliorate or foster that dynamic. How subtle the causes might be, and how hard to tease out because so much depended on the temperaments of the kids. As their parents, we knew our kids really well and felt that we could work on the issue both from a behavioral level ("It's not OK for N. to just watch you play a video game for an hour. You must take turns.") and from the level underneath that, the personality traits that were driving the dynamic--so that all of us adults were encouraging N., for instance, to say what he really wanted and to understand that if my son was unhappy about it, that wasn't N.'s fault, that we would back him up and deal with my son's emotional reactions. But how do you scale that to 20 or 30 kids in a classroom?
posted by not that girl at 6:40 AM on September 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


In Germany, there is a principle codified in law that makes parents liable for the actions of their children.

If you introduced that in the United States, this kind of bullying would end right quick.
posted by rhombus at 6:45 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Pinning this on schools is personal grudge-blinkered nonsense. The girl was harassed to the point of suicide online by kids outside of school hours. These kids were not aliens from mars but other kids her age that she might just as easily have come into contact with through other channels.

Human beings are wild animals. Literally. Like every other mammal, we have instincts related to social dominance that encourage us to scrabble for social position by dominating others in public displays. Fortunately, those instinctual tendencies don't often go to the kinds of extremes that leads to a tragedy like this, but when they do, I think it's a mistake to think that there must be some unique, circumstantial explanation for it.

Kids actually are going to need to understand how to function well within systems of rules and to manage and survive dealing with random other people to thrive in life. Teaching them how to observe rules and social conventions is not what inspires them to be bullies.

That's not meant in anyway to justify bullying; kids should never have to learn to accept abuse, and I'm not saying "kids will be kids." But I've got news for you: Your kids aren't just going to get bullied in school. They're going to potentially get bullied in employment markets, at clubs, and in all sorts of other situations in life. Using tortured logic to blame the existence of schools (and the mere existence of rules in the abstract) for bullying is running away from deeper, more widespread cultural problems and scapegoating a vital public system. Our culture in general is violent, nasty, mean-spirited and petty these days. That's why there's so much more extreme bullying. The society in our schools is a microcosm of larger society in general. And our society is a mess. It's not that the underlying tendencies that give rise to bullying behavior are unnatural, unhealthy, or even fundamentally avoidable, it's that our culture isn't working sufficiently to constrain the natural human tendencies toward social dominance play.

I read a book some years ago that suggested that bullying was an emergent property of the schools themselves--that the school environment creates niches that kids will fill. I wish I could remember the book because the argument is so vague to me now that I can't even evaluate how convincing it was. But the idea has stuck with me.

Well, I wrote a book once, but nobody published it. What's the point here? This ignores real life. What were the West Virginia Coal Wars and the Civil War about if not the more pervasive kinds of bullying we see in the rest of life? No, bullying definitely exists outside of schools. Hell, we just had a thread here on the blue about online bullies yesterday.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:01 AM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


These kids leave evidence everywhere. I'll even let the NSA handle this one if it will help.

FWIW, I'm against using intelligence agency resources to prosecute 12 year olds.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:06 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


none of these, I feel bad for trying answer your question yesterday. My response was emotional, but not really responsive to what you were asking. I agree with His thoughts were red thoughts that you would probably get better responses on AskMe. You can clarify stuff in thread over there, too, if you need to. (And you can ask the mods for advice about framing your question if it helps.)
posted by nangar at 7:15 AM on September 13, 2013


Although to be fair about it, zardoz, things are more complicated now than they were when I was in school. The internet and texting and so on make bullying an around the clock problem rather than something that occurs almost exclusively on school grounds during school hours.
Is there some kind of cite for these claims about bullying being exclusive to school settings? Because I've seen at least as much bullying outside of schools in my lifetime as in (my neighborhood growing up, at parties in high school and college, in professional life, in certain extremely authoritarian and religious families, etc.) but it seems like people have some weird idea that these problems are somehow uniquely found in schools. Hell, some people's biggest bullies are their own siblings (my wife once got dangled from a balcony by her ankles by an older sibling in a not-so-fun-and-games way; he's since reformed and my wife has a decent relationship with him now, but there's no doubt, bullying is also common within families and between siblings. I can't count the number of kids I knew growing up, especially among the poor kids, whose own parents bullied and humiliated them relentlessly).

You might have gotten off lucky in life if you've never encountered bullying outside of a school setting, but believe me, it exists and can turn just as nasty wherever there are people socializing.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:30 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I went to a magnet school, so the kids I lived around were largely different than the kids I went to school with. I had bullies in both groups.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:35 AM on September 13, 2013


I think people are arguing that school bullying mostly stayed at school, not that there were no other places you could be bullied.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:45 AM on September 13, 2013


allkindsoftime: "If a 12 year old is old enough to suffer enough mental trauma that she climbs a goddam silo to jump to her death, at the direct suggestion of her classmates, than her little demon classmates are certainly old enough to be tried as adults and sent to fucking jail for the rest of their horrible little lives. If they don't have parents who will discipline them and stop this shit, the state needs to do it, to protect the innocent.

These kind of stories are becoming commonplace and its an appalling atrocity. Drop the drug war and free up the prison system for bullies like these.
"

We need to look at this from three angles: deterrence, reform, and prevention.

Deterence: People who bully to this extent should be broadly and severely punished. They should be outed in the school and made to acknowledge their part in the death. They should have all privileges at the school revoked: for as long as they are at that school, they cannot participate in any extracurricular activities that are exclusive. Which is to say: they cannot be picked for plays, or for anything that requires a tryout. They also get no awards, commendations, recognitions, superlatives, etc. They are allowed to study and to participate in school-wide functions, that's it.

Reform: The bullies will have to go through some pretty intensive introspection, privately and publicly. Mandatory counseling sessions with the school counselor or with a private therapist. Required participation in community service. On the public side, I envision a school assembly where each bully has to come to the microphone, state what they did, say why they felt it was okay to do it, describe how they feel about the person's death, and try to describe how they would personally feel if they had experienced what Rachel had experienced.

Prevention: How the hell do kids even end up this way? Clearly kids are not being taught empathy, and are getting the message that being cruel to others is somehow okay. Instead of a zero tolerance rule for gun-shaped objects or language, how about a zero-tolerance rule for cruelty? Concerns about oversensitivity aside (and usually, the "too sensitive" criticism is just a mean's person's way of staying mean), if there were rules on the playground that said teasing was unacceptable and would result in immediate time out. Teasing rarely exists in a vacuum; it is usually something one person does in front of an audience. Remove that person from their audience and maybe that will reduce it. Empathy classes. Teaching kids how to deal with emotion.

Also, where is the modern replacement for Mister Rogers? Are kids even getting enough of that kind of media nowadays? Mister Rogers did amazing things in terms of instructing kids on how to deal with their crazy emotions. I think that TV now sends awful, horrible messages about how to communicate with one another. If everyone treated one another the way they do on sitcoms (constantly belittling one another, lying, etc) we'd probably have a teen suicide rate of 50%.

Mostly I'm just glad that as bad as my childhood was I didn't grow up with the Internet and instant mobile communication and it makes me a little freaked out about what my son will eventually have to deal with.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:45 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


People who bully to this extent should be broadly and severely punished. They should be outed in the school and made to acknowledge their part in the death. They should have all privileges at the school revoked: for as long as they are at that school, they cannot participate in any extracurricular activities that are exclusive. Which is to say: they cannot be picked for plays, or for anything that requires a tryout. They also get no awards, commendations, recognitions, superlatives, etc. They are allowed to study and to participate in school-wide functions, that's it.

Isn't there a pretty big problem if you focus on severe punishment in cases when someone commits suicide? Pre-teens and teenagers aren't exactly known for being particularly farsighted, and aren't likely to be focused on the remote risk of severe punishment if someone they bully commits suicide. Meanwhile, you've constructed a powerful pro-suicide incentive: if someone being bullied feels that he can get 'revenge' by killing himself, that might push him over the edge.
posted by dsfan at 8:22 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


In Germany, there is a principle codified in law that makes parents liable for the actions of their children.

If you introduced that in the United States, this kind of bullying would end right quick.


Just for perspective, whenever I have a problem behavior in class and I'm calling home (or meeting with a parent during a conference) 90% of the time, the parent believes me and tells me the behavior will stop. It doesn't. So, we have this image of most parents automatically siding with their children against teachers, but my experiences over the last two years show that they usually don't (honors kids tend to have more protective parents). They ground their kids or take away privileges or many other things. I know this because the kid sometimes says so in class in a grumpy tone. Yet it doesn't usually fix the problems of behavior. We talk about teachers and administrators having less control of children, but parents also tend to have less control of children. The rigid social structures that absolutely oppressed people also kept people in line, and now children are aware that they're gone. They know that there are limits to what their parents can do, and will dig their heels in when they can, or go under the radar when they can. So, don't just blame this on parents not reining their kids in. Often times they try and fail. It's a fault with society, probably due to TV or something.

How the hell do kids even end up this way? Clearly kids are not being taught empathy, and are getting the message that being cruel to others is somehow okay.

I don't think empathy can be taught, at least not in the seminar or classroom style. It's part of a world view and altered by our friends, our family, and our society. As previously said, the media that kids consume does not lend itself to empathy, and even if it did, it's not something they pick up easily.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:29 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, there is the idea that empathy can most certainly be taught. I linked to it above, but Mary Gordon's "Roots of Empathy" concept has been pretty transformational here in Canada, with many of her concepts being incoporated into schools.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:36 AM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


These threads are so painful. It's especially painful to consider what I went through, what so many others have been through and describe, and consider my five year old daughter facing this.

And I seriously consider saying fuck it and figuring out how to home school her through 7th and 8th grades. I'm not entirely sure I learned anything in 7th and 8th grades except different types of rocks and algebra, and she already knows the types of rocks.

I wonder how hard it would be to actually do this. I have a full time job and so does Mr. Llama. Maybe there's some way we could do it. Because I so want her to miss this. It's a lie that difficulty makes you stronger. It's just a bullshit lie. It doesn't. Not always. And pretending that it's somehow a good thing to suffer is very damaging.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:37 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah I absolutely think you can teach empathy to a larger portion of people who aren't sociopathic. There's a small percent who are somewhere in there core, determined to lack empathy and to not connect with other people's existence as meaningful real people who matter.

The larger portion of bad behavior is, I think, just people having instincts and not COGNITIVELY doing the work of using their imagination to think about how others feel or to connect the dots about how horrible their behavior is or that other people actually exist and have feelings and matter even if they aren't pleasing to you particularly.

Education, teaching, and training can all help with that, in addition to modelling pro-social and empathetic behavior as adults in a families,society and in media.
posted by xarnop at 8:41 AM on September 13, 2013


I don't think empathy can be taught, at least not in the seminar or classroom style. It's part of a world view and altered by our friends, our family, and our society.

Buddhists have practiced empathy training for years in the form of compassion meditation (to be fair to your point, meditation is not typically done in a conventional classroom setting, though there are also extensive records of monks engaging in public philosophical debates and lecturing both the laity and each other on the importance of empathy and compassion). And Buddhist psychology has always held the view that compassion, like any other habit of the mind, can be cultivated by focused, deliberate mental training.

But it's kind of like the difference between reading about working out and actually working out. You can't just read about working out to get bulging muscles. You have to actually do it. Likewise, meditation is all about deliberately practicing the kinds of mental process that give rise to feelings of compassion for others. And to your second point, yes, these connections are accounted for in meditative practice. For example, one common compassion meditation works in part by requiring you to meditate on the idea that every one in the world has at one point in the cycle of Samsara (in another lifetime) been your mother or best friend.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:25 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The automated messaging system at Lawton Chiles Middle School malfunctioned in some way; Tricia never knew her daughter was absent.

Automated? Would it have mattered?
And remember when actual people used to chase this stuff up?

Also,
.
posted by Mezentian at 9:25 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


As I said earlier, I was both bullied and a bully. Which I believe is a pretty common phenomenon. I didn't realize I was bully in middle-school until I was in my 20's. Because I thought I was the victim and I was just defending myself and other victims, but instead I was perpetuating a cycle of hate.

I have recently spent time in a middle-school as a guest educator and I feel like there are a lot of edited memories in this thread. 11-13yos are amazingly creative, sensitive, and thoughtless. Kids you see the target of hateful speech one minute are dishing it out, to different children, the next. If you have 30-40 kids in a room all dropping a mean off-hand comment every once in while, soon most of those kids feel bullied. They feel like everyone is against them. Bully/Victim is a false dichotomy. There are a few real dyed-in-the-wool bullies and a few guiltless victims (as is likely in this case) but most kids are contributing to a culture of bullying without ever seeing themselves as bullies and in fact seeing themselves generally as victims.

Look at this thread alone for how many people here identify as only one half of this equation. How many 'best friends', 'sibling's and 'teachers' are identified here as bullies. This is I think part of the problem with stemming this tide and enforcing anti-bullying practices, this is community disease that can't be fixed by putting 1 or 2 scapegoats in prison.
posted by French Fry at 9:50 AM on September 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


I wonder how hard it would be to actually do this. I have a full time job and so does Mr. Llama. Maybe there's some way we could do it. Because I so want her to miss this. It's a lie that difficulty makes you stronger. It's just a bullshit lie. It doesn't. Not always. And pretending that it's somehow a good thing to suffer is very damaging.

Suffering is not a good thing. I don't see anyone here saying that. But learning to face and overcome challenges, learning to work through difficult problems and situations you might rather avoid, absolutely are vitally necessary to personal, moral, social and intellectual development, and future happiness. One way to teach the kind of self-discipline people need to thrive is to introduce them to these skills through school. That does not mean drilling in mindless obedience, slavish adherence to routine, etc., but it does mean requiring kids to observe reasonable social expectations and classroom rules and learn to focus their attentions deliberately on a topic even when they'd rather be playing video games.

I believe abandoning the public school system is an overreaction, and that perceptions of just how awful the public school experience is are wildly exaggerated by the more sensational news stories of the day (or at least, that there's a lot more variety among the quality of public schools than the generalizations about public schools reflect). Home schooling seems to me a form of dropping out of society and abandoning a public system that America doesn't even realize how much it depends on. Sure, I agree, improve the public system. Increase options for kids who might need to adopt different learning strategies. Do the sensible things that the science supports. Stop being tyrannical about minor infractions and failing kids for being late to class 6 times. Don't give first graders homework or expect teens to get out of bed at 5:00 AM and be at their best. But don't abandon the public system. Once we start doing that, it will only come completely unraveled, because its continued existence has always depended on its largely compulsory, public nature--when every sociological group has to be in the public school system, even the rich kids' parents have a stake in seeing conditions at a failing public school improve. Otherwise, the rich kids just leave the poor kids behind to rot, taking all their money with them as they go, despite the fact that public schools provide free child care, nutritional and other health services to many kids whose parents depend on those services in order to keep their families afloat.

I'm not defending the extremes of bullying here, but most lower-intensity bullying and similar behavior is much more subtle, pretty much ubiquitous, and historically at least, completely normal. It's the extremes we see bullying going to now that are worrying, and cultural attitudes are exacerbating the problem with the recent pseudo-macho, anti-weakness trends in the popular culture (for instance, commercials for fast food outfits hawking their hamburgers as manlier than the next place over's, as if that's somehow a selling point we should care about).
posted by saulgoodman at 9:53 AM on September 13, 2013


I was bullied, and abused, in my day.
I had glue poured in my hair, and chewing gum another time, and at one point I was subject to a group spitting.

Other stuff. I never once complained, and aside from the odd dust-up after school it ended at the school gates.

I have long thought I am still alive for two reasons:
1. The Internet did not exist.
2. Girls took pity on me. I have no idea why, but when things got bad in class they stepped in and stopped it. Or did the best they could to help me remove the glue/gum whatever. And for that I will always remember them.

I never sought help, educator or parent, and it seemed to level off when I hit 16 and I found "myself" (and when I started fighting back and damn the torpedoes, and yes, I got into more trouble then than I had ever before, but most teachers let it slide), but, my god, leaving school and the end of the day was a big thing. I am not sure I could have survived the Facebook Generation.
posted by Mezentian at 10:13 AM on September 13, 2013


11-13yos are amazingly creative, sensitive, and thoughtless. Kids you see the target of hateful speech one minute are dishing it out, to different children, the next. If you have 30-40 kids in a room all dropping a mean off-hand comment every once in while, soon most of those kids feel bullied. They feel like everyone is against them. Bully/Victim is a false dichotomy.

Yes. Though with this caveat, of course ...

There are a few real dyed-in-the-wool bullies and a few guiltless victims

But mostly the former. At least, that's how I remember it ... and I had the "good" fortune to find myself in four different schools between Grade 4-8, so I got to see a whole lotta permutations on the basic dramas being discussed here. Such that one thing I got very good at by the time I was eleven was NOT necessarily befriending the first kids who were nice to me in a new environment, because they were usually kids who needed friends way too badly. Do I have memories of bullying them? Not really, and in general I don't believe I was ever an initiator of such ugliness. But if somebody dug some video tape up that showed me taking sides against some isolated kid (backing up the real bullies as it were), let's just say I wouldn't be horribly surprised.
posted by philip-random at 10:41 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I've got news for you: Your kids aren't just going to get bullied in school. They're going to potentially get bullied in employment markets, at clubs, and in all sorts of other situations in life.

Sorry, but this is bullshit. There is always conflict, but in my entire adult life I have never experienced the kind of torture I endured as a child. I have never been spit on by other adults, I have never been told that I'm ugly and a worthless loser by adults, I have never been driven to suicidal thoughts just to make the pain stop by adults. I've never been forced to keep interacting with people who hated me day after day, year after year.

The vast majority of adult life does NOT involve bullying, and adult life is participatory - if someone is a dick to me, I just walk away. Children are legally barred from doing that.

Middle school bullying is entirely unlike adult life, and it damaged me far more than it taught me anything about how to survive as an adult.
posted by zug at 10:59 AM on September 13, 2013 [24 favorites]


There are three major points I'd like to see addressed in an article about bullying:

1) putting down other people is a natural human tendency, which may reside in everyone;

3) the way it feels to the target is very different from how it feels to the perpetrator. Both sets of feelings are real feelings (the desire to have fun & not put up with "annoying" people is real, as is the horrible desolation and pervasive fear of the victim - when you are bullying someone, it may not feel like you're doing something awful, but that doesn't absolve you);

4) Why should this problem get attention and resouces over other problems (i.e. poverty/hunger, people dying in Syria, tax relief)? One answer: this behavior might be at the root of a lot of other problems. It has extreme consequences not only for the individuals affected, but for everyone: smart, sensitive young people may leave their hometowns, contributing to a cultural gap between cities and elsewhere and depriving smaller towns of creativity and ingenuity. Also, some (certainly not all) people who are scarred in this way may have other troubles which affect everyone -- this is vague, but please think about it.

** The point above about there being no escape from school, since attending school is mandated by law, is important also. Home-schooling is also not an option for a lot of people.
posted by amtho at 11:01 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but this is bullshit. There is always conflict, but in my entire adult life I have never experienced the kind of torture I endured as a child.

Stick around then. Don't think I didn't endure a lot of bullying myself (for fuck's sake, I didn't even speak English when I started kindergarten--I might as well have painted a target on my back).

But I've also seen grown men maliciously bullied in corporate settings, and seen close friends encouraged to suicide by their peers, and when I was a kid, the kids in my neighborhood (Bayou George) didn't limit themselves to picking on each other at school.

Kids are far more emotionally sensitive than adults, too, and don't have the conceptual tools to put insults into a bigger context. Most of the time, adults don't feel as badly hurt by casual insults. I think a lot of how adults interact socially today contributes to the attitudes that ultimately encourage bullying behavior.

Are you seriously telling me you think school is responsible for guys like weev directing lynch mobs at random targets for fun? I knew a kid (let's say Jack) who personally led another group of kids in his neighborhood to start bullying and picking on a mutual acquaintance that lived nearby (let's call him Ed). Kids in the neighborhood started telling stories about how crazy Ed supposedly was, and driving slowly in front of the guy's house every night and flashing their headlights, ringing his doorbell and running away, etc. This activity caught on to such a degree around the neighborhood that, before long, groups of kids Jack had never even met were organizing groups at night to go out and harass Ed. It all came to a head when Ed had enough one night and smashed the windshield of one of the kids' cars out with a baseball bat, and the police finally got involved.

I was asked to come in and make a statement to the police about my friend. I couldn't believe it once I found out how out of hand the whole thing had gotten, when it all started for reasons no more sinister than the fact that Jack had a love for the book To Kill A Mockingbird (and wanted to pretend Ed was a kind of "Boo Radley") and he and the other neighborhood kids were bored.

Bullying in various forms is pervasive in our society. As adults, we just tend to do it more subtly with implicit social and economic threats, and only occasionally the threat of violence (though I can't be the only one who's had a guy at a bar say to me "You got a problem?" for no reason, after staring at me over his drink a minute or so too long). You're lucky if you haven't faced any bullying since your school days, but I find it almost impossible to believe you were never bullied outside of school by other children. Another friend from Pensacola used to get beat up daily just walking around his neighborhood. School had nothing to do with it, as it often doesn't.

Middle school bullying is entirely unlike adult life, and it damaged me far more than it taught me anything about how to survive as an adult.

Ah--see, here's the thing. I wasn't talking about the worst of middle school bullying. We need to fix that for sure. But it's not a problem inherent to public school systems that we could never hope to solve. The system needs to be fixed, especially when it comes to kids entering their teen years. But the extremes we see are a reflection of broader shifts in our society and culture. Our culture is crueler and more likely to praise toughness and "manly" traits in general now. Why wouldn't the portion of our population that's most susceptible to extremes of mood and behavior be driven to greater and greater extremes by those same shifts?

** The point above about there being no escape from school, since attending school is mandated by law, is important also. Home-schooling is also not an option for a lot of people.
Nonsense. In Florida, all you have to do is sign up for a public virtual school website or just say you're going to home school. And there's barely any oversight or accountability. It's not mandated by law everywhere anymore. The School Choice movement already took care of that.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:40 AM on September 13, 2013


> 11-13yos are amazingly creative, sensitive, and thoughtless. Kids you see the target of hateful speech one minute are dishing it out, to different children, the next. If you have 30-40 kids in a room all dropping a mean off-hand comment every once in while, soon most of those kids feel bullied. They feel like everyone is against them. Bully/Victim is a false dichotomy.

You're totally ignoring something.

Yes, it's totally normal for kids to have friends and enemies, tease and pick on other kids, get teased and picked on, get into fights occasionally. Nobody's worried that those kids are going to kill themselves because somebody called them a bad name at recess. They're just normal kids.

What you're ignoring is that there is a subset of kids who have no friends in school at all (though they may have some outside of school), who get harassed and bullied constantly, and have no one to take up for them when they do. These kids' entire experience of interactions with people their own age consists of being harassed, bullied or beaten, with no, or very few, expressions of kindness, sympathy or affection from anyone. The way the school social dynamic works is that anyone who befriends these kids or expresses any sympathy for them will also be harassed, bullied and sometimes beaten for doing so, so they learn not to do that.

For a lot of kids, this is reality, and it can last for years without a break. These kids are at higher risk for suicide. And people who went through this kind of abuse for extended periods of time in childhood have a lot of the same problems as adults as people who experienced parental child abuse.
posted by nangar at 12:17 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


In Florida, all you have to do is sign up for a public virtual school website or just say you're going to home school.

Unless your parents are using school as childcare.
posted by amtho at 12:21 PM on September 13, 2013


I should probably add, this thing that doesn't actually happen happened to me and a lot of other people in this thread.
posted by nangar at 12:27 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hmmm. Perhaps anti-bullying programs are not the answer. At least not the way they're being done. If this has any credence/

Bullies learn from the programs how to be better bullies.
posted by umberto at 12:34 PM on September 13, 2013


Unless your parents are using school as childcare.

True. That's part of why we need to fix the public system. There should be nothing scandalous or prejudicial about the idea that part of the school system's role is providing low-cost child care. Especially when economic exigencies like the necessity for two household incomes are taken into account.

There are far more opportunities for doing good lost by abandoning and dismantling the public system than sustaining and improving it.

For every kid whose parents are enlightened and have sufficient resources to home school them properly and ensure they have the kinds of diverse social experiences necessary to develop the skills required to maneuver in a large complex society with lots of different kinds of people, beliefs and attitudes, there are other kids being raised with racist or otherwise harmful and counter-factual beliefs in other non-traditional educational settings like the Aryan Nations Academy, or left to languish with no real education at all.

I should probably add, this thing that doesn't actually happen happened to me and a lot of other people in this thread.

Who's saying it doesn't happen? I've seen a school administrator at a private Christian school for all practical purposes join in with the other kids in bullying her own adopted son, who was mildly retarded and chronically bullied due to this disadvantage. Of course it happens. But it's not because public school exists. If that were true, there'd be some evidence that bullying is a unique feature of the world after public education. But witch hunts and social persecution didn't just fall into our laps out of nowhere a few decades ago. In the medieval era, poor kids would be forced to take whippings on behalf of their richer masters. For hundreds of years, we enslaved human beings and shipped them around like chattel. Bullying, as bad as it is, isn't a bi-product of public schools as a couple of people suggested up-thread, anymore than mass shootings are a bi-product of the US postal service.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:46 PM on September 13, 2013


Relevant, from today's Guardian:
A year ago I walked into my kitchen to find half a dozen teenagers there, each one engrossed with their own private screen in silence. I realised it had been months since I'd seen a teenager without a computer or smartphone in their hand. ... Nearly every girl I met talked of the social pressure: the demand to be constantly in touch; the problems of "unfriending"; being in the gaze of people they have barely met; the anxieties about their image; and the horror of looking in while being left out – for them much more pressing than what one girl dubbed "the parental obsession with groomers and porn".
Film's website is here: In Real Life.
posted by jokeefe at 1:05 PM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Hell, we just had a thread here on the blue about online bullies yesterday.
> posted by saulgoodman at 10:01 AM on September 13 [4 favorites +] [!]

Have not forgotten. I was reminded of that thread by comments saying "online harassment is a matter for the police" in this one. Consensus in the weev discussion was that the police won't do squat about online harassment. So, the ones in charge of ignoring outside-school bullying are the cops, not the teachers and school admins.

The cops don't give two shits. They read the emails and listen to recordings of the calls, and tell me to give them a call back if any of these people show up in person, which doesn't exactly help me to prevent my possible promised chainsaw rape from happening.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 4:53 PM on September 12 [3 favorites +] [!]



> I'll bring your attention to the earlier thread about the father who was monitoring his daughters' online activities,
> and the chorus of people who were saying this was a terrible thing, that teens need their privacy. Make up your
> freaking minds, people.
> posted by happyroach at 1:46 AM on September 13 [3 favorites -] [!]

Haven't forgotten that one either. My comment then was that most likely you're damned if you do and damned if you don't:

No matter whether parents are biological or adoptive or foster, no matter whether they monitor their kids tightly or loosely or not at all, there will be no shortage of people ready to go BAD PARENTS! If you monitor loosely or not at all and you roll snake-eyes and some kind of really horrible shit happens like online harassment and a suicide, among the people berating you as BAD PARENTS will be you. "How could I not have known?" If you monitor tightly and creepily and nothing really bad happens at the time but later your grown-up child tells you the reason he can't trust anyone including himself is that you obviously didn't trust him, you will lie awake asking yourself "Is this true? Did I do this to him?"

But in any case all the kibitzers, second-guessers and advice-givers got nothin'.


Looking back at all the young creeps I knew so very, very well... I'd just like to call out two of my long-term classmates (6th grade through HS graduation) for special mention. Joe D (tippy-top popular, A+ student, letter-jacket athlete, Senior Superlative photo page in my last HS annual, went to UVa and Harvard, now a DC lawyer) and Mark McC (plump, quiet, only a few low-status friends). In all the turmoil of attending high school on Devil's Island I have absolutely no memory of either of these kids ever picking on me for any reason on any occasion, no memory of ever being treated with anything but courtesy by either one. I look back at both of them now as people with the kind of natural tact and natural grace that I still lack and hunger for lo these decades later. Mark and Joe, wherever you've gotten off to I salute you. Still aspirational examples for me, both of you.
posted by jfuller at 1:14 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


A lot of folks say, THE SCHOOL is responsible. Only for the things that happen at school.

If this is happening on social media, at times and days when the kids aren't in school, then exactly what and how is the school supposed to deal with it?

You can stop bad behavior at school. That's easy enough. You can't make little people stop being assholes on their own time.

The bullying took place on devices that are not mandated by the school, on websites that are not mandated by the school. What about the kids who bully kids who don't go to their school?

Is school the only mechanism for manging and disciplining kids now? What about summer break, when school isn't in session? Who then do you turn to to address this problem?

There needs to be some sort of juvenile, law enforcement agency that can handle bullying. Some agency with funding and authority and standing to investigate bullying and to put a stop to it.

Bullying among children is as bad as harrassment is among adults, yet we don't treat it that way. Sure, kids aren't adults and they have diminished capacity for decision making, etc, but some system or program needs to be established whereby the bullied have legal redress, where there are real and serious consequences for being a bully.

I mean a little girl dies and what? Someone gets expelled? That doesn't seem to go far enough.

Something should be done, but I don't think it's within the purview or the authority of the school to do it, only because most of the bullying done today is beyond the reach of the school.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:44 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


This hits close to home in more ways than one.

A friend of my daughter was bullied at school, till her grandmother (her legal guardian) found out, and she changed schools to where she met my daughter. But the bullies followed her on social media, with some of the exact wording mentioned here, including suggestions that she is not worthy to live. And what is worse, the bullying types at their new school picked up on the old bullies' game, and joined in. The girl is clearly suicidal, has eating disorders and several other social and learning issues. The family is desperate, and those of us who know the girl and support her are desperate, but what can we do? At the new school, we can engage the teachers, though it doesn't seem like they know what to do. But what can we do with children in a different school district, who's names we barely know? Specially since the children are not cooperating. They are mortally scared of the consequences, if we adults set out to help and we fail, which is more likely than not.

I was bullied in the fourth and fifth grade. As a consequence, I was sent to the "observation room", or to wherever our math-teacher was (which is why I excelled at math). The bullies were left alone. In the fifth grade, the principal temporarily took over our class for about half the classes, and saw what was going on (I suspect the math-teacher had a hand in this). What she did was bully out the bullies. They were four boys, and only one of them remained in class. I think her idea was to empower those of us who were bullied, and it was a relief at the time (though it didn't get me out of that observation room, or the math teachers other classes). But later on, I realized that the bullies were the losers, even before they were bullied out of fifth grade. The one guy who stayed on, now cowed into silence, was literally left behind by his parents and became homeless at a very young age. I've heard the others fared no better. The principal literally taught me to kick back, and I did, but I'm not certain that aspect of violence in my character is good for me. So yeah, while I am scared and angry, I'm not entirely convinced that prosecution of minors/vengeance is the right solution when it comes to my daughter's little friend.

In my family, there is a girl who cuts. I know less about her problems than I know about my daughter's friend, because no one knows, not her parents, not her teachers, not even her friends. That is the most scary thing. Thousands of teens go through nightmare youths, with no one knowing. They seem "normal", if not exactly happy, and they never talk about their troubles.

In my own daughter's former school, there was a strong anti-bullying policy, and I thought it worked. Till recently my daughter told me she had been bullied for years by two or three class-mates. She was generally acknowledged by the teachers and majority of classmates as being the most popular girl in class, which seems to be why no one noticed the bullying, which happened out of sight of the others. No one seems to be safe at school.

My older daughter was bullied by one of the teachers! It started in 4th grade. Obviously, she eventually moved to another school, and her sister was taken out of the school kindergarten, but it took us years to find out, because it was so absurd and absolutely unbelievable. But some adults haven't matured since fourth grade, and some of them teach. This woman was friends with the parents of the class bully, and more interested in pleasing them, by humoring their spoiled brat, than actually teaching class.

The most important issue, however, is the friend of my daughter who is on the brink. I've been searching this thread for ideas, but till now, I feel we've tried everything mentioned. It is a terrifying situation, and I cannot imagine the grief of Rebecca's parents, who lost the battle.
posted by mumimor at 1:46 PM on September 13, 2013



Sorry, but this is bullshit. There is always conflict, but in my entire adult life I have never experienced the kind of torture I endured as a child. I have never been spit on by other adults, I have never been told that I'm ugly and a worthless loser by adults, I have never been driven to suicidal thoughts just to make the pain stop by adults. I've never been forced to keep interacting with people who hated me day after day, year after year.


To a degree. But also, consider racist, homophobic, gender-based and just generally oppressive bullying. Because I am white, was able to get a college education and hold a union job in a liberal city, I am not subject to very much bullying for my sexuality or gender expression, and I am not harassed for my race or because I look "too poor" to be in a particular place. I think many of us on metafilter have been fortunate enough to be able to escape our bullies. We have the economic and emotional resources to avoid adult bullying, mostly.

Adult bullying is less bad and less pervasive, definitely. Probably for both cognitive and social power reasons - it's rarer for one adult to have the kind of social power over another that one child in a tightly constrained situation can have over another child. And adults are more likely to be able to seek out affirmative social circles - even if you're subject to homophobic abuse, you can often still seek out other GLBTQ folks; you're not trapped in a situation where everyone has to avoid the weak and abused for fear of joining them.

And yet, there's always this political dimension to bullying - it's not as readily apparent in all childhood bullying, since only some childhood bullying is explicitly racist, homophobic, etc. (Although I would argue that the bullying of girls is so naturalized in our culture that we forget its political nature.) But the fundamental politics of bullying is "there has to be a clearly drawn hierarchy that encompasses everyone and gives those on top the power to harass those beneath, and your worth is absolutely determined by forces outside you and outside your control, and no one will help you - you can't organize and it will just get worse if you complain". That's the politics of bullying. Kids fight back against those politics by creating their own self-valuing systems and their own horizontal social relations.

The point is, adult bullying is less bad where the "oppressed" have more power. It's the same kind of thing as childhood bullying, but because adults generally have more power and social hierarchies are less pervasive (it's "natural" for kids to spit on the despised child or beat up the queer kid, but it wouldn't be "natural" for even an abusive supervisor to spit on an employee - supervisors may do this, but there is no discourse which says that it is a "natural" way for humans to relate to each other and therefore can't be fixed.)
posted by Frowner at 1:51 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


but there is no discourse which says that it is a "natural" way for humans to relate to each other and therefore can't be fixed.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying this. I'm saying the behavioral tendencies and social instincts that give rise to bullying when not properly checked by cultural stigma or other means are a natural and unavoidable consequence of mammalian biology. The propensities that lead to bullying behavior are natural (that does not mean they are "good"; cancer is natural, too after all), but culture plays a deciding role in how those natural behavioral tendencies are expressed and to what extremes. It's not that bullying can't be "fixed"; just that the fix will never be a simple, one-shot solution. We will always need to be on-guard against bullying and acknowledge its roots in basic human social instincts without shame in order to have a decent shot of reducing bullying IMO.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:03 PM on September 13, 2013


I have never been spit on by other adults, I have never been told that I'm ugly and a worthless loser by adults, I have never been driven to suicidal thoughts just to make the pain stop by adults. I've never been forced to keep interacting with people who hated me day after day, year after year.

There is a range of "bullying" behaviors. The stuff I experienced in elementary school and middle school was more subtle than the physical violence you faced. Sure, I was told that I had a big nose, that I was weird and fat and ugly and a dyke (this one always came from boys, and usually boys I liked, ironically enough). I'd walk up to people, and they'd turn away, sneering, "This isn't your conversation." But a lot of it was subtle. Being left out of your best friend's birthday party because her other best friend says you're a "hippie freak." That sort of thing, the small hostilities that, individually, mean very little but in aggregate mean that you know you're despised by the people around you.

Ironically, for me, the solution was the internet. I got on AOL in 7th grade and the confidence I was able to cultivate through my online friendships sustained me in a way that none of my fraught, in-person frenemy situations ever had. Even in the 90s, my mother was wary of these friendships; I imagine it's even harder, now, with adults hypervigilant about online strangerdanger, likely assuming that known quantities--local "friends" and people the kid has met--are superior to these people who seemingly only exist in hyperspace. Thank god Cassie McBride and the other girls who shunned me weren't on the internet--that it was a place where weird kids could connect with each other without being told they were weird and therefore wrong. In a way, I feel lucky, for finding the internet when I did.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:17 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


These kids' entire experience of interactions with people their own age consists of being harassed, bullied or beaten, with no, or very few, expressions of kindness, sympathy or affection from anyone.

Yeah, this was pretty much my experience from about age 10 (when kids start developing that tween/early teen personality) until the age of 14, when I changed schools. Basically no positive interactions at school, and this included with teachers who were neutral or slightly hostile.

One thing about boys who are bullied is that they lack certain social skills that makes them seem "off" to other kids. So teaching "EQ" to bullied kids proactively (often these boys will have behavioural or scholastic issues in earlier grades) can help head off some serious problems.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:01 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know about any real efficacy of "teaching EQ". People can be really dogmatic about those kinds of frameworks of emotional understanding that really are much more ambiguous and context bound in actual situations. Some of the more seriously bullied kids that I've seen, and this was also evinced in the enraging film The Bully Project, are always going to be targets in situations where children are allowed to normalize rottenness. The burden should not be on some kid whose body didn't form properly for whatever prenatal/congenital condition caused them to look funny. This kind of bullying is markedly different from the casual bullying and isolation that most kids experience at some point.
posted by planetesimal at 6:51 PM on September 13, 2013


The most important issue, however, is the friend of my daughter who is on the brink. I've been searching this thread for ideas, but till now, I feel we've tried everything mentioned. It is a terrifying situation, and I cannot imagine the grief of Rebecca's parents, who lost the battle.

I am so sorry to hear this. If they have not ride it, I would suggest taking away her cellphone when she is alone, and talking to her about her social media use.

One of the reasons I posted this is because this kind of bullying, through social media sites online, is a pervasive and insidious problem.

And it is especially bad among girls. Studies show that both the victims and the persecutors of cyber bullying are overwhelmingly female. Though Rebecca was only twelve, girls between 15 and 17 are particularly vulnerable statistically. As can be expected, victims frequently don't report that they are being bullied, but when they do, what can adults do to help them? The girls in this FPPS carried on an ongoing campaign over 18 months, across two different school situations. Blaming the schools for the,problem seems futile to me, especially whenmany schools have a no tolerance policy for cellphone use during school hours already.

I have two boys, (well, they are 18 and 20 now, so yong men) who were dubious online bullying even existed. Part of this is because, again,,girls are most often the offenders and the victims.

Another factor, I feel, is that neither of my boys had access to social media in the same way Rebecca did until they were older and we had already discussed the dangers of over-investing in online interactions. I drove them to school and picked them up every day, so they had no practical reason to have a cellphone. Additionally, we had already talked about anonymity online and how some people treat that as an excuse for being obnoxious. We talked about logging off, disengaging and the "Someone on the Internet is wrong" paradigm. Tellingly, when I occasionally become frustrated by some comment I've seen on Metafilter, it is my guys who will remind me, "Moooommmmmm! People are idiots on the Internet! Ignore them!"

So I think starting e dialogue before it becomes a issue is important, obviously, as it taking away access to social media when it becomes an obvious problem. People have managed without this access,for a ling time. No one NEEDS a tablet, phone, even a laptop, despite how convenient they are to use. Especially not children who have not yet learned to set healthy boundaries for themselves and just can't help but keep checking in for more avuse from their bullies.
posted by misha at 7:08 AM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


- Prosecuting 12 year olds as adults is barbaric, even these 12 year olds.

The only reason to try them as adults is to increase the options for sentencing. I would say that the sentencing options are barbaric.

The US justice system is not about "corrections" or "rehabilitation," but is about punishment and making an example of criminals, so their actions aren't repeated, and keeping criminals from repeating such actions.

But it doesn't work.

Norway abolished capital punishment in 1905 for civilians, ending the possibility of military capital punishment in 1979. I've brought it up before: Norway's system is one of "restorative justice," and the only down side is the public doesn't see "justice being done" or some BS.

Try the kids as adults, but don't brand them as criminals for the rest of their lives. Don't let them off with some "kids saying things they didn't mean" slap on the wrist, but don't pretend that they somehow deserve to be incarcerated for decades.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:30 PM on September 14, 2013


did she stop after that? ... I kicked him in the shins until he collapsed
...
It's one of those weird little lessons I carry with me in the dark corner of my heart and try not to learn too much from, but it's true - violence can solve problems, it certain very specific situations.
posted by pretentious illiterate



I've talked to enough people who had similar stories to hear that does work in most situations.
In my case, when I finally hit back, two other kids in my class came and pulled me back, one holding onto each arm, and then he came forward and punched me in the face.
Note: I think the two kids were doing standard 'break up the fight', but interestingly, unlike every other time they broke up fights, no one got in between us, no one held him back, and no one cared that he hit me in the face. Because I was the class scapegoat.
My whole class watched (teacher was out of the classroom at lunchtime), people laughed when I burst into tears, so I just walked out of school and went home.

Now, I've processed that. Again, it was a systemic issue, not anything I or they did particularly that encouraged the bullying. At about age 8, the city had announced they were building a motorway that would go through the playground of the school, and the schools roll dropped by over half in under a year. Every kid had had friends leave the school, but in retrospect, I see that I was the only kid who was left with no friends or relatives at the school.
I was suddenly one of only two girls in my class, and only two (apparently) white kids. By economic class of the parents, it was the poorest school in our region (me included, my richer friends had obviously all left). I didn't really know what to do, but I liked reading, and so I just started reading all lunchtime.
You can see how this was all a recipe for disaster.

Things I didn't know I was doing wrong, because I was a kid:
Every movie, and book, I had ever read, said that you stay strong, and don't let the bullies win, blah blah blah. I was asked repeatedly if I wanted to change schools, but I thought that was the wrong thing to do, that I'd be running away.
There was a part of me that was scared that the same thing would happen there, because I didn't know that it wasn't my fault.
I was a smart, coherent kid, and my mother left it to me to make the decision to change schools, and actually, I wasn't mature enough to make that decision, and I didn't know I wasn't.
There are many situations where the adults have to be the adults, and step in because kids, by definition, are not mature enough to be able to handle complex situations like this.
posted by Elysum at 7:08 PM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Part of my earlier point about how schools are structured is that it creates a largish, same-aged referent group, that the child basically has no say in tweaking. That bullying happens outside of school (after hours, summers and weekends) is not that important, because still, the majority of your time will be spent with THESE peers, and there's literally no where else, geographically, for you to go, when you are a kid and school is compulsory. There is no where to "walk away" to that doesn't also involve "walking back into." That creates a different quality of relationship than you find in most other relationships (exceptions would be prison, enslavement, or other abusive or exploitive settings.)

Now I'm just spit-balling here -- but what if schools introduced you, as a child, to multiple, ever-changing learning communities, with people of mixed ages and levels of expertise in the subject matter? What if the structure of education allowed a child to express expertise as someone who has something to teach others, in addition to being a proper little vessel to be filled with learning? What if those areas of expertise and opportunities to express them provided a counter-narrative to the essentializing, negative narratives being written by would-be bullies?

Sometimes the healthiest thing a victim can do is to have somewhere else to be, other nice people to be in community with. (Adults, after all, leave marriages and churches, jobs, groups of friends and bad relationships.) Children are forced to stay in school, most often in the same room as the children who are bullying them. Sometimes for YEARS. It's asking a lot of a kid to "ignore" it, to build self esteem after hours and on weekends, to believe that just because mom and dad love you you are lovable, when the majority of their waking time is spent in school, where they are also being assessed, ranked, surveilled, scrutinized, normalized, and shaped (and I'm not just talking about the bullies here.)
posted by vitabellosi at 12:11 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


That bullying happens outside of school (after hours, summers and weekends) is not that important, because still, the majority of your time will be spent with THESE peers, and there's literally no where else, geographically, for you to go, when you are a kid and school is compulsory.

Blaming public schools makes for an easy scapegoat, but there is no reason to think that if kids were not separated into grades by age they would be any safer. The bullies might just be older and bigger.

The only way to change what happens in public schools is to make education a priority. We say we want to do that, but education taxes get voted down, teachers salaries' are low, and most schools are already operating on shoestring budgets, so clearly we are not wiling to pay for change.

Parents who want to change the dynamic could also make a difference by volunteering at their local schools. Most don't, either because they work and cannot afford to live on one parent's salary, or don't care enough to be willing to make sacrifices to improve their own kids' schools. Why get involved? Bullying is a hassle they don't want to have to deal with, either. For those parents who have the money, it's much easier to just send their kids to private schools, where they hope bullies will be just thrown out (though there are bullies with rich parents, too). Or they might go so far as to homeschool their kids. either way, they conveniently ignore about all the other kids in the same boat. I've got mine, so screw you. it's the American way.

Except that doesn't even work any more, because today online bullying is everywhere. Which means it is not just about geography. There IS no safe time or place. The victim's choices are to tune out the oppressors, or never tune in in the first place. And kids, especially young girls, can be so invested in what others think of them, they have a difficult time just ignoring it all.

Not that we adults are that great at it, either.
posted by misha at 10:26 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


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