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July 20, 2010 10:19 PM   Subscribe

What Really Happened to Phoebe Prince? Six teens remained charged--down from the original nine--in the death of Phoebe Prince, who committed suicide after bullying at school. Legal writer Emily Bazelon of Slate.com continues her investigation of the case with a new three part series: I've wrestled with how much of this information to publish. Phoebe's family has suffered terribly. But when the D.A. charged kids with causing Phoebe's death and threatened them with prison, she invited an inquiry into other potential causes. The whole story is a lot more complicated than anyone has publicly allowed for. posted by availablelight (103 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been reporting in South Hadley since February, as part of a series on cyberbullying. There is no question that some of the teenagers facing criminal charges treated Phoebe cruelly. But not all of them did. And it's hard to see how any of the kids going to trial this fall ever could have anticipated the consequences of their actions, for Phoebe or for themselves. Should we send teenagers to prison for being nasty to one another? Is it really fair to lay the burden of Phoebe's suicide on these kids?

This is kind of how I feel about this. There's no question that a lot of this bullying crossed the line from stock teenage meanness into a kind of sociopathy, but I think we've all, as part of a group, said or done things there's no way we'd recognize ourselves doing.

I just truly don't know how to think about this, I guess. The kids were awful, yes, but if she never had killed herself the whole thing would blow over and everyone goes to college and tells their roommate how glad they are not be in high school anymore. I'm just not certain how responsible one person can be held for another's suicide.
posted by GilloD at 10:55 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kids being kids, I find it hard to blame anything but the institution when something like this happens.
posted by Dmenet at 10:57 PM on July 20, 2010


What a weird story--it is almost like it was written by the defense attorney.

The narrative that's emerged since Phoebe's death is that because she was new to the school and popular with boys, a pack of jealous, predatory kids—"the South Hadley Six"—went after her en masse
But that's not the story the police interviews tell


followed later by:
On Jan. 7, a gym teacher overheard Flannery venting about Phoebe during class in a way that made him think a fight was looming.
and
According to several students Ashley yelled "whore" at Phoebe and "close your legs" and "I hate stupid sluts.
along with
Sharon Chanon Velazquez, now 17, who was in Flannery's chemistry class and saw Flannery as a friend, called Phoebe a "whore" in the cafeteria
followed by the remarkable
Sharon's behavior and the school's reaction shows that while publicly calling out a girl as a slut wasn't condoned at South Hadley High, it wasn't entirely beyond the pale either.

It sure sounds like it's following the narrative to me.

and then nonsensical statements like:
Why is Austin facing a statutory rape charge if he denies having had sex with her?

I'm leery of the whole issue of statutory rape charges against someone when they are nearly identically aged high kids, but come on--don't most people charged with a crime say they didn't do it?

And she goes on and on about Phoebe's depression, cutting, and emotional problems, as if somehow being weak when you are attacked makes a person at fault for getting hurt by those attacks. Like I said, this is a classic defense attorney argument.

There may be another side to this story, but I didn't see it in this article.
posted by eye of newt at 10:58 PM on July 20, 2010 [12 favorites]


Eye of Newt-

I think the point of writing so much about her depression is that narrative so far has been "Pretty, sociable, well-adjusted young woman is BULLIED TO DEATH" when it's more like "Girl with a history of emotional and mental disturbance kills herself after being bullied". Those are two very different things. If there was a predilection for self harm in Phoebe's behavior, that's an important factor to consider. It would take a hell of a lot to get me to feel unsafe enough to off myself, but maybe less so for Phoebe. Point being that the quantity of abuse may have been lesser than the original narrative implies.
posted by GilloD at 11:03 PM on July 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Does it make a difference whether she was happy and well-adjusted when the bullying started? She certainly wasn't by the time she killed herself.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:54 PM on July 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


GilloD: There's no question that a lot of this bullying crossed the line from stock teenage meanness into a kind of sociopathy...

I think part of the issue with stock teenage meanness is that it's so different than it was 10 or 15 years ago. It used to be that while school might be a horror show, you at least got to go home for respite. Now these kids are networked together 24 hours a day via cell phones and Facebook, etc. It is possible to wage a campaign against a student that literally never stops if that's what you want to do.

Parents face the task of not only trying to protect their kid from bullies, but actually raising the child too, and part of that is allowing certain amounts of privacy as well. I mean, I suppose it's possible for parents to lock down every every electronic communication with a family-only phone plan and fully-monitored and walled internet but given that contemporary kids socialised heavily today in electronic environments, I'm pretty sure that the only thing that does is set your kid up to be bullied at school as a complete loser.

Phoebe Prince arrived in South Hadley pretty primed for bullying. She had pre-existing mental health issues. She was new and was going to be a potential target by virtue of being identifiably different. The fact that she was pretty and sociable gave her a fighting chance, but the flip side of that is that she made some hookup choices that any teenage girl could tell you were going to have dire social consequences. I don't think that's the way it should be nor do I think social strata determinants are fair to girls, but that doesn't change the fact that that's the way it is. That's the water she was swimming in.

Faced with a culture of bullying, some victims are going to survive and a percentage are not. The "not" may be more about the individual variables of the kids who commit suicide than the details of the bullying itself; I'm not sure. If you want to reduce "not" to "null" then you need to create a Bullying Free Zone and I am genuinely not sure that is even possible any more without a radical change to public education in the US, starting with school size never mind class size.

I looked it up and South Hadley High seems to have 700 students, making it about average in the US. That is way, way too big. I shudder to think what life is like in the Florida schools with nearly 1,500 students. If you put 700 adults in a building and forced them to be together for 8 hours a day for most of four years, I'm pretty sure the end result would look like Lord of the Flies. We build factories for education, send our kids there in droves, and then wonder why the school doesn't have finite control over everything from the test scores to their social interactions with each other. Well, geeze.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:56 PM on July 20, 2010 [25 favorites]


If there was a predilection for self harm in Phoebe's behavior, that's an important factor to consider.

Yes but... If you're used to shoving people a little when you get angry, and one time you shove someone and they trip and hit their head on a curb and die, this isn't just some crazy black swan event that happened as a result of your understandable and blameless shoving behavior. And it's not germaine whether the person had poor balance for some reason before you shoved him. The shoving is not reasonable, it is not 'normal wear and tear'. Things like this, the rare case of great harm is one of the foremost reasons to not do it, and not something to be shrugged off.

That said, these are just kids, and more responsibility falls on the school and the parents than otherwise. This particular case looks like a clusterfuck of everyone and not particularly anyone being to blame.
posted by fleacircus at 12:01 AM on July 21, 2010 [15 favorites]


I don't think GilloD is saying that she was asking for it, or at least that's not what I took away from his comment. People with a history of emotional and mental disturbance are more prone to acts of violence or self-harm than mentally well-adjusted people, but that's not to say that someone shouldn't be held criminally responsible for Phoebe's suicide.

There are two very different stories of what happened to cause Phoebe's suicide being presented in the press and without knowing the full details of the case it is difficult to know where the truth really lies.
posted by electricinca at 12:11 AM on July 21, 2010


A little off-topic, but DarlingBri, what makes seven hundred students in one high school "way, way too big"? I understand the basic concepts of class size and and manageable population, but I came from a school of at least eighteen hundred in a Canadian city of about ninety thousand. We weren't issue-free, but it certainly wasn't Lord of the Flies. Is seven hundred the size of her grad class? That would make more sense to me.
posted by randomyahoo at 12:12 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I found these articles pretty cheesy -- just the kind of thing someone might write to exploit a difficult situation. I don't like bullying. I don't like suicide. I don't like high school. But GilloD raises a point worth considering: I'm just not certain how responsible one person can be held for another's suicide. And, no, I don't think that means "she was asking for it".
posted by CCBC at 12:15 AM on July 21, 2010


I shudder to think what life is like in the Florida schools with nearly 1,500 students...

My high school was around the 2,000 mark, and I think it was better than a smaller school. No single social group had the power to cast someone into the outer darkness. With more people, you were more likely to find kindred spirits and could have your own social circle.

There seemed to be a sense of, "Yes, I think you suck, but the school is big enough for the both of us," so that there wasn't much hounding of people or being in constant undesired contact with the same people.
posted by fleacircus at 12:15 AM on July 21, 2010 [18 favorites]


It is possible to wage a campaign against a student that literally never stops if that's what you want to do.

That's a terrifying reality; I do not envy kids these days. I was lucky enough to grow up with the internet as a refuge of like-minded peers, an escape from the shitty daily business of high school. Now it follows you home. Ugh.
posted by mek at 12:18 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, GilloD, you're saying that because she may have had a history of depression and/or emotional instability she was totally asking for it? Awesome and classy.

That's not in any way what GilloD was saying. The point GD was making is that suicide is a very, very personal choice, and that is is borderline impossible to assign blame to outside influences. The other students didn't kill Phoebe, and while they certainly may have contributed to her decision, it is literally and physically impossible to try them for her death. She's unfortunately not here to ask, and they're certainly not going to tell us.

We can, however, try them for the excessive abuse and violence that this girl seems to have taken prior to her death. It should not be mistaken for trying them for her death.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 12:19 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


The fact that she had already attempted suicide at least once before certainly tears down the narrative that a well-adjusted girl was bullied to death.
posted by bardic at 12:35 AM on July 21, 2010


Yeah, 700 is a *small* high school. Most elite private high schools are 400-700.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:49 AM on July 21, 2010


I looked it up and South Hadley High seems to have 700 students, making it about average in the US. That is way, way too big. I shudder to think what life is like in the Florida schools with nearly 1,500 students.

I think you have this exactly backwards. Smaller is much, much, much worse. If a school is big enough almost anyone can find a group of people, however small, with whom they fit in. As school size shrinks this becomes no longer true. You end up smooshing the bullied kids in with the exact same bullies for every hour of every day, day after day, with nowhere for respite. There were something like 350 kids in the first high school I attended. The second after my family moved had about 1200 enrolled. Believe me, the first was a hellhole for the bullied kids while the second was large enough that anyone could disappear.

Small schools mean there is nowhere to hide.
posted by Justinian at 1:04 AM on July 21, 2010 [15 favorites]


That is way, way too big. I shudder to think what life is like in the Florida schools with nearly 1,500 students. If you put 700 adults in a building and forced them to be together for 8 hours a day for most of four years, I'm pretty sure the end result would look like Lord of the Flies.

My HS had ~2,000 people in it and was a Blue Ribbon school (among other things). We had no issues of bullying (nothing of note, anyway) and thankfully refrained from devouring each other like blood-thirsty savages.

When I lived in Nebraska I used to work at a rural redevelopment non-profit, so I got to go out to towns with high schools that had five, ten people in the graduating class. That is some fucked up, Noah-and-his-daughters kind of shit. Can you imagine what seeing the exact same ten faces your whole life from 8 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday (and then some), for eighteen years will do to you?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:42 AM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm nthing that a larger high school is FAR better. I went to a school with nearly 3,000 students. My graduating class had 760 alone. I had my group of friends and no one else bothered us, except for some dicks in PE, but that was rare and manageable. We were on the nerd/dork continuum, but the school was SO BIG that you could really avoid people that bothered you and take a wide berth, even if you shared some classes or some such.
posted by disillusioned at 2:11 AM on July 21, 2010


My HS had ~2,000 people in it and was a Blue Ribbon school (among other things). We had no issues of bullying (nothing of note, anyway)

Conversely, I went to a high school with 100 students total. There were 22 kids in my graduating class. There was no bullying. (And it wasn't remotely fucked up, either) Like anyone else, my experiences heavily influence my views and preferences but sure, maybe the magic bullet for school bullying isn't school size.

The only thing I know is that anyone, including me, who went to high school before the internet and cell phones went to school in a completely different era. Maybe none of our experiences are germane because it is that significant and radical a change to teenage social systems.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:15 AM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


In the mid-1980s, I was bullied like this at that age. My "High School" was actually grades 7 thru 12 in one building. It was pretty brutal: similar taunts, aggression, shunning, abuse. I wept, envisioned murder, suicide, murder/suicide...for years. But I could envision it very clearly to past my end, that my own family would be crushed if I killed myself, I'd go to prison if I'd killed them (had access to a gun, knew where I'd hide it and everything), and the miserable shit bullies' parents, too, would be despaired if I murdered their children. I could see it through, see that it would end.

It lifted for me one day in the 11th grade, when I noticed a fat kid named Tom Dolan, who used to pick on me when with his clique, would in fact be brutalized by the same kids he was trying to gain points with by bullying me. I saw him sad-faced and alone in homeroom one morning--just him and me and the teacher, and I sang to him, Kingston Trio-style:

Hang down your head, Tom Dolan
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Tom Dolan
Poor boy you're bound to die.


The teacher, who was the right age and demeanor for an early-sixties folkie, had to leave the room for his laughter. Everything changed after that. It was all just lighter and I could dish it right back, with a smile. But it was awful for years.

I think Tom Dolan's a Facebook friend these days.
posted by eegphalanges at 2:22 AM on July 21, 2010 [7 favorites]


So, GilloD, you're saying that because she may have had a history of depression and/or emotional instability she was totally asking for it? Awesome and classy.

Absolutely not.
posted by GilloD at 2:32 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


This article makes no sense: bullying someone who is already weak and depressed is worse, not better.
posted by w0mbat at 2:37 AM on July 21, 2010 [10 favorites]


Thanks for posting, availablelight.

What a sad story, on so many levels.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:45 AM on July 21, 2010


@w0mbat: That's a worse thing to do, sure, but it complicates the claim that the bullying (rather than her already severe depression) caused her death. And since we're already using an attenuated cause for her death in what appears to be a novel use of the civil rights statute, the criminal culpability of these particular defendants seems selective given the administrators' seemingly systematic disregard of how Phoebe and other students over many years were bullied while in their care.

These are wicked kids, and I don't think that jail time is unreasonable for the sustained harassment, but I think unusual and severe applications of criminal law are undesirable because they turn the criminal justice system into even more of a lottery than it already is. Admittedly, I'm already uneasy about the moral panic flavor of cyberbullying worries generally, and the potty-gate story left me with little confidence in the prosecutor's judgment and exercise of discretion, further feeding my unease. This is just such a thoroughgoing clusterfuck.
posted by Marty Marx at 3:10 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Slate quote: "Also in November, O'Brien renewed Phoebe's prescription for Prozac and took her to be evaluated at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, where a doctor prescribed Seroquel"

I think we found our suspects.
posted by eegphalanges at 3:17 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nothing in this story changes the narrative. So a bunch of sociopathic bullies picked on a kid who was already struggling, like that *never* happens usually?

Who do you think they pick on, the happy, well-adjusted, popular kids? She was victimized because she was already vulnerable, which only makes it worse, not better.

I am fine with seeing her tormentors jailed.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:40 AM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh, and we're going to trot out the "prozac caused her suicide" canard? Really?

Presumably that excuses a lot of school shooters too. I seem to recall hearing that either Klebold or Harris (the Columbine shooters) was "made to do it by prozac."

Had he lived to face the consequences of his crimes, you think that excuse would fly?

Criminal sanctions exist not only to punish the criminal, but to deter others from acting on their worst impulses. Every kid taking an SSRI does not commit suicide; most do not, in fact. Even if it is factor in this case, so was the bullying, and that needs to be punished to turn the tide on an evil wave of bullying culture that has been greatly amplified by the technological distractions that are destroying education and childhood in other ways too.

Facebook, prozac, over-worked teachers and counselors -- there's a lot of blame to go around. But it still falls squarely on the mean kids in this case. About time bullying got treated more seriously.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:49 AM on July 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


fourcheesemac, I wouldn't brush off the Prozac thing so quickly; it's common knowledge that Pfizer paid scientists to fake a study about its effects on adolescent suicide, and the FDA has no clue what effects SSRIs may have on a growing brain. Any way you look at it, giving children heavy brain drugs is just as dangerous and immoral as any half-grown, poorly-raised bully.
posted by Mooseli at 4:09 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was bullied by meaner kids than this. I was spat on, chased, beat upon, had rocks thrown at my head, was taunted, shunned, had lesbian disparagement, pale skin skinny bitch put downs, "get a tan, skinny bitch", shit thrown at me from car windows for--oh, four years or so between 7th and 11th grade. I was going to kill them. I was going to kill myself. I did pull a knife on one particularly awful wench in a stairwell. I thought she'd report me, she never did.

School psychologists were called. I never talked about bullying. It was just so ceaseless and universal and not toward only me, but the bullies had their own bullies. I just developed a terrible compassion for all us, bullied, bullies, and bullies' bullies alike.

My brother offered to beat up the offenders--I turned him down. It was my burden to bear. I was so insufferably well-intentioned about my victimhood and all our teenaged miserableness that I didn't want too many bloody crescendos.

I had some thin-skinned confrontations with authority figures and teachers at school. School admininstation determined my acting out was due to "problems in the home". My home was a place of quiet love and acceptance and family's input was, "This is life. Will you let it defeat you? Will you play their game? You know who you are, and that we love and support you." And that message included the usual, "If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?" type think for yourself appeals.

And, yes, I'm supposedly bipolar, too, but my family never sold me out to the shrinks, either. You just lighten up or kill or die or be miserable. Somehow, you gotta rise above it.

And sorry, but Prozac makes kids manic and unreasonable. Makes adults manic and unreasonble. So, yeah. Prozac and shrinks and the pity party and not letting kids be the miserable shits they are and lying to them about the sunshines and lollipops and rainbows that life ought to be, but isn't. That's what causes this shit.

As I said, I had access to guns and knew how to use them. I had full-visions of murderous intent. I saw my parents crying and their parents crying. I saw it through to the end. And I rose above it, mocking the fat kid Tom Dolan who mercilessly taunted skinny bitch me.

But I'm just some nut, you know, who doesn't take her medication, so don't take my word for it.
posted by eegphalanges at 4:24 AM on July 21, 2010 [12 favorites]


An interesting analogue to this case is what is currently unfolding over at Gawker, where /b/ is trying to take down the site after Gawker came to the defense of an 11-year od girl who was being ruthlessly bullied by /b/. Link to synopsis at The Awl.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:29 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


She's eleven?! Geez, I found the "Dun Busted" video remash hilarious. Now that I know the background...not so much. Poor people...
posted by Skeptic at 5:45 AM on July 21, 2010


Reading all these horror stories begs the question: why do we do this to our kids? I have a daughter who is nine months old. She's the light of my life, and already I struggle with the notion of sending her to public school. I cannot, for the life of me, see any real value in the so-called virtues of this kind of "socialization"; where many see socialization, I see a trial by fire at the hands of teenage sociopaths that eclipses any possible academic gains. That's how it was for me, anyway. What good is any experience, truly, if all you remember is when it was finally, mercifully, over?
posted by littlerobothead at 5:49 AM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


The kids were awful, yes, but if she never had killed herself the whole thing would blow over and everyone goes to college and tells their roommate how glad they are not be in high school anymore.

Reading even one of the many, many bullying threads on Metafilter would show you what a panglossian view you are taking here.
posted by enn at 5:51 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


What DarlingBri said...
I doubt I'd have made it through high school had online not been somewhere only my best friend and I knew about at the time, and that we weren't networked together with all the people we hated. It was respite for at last a few hours a day.
The idea of parenting a kid through those school years was already a terrifying prospect, seeing as schools continue to get worse in every way, but to now have them by and large unable to escape the shit they can't avoid, with schools cramming together a whole bunch of cliques indiscriminately, just makes me happier than ever I don't have kids.
posted by opsin at 5:54 AM on July 21, 2010


Reading all these horror stories begs the question: why do we do this to our kids?

One thing that jumped out at me from these articles was the argument that what these kids were doing to Phoebe Prince wasn't that different from ordinary behavior in the school. It's only a horror story because Prince killed herself; otherwise, it's just business as usual, apparently.

As a homeschooling parent, one thing I notice is that a lot of people have cognitive dissonance of some kind about their school experiences. They'll hear we homeschool and it triggers them to run through a litany of everything that sucked at the school they went to (bullying, inadequate facilities, kafka-esque school polices, burned-out teachers zombie-ing their way through classes until retirement, peer pressure, etc.). But then almost in the same breath they'll tell me how important it is that I send my children to school. The arguments range from the idea that school somehow replicates a "real world" experience that kids need to learn to cope with (so very much untrue in my experience) to a simple "I survived it, so it must not have been that bad." (To which I am inclined to reply that I would like something better for my children than "not that bad.")

I don't know what we could do other than public schools, given our current culture, people's wishes and needs. I am happy at home with my kids, for instance, but some women actually have careers they'd be sorry to leave, or are unsuited to full-time kid care--one of my best friends is a great mom who always knew she'd be bad at being a stay-at-home mom. So my family's solution isn't one that scales well, and I don't know what solution would.

At the same time, I wish we could stop treating public school like the weather, as something inevitable that we just have to accept and deal with. I know families whose kids are really suffering in school, good families who really care about their kids, and yet they accept this default assumption that it is the child's job to accommodate himself to the school, to learn to cope with it, and that's a hard message for a child who is ill-suited to that environment for whatever reason.

On another topic, I'm interested to hear what people say about their large high schools being better in some ways than smaller ones. My dad advised me to choose a large college for a similar reason; he told me that at a large college I'd be able to find my community and avoid people I didn't care to be around. It made sense to me, and turned out to be true (I started at a small school, about 1500 resident students, and transferred to the University of Michigan my junior year, where I quickly found out my dad had been right all along).

For some reason, it hadn't occurred to me that would scale to high school. I've sort of knee-jerked a negative response to these huge high schools that seem so common now. Clearly I hadn't thought about the potential benefits.
posted by not that girl at 6:08 AM on July 21, 2010 [9 favorites]


You're saying that because she may have had a history of depression and/or emotional instability she was totally asking for it? Awesome and classy.

That's not a fair presentation of the argument for balance the first article is making. The extra detail it adds about the backstory between Phoebe, two boys and the on-and-off girlfriends is worth knowing, and the article does a good job of raising questions about why some of the kids were charged in the first place (the relatively uninvolved girl Ashley comes across like a shit, though, and in my eyes definitely deserves to be charged for throwing a can at Phoebe while driving by and calling her a whore). The 2nd article looks like it'll add useful backstory about the prosecutor, too; I'll be sure to sit down with it after work.
posted by mediareport at 6:09 AM on July 21, 2010


I don't want to derrail the thread, but I feel like I need to weigh in on the Prozac factor. Years ago, shortly after Prozac was first introduced, I had a friend who all of a sudden seemed much more outgoing and energetic. I got him to admit that it was Prozac that made these changes in him. Wanting to go from socially awkward to social butterfly myself, I made an appointment with a doctor who freely prescribed it . Even though a dosage protocol was carefully followed, the effects of Prozac on me were extreme.

I went from maybe mildly depressed (please no lectures on how I shouldn't have been taking it, I know this, it was foolish of me), to literally having breakdowns walking down the street for no reason. I couldn't go a block without having a breakdown. I soon found it extremely difficult to leave my apartment, or even my bed. It was very hard to resist implulses of wanting to stab myself. This was almost a constant. It was an actual physical impulse, and luckily I wound up punching myself repeatedly in the stomach, instead grabbing a knife from the drawer and using it.

My friends would come into my apartment and find me sitting huddled in the corner, facing the wall, where I would stay for hours. I was extemely suicidal, which I had never been before in my life, and essentially unable to function except for the most mundane of tasks.

It's difficult for me to put into words how extreme the changes in me were. The feelings and impulses were completely foreign to me. It's as if someone had taken over my mind and body, and I had little to no control over them. Looking back, it's very hard for me to identify with the person I was while on Prozac.

Luckily once I stopped the Prozac, I returned to my usual non-suicidal self.

This happened several years before the stories about the potential negative side effects of the drug started coming out.

I understand that for those who have not experienced it themselves how difficult it might be to comprehend the very negative impact that Prozac can have on your brain and your emotional stability. It's a very dangerous drug, one that I believe can cause people to do things (including suicide and murder) that they ordinarily would never consider doing.

Whenever there is a suicide in which Prozac is involved, it should be looked at as a possible major factor
posted by newpotato at 6:13 AM on July 21, 2010 [8 favorites]


DarlingBri: I went to a high school with 100 students total.
You got lucky that you went to school with a good group. I grew up in Oklahoma, and a lot of rural schools are small. What happens if it is a bad crowd? If they are losers set on being chicken farmers (hello NW Arkansas!) or driving a truck for the rest of their lives? There is no way for you to get away. No way to excel. The school has to teach to them too. At least with 1500 kids there is a bigger set where people can find a different group to belong to if they have a falling out, plus they offer more in the way of advanced and remedial courses instead of just pitching to the middle.
posted by I am the Walrus at 6:14 AM on July 21, 2010


If you put 700 adults in a building and forced them to be together for 8 hours a day for most of four years, I'm pretty sure the end result would look like Lord of the Flies.
I work in an office building 4 stories tall, so I'm pretty sure there are at least 700 people here, and it is pretty lame. So far no mass chaos or anything. Plus we mostly communicate electronically, via IM or email.
posted by I am the Walrus at 6:14 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


And I rose above it, mocking the fat kid

Uh.
posted by fleacircus at 6:17 AM on July 21, 2010 [15 favorites]



The fact that she had already attempted suicide at least once before certainly tears down the narrative that a well-adjusted girl was bullied to death.


It really makes it worse. They bullied a girl with a disability, and she showed signs of stress from it and they continued taunting her. They were abusive, and the school didn't provide Prince with the protection necessary for her to have a safe experience in a public school.
posted by anniecat at 6:44 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


On another topic, I'm interested to hear what people say about their large high schools being better in some ways than smaller ones.

I'm not sure that size alone matters (does it ever? heh). How the administrators and teachers run the school matters - they set the tone. I went to a large (~2000) public high school; sophomore year I joined the school-within-a-school program, which was 100 students; it lived by itself on the 4th floor of the building. I took all my classes except foreign language, sciences, and choir there. I was able to find a variety of communities to hang out in - there wasn't only one clique of jocks, or one clique of art nerds. There had been violence and bullying until a new headmaster (yeah, public school with a head instead of a principal) came in the year before I started, and I don't recall any of that happening while I was there. Except for one really disastrous English teacher I had freshman year, my teachers were at worst meh and at best devoted and involved and engaged.

But this was also in the 1980s, before zero-tolerance this and internet that. Things are so different now that I don't know if I'd make it, let alone thrive, the way I did in my high school.
posted by rtha at 6:45 AM on July 21, 2010


Yeah, 700 is a *small* high school. Most elite private high schools are 400-700.

I went to a high school of 250. That's 250 total.

Believe me, it's not better to have a small school. You can't possibly get away from somebody if you have issues with them. Rumors spread with a swiftness akin to the speed of light and cliques hold tremendous, tremendous power over your life. Every social decision is calculated as to potential fall-out and when it comes, the fall-out is epic. I knew things about people I never wanted to know, and certainly heard all kinds of overly personal details about kids I never even spent any significant amount of time with, but whom I also couldn't possibly avoid seeing if I had wanted to. If you weren't "popular," there was one small group of people who banded together out of necessity, but you didn't necessarily have anything in common with them other than being socially awkward.

THAT, and not a large school with the remote possibility of anonymity, is Lord of the Flies.

(For comparison, I went to a larger high school my freshman year that had about 500 students. It was much, much more relaxed socially and even the "nerds" had their own sub-cliques, so it was possible to find a sense of belonging *somewhere.*)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:52 AM on July 21, 2010


So, GilloD, you're saying that because she may have had a history of depression and/or emotional instability she was totally asking for it? Awesome and classy.

One of the most blatantly unfair and wrong characterizations of someone else's post I've seen. If you follow the phrase "you're saying that..." with something other than what the person said, you're probably being a jerk.
posted by callmejay at 6:54 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


More on topic, the fact that this poor girl was already depressed and suicidal means that she might have killed herself even if nobody bullied her. This does not excuse the bullies' behavior, but it does imply that they are not necessarily responsible for her suicide.

They sure as shit didn't help, though.
posted by callmejay at 6:57 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was bullied in school, briefly. I was the one Asian kid in a rural high school, and yeah, it sucked. At the time, I didn't know what went on in kids minds to make them so mean and awful, but now I remember the things I said to my parents in the midst of my own teenaged rebellions, or the time my best friend tricked her little sister into drinking pee, and ya, maybe I do get it a little.

So looking at this case, I don't know if I consider this bullying. It was mean and occasionally cruel and showed an extreme lack of empathy, but also pretty standard immature teenaged revenge stuff. Her tormentors were hurt too, and they lashed out with horrible consequences.

The fact that she was so fragile makes this a tragedy, and in a perfect world, these girls would have dumped their cheating boyfriends and joined forces with her and started a teenaged girl band, but that's not what happened. And I don't know if the best way to deal with their lack of empathy and maturity is to throw civil rights charges at them. There's already so much sadness going around here, and for the adults in the room to pile on with more anger and negative emotion really disappoints me.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:59 AM on July 21, 2010


Is it clear that the bullying kids knew of her history of depression, of self-harm and of attempted suicide? It's possible that some of them might have known about the self-harm, but I don't recall reading that they knew about these other factors. That does not in any way condone their bullying, but if they didn't know then that's a pretty important detail. It also points another failure at the school. If all the teachers had known about this and they saw this going on they could have made a much stronger attempt to stop it. Judging on this article alone, it's hard not to see this case as being driven by an over-zealous prosecutor.
posted by ob at 7:07 AM on July 21, 2010


I've started and deleted about 5 posts pertaining to school size, my experience with bullying as a student, my experiences with bullying as a teacher, and the extent of which a "Total War" campaign waged by a 13 year old girl against another can be nothing short of gruesome to watch.

All I keep coming back to, though, is that as much as I want kids in the future, this kind of thing knots my stomach so badly that I reconsider the whole affair. I went through a rather light round of what I consider to be pretty much run-of-the-mill junior high bullying that stopped when I got to high school, but christ, I wouldn't wish that upon anyone, especially someone I loved.

My parents told me later how much it hurt to watch me go through the wringer every day just because I was nice, friendly, and a little naive/awkward. Sure, I made it out ok, but I remember point when I was in junior high where killing myself seemed to be the only viable solution.

I don't know if I'll ever be strong enough to watch someone I love go through that like I did.
posted by SNWidget at 7:09 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a former target of a fair amount of teasing & bullying in elementary & junior high school, I admit to being a little bit biased, but the overall tone of this article sure comes across to me as the usual adult apologist defense of bullies... "Phoebe had other issues before the kids in South Hadley got hold of her. Lighten up, they were just kids being kids!"
posted by usonian at 7:21 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


[A couple early comments removed. Wedging really uncharitable readings of other people's comments into the very beginning of threads is not good stuff, please don't do it.]
posted by cortex at 7:30 AM on July 21, 2010


I have kids in middle school and high school now and I can't imagine how difficult the addition of Facebook and other social media make the jobs of school administration. The lack of understanding of consequences and immediate ability to disseminate any thought to hundreds, if not thousands of peers in a powerful thing. Often kids are their own worst enemy, giving potential bullies so much power. Information is power.

It amazes me that this does not happen more.

This is so tragic. Yes, the kids that bullied Phoebe were assholes, but this case is almost the perfect storm of aspects of teenage life that cause heartache. Parents splitting, a drastic move, parent leaving child unattended, ill-conceived intimacy and a fragile psyche.

School are already grossly underfunded, but the only answer i can see is to keep mental health professionals on staff to work with kids on these issues.

Sad, sad,sad.
posted by readery at 7:51 AM on July 21, 2010


GilloD: ""Pretty, sociable, well-adjusted young woman is BULLIED TO DEATH" when it's more like "Girl with a history of emotional and mental disturbance kills herself after being bullied". Those are two very different things."

yes, and the second, which appears to be the defense narrative, is worse than the first and involves a higher degree of social culpability.
posted by mwhybark at 7:54 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know that Bazelon so much whitewashes any of the villains here so much as she ceates a new one in Elizabeth Scheibel. Bazelton does say that the bullies weren't inhuman monsters -- that a girl mad about losing her boyfriend and lashing back is hardly Stalin and another (Ashley, who's sort of pathetically beating up on the kid that that the prettier, more popular crowd doesn't like) isn't Hitler. But we really knew that, I think.

Bazelton doesn't (to my mind) say, or imply anywhere that the bullies shouldn't be charged with, and convicted of, crimes like stalking and harassment. She pretty clearly thinks they're getting treated unfairly, but to think that charges of "civil rights violation with bodily injury" are an absurd and overreaching prosecution doesn't put you on the "mean girls" team. But hey, it makes the prosecutor look tough, and there's no downside for her if she fails. And statutory rape charges for sex between a 17- and an 15-year-old? Please. This is just a scum move that most prosecutors use of piling on charges that would never normally be pursued as a PR and bargaining tactic.


It does trouble me, though, that she puts such an emphasis on the fact that Phoebe was emotionally fragile to begin to. Let me draw a bit of an analogy. I have some knee and back issues. I'm not so steady on my feet. It would be very easy indeed for someone to shove me headlong into the path of an oncoming car. But how hard you have to shove really isn't the issue. It's that you shove at all. And it's pretty clear that this was a shove, and not an accidental jostle.
posted by tyllwin at 7:56 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, readery, I've increasingly been thinking that high school itself is pathological, and that the only way to teach teenagers to be mature is to surround them with mature people most of the day -- i.e., adults. It's hard to imagine implementing this effectively on any sort of scale, though.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:58 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]



Is it clear that the bullying kids knew of her history of depression, of self-harm and of attempted suicide? It's possible that some of them might have known about the self-harm, but I don't recall reading that they knew about these other factors.


I don't think this matters. She was clearly crying and upset over what they were doing and they were relentless. Their intent was to break her through verbal abuse and it was excessive.
posted by anniecat at 8:06 AM on July 21, 2010


The fact that she had already attempted suicide at least once before certainly tears down the narrative that a well-adjusted girl was bullied to death.
It really makes it worse. They bullied a girl with a disability, and she showed signs of stress from it and they continued taunting her.


I have to agree. "But she already had emotional problems" doesn't make the bullies less culpable; it makes them more so. Bullies will always come down hardest on the weakest, and its precisely that dynamic that is at the heart of what makes bullying terrible.

And making a sweeping prediction that if she hadn't killed herself, she would've gone on to college and shrugged it off is, I'm sorry, laughable. First of all, because it's like saying, "If that person that group of people beat and stomped on the ground had survived her injuries, she'd fully recover and get on with her life." How do you know? Plenty of people "survive" bullying as emotional cripples. Secondly, it's a hypothetical what-if that doesn't diminish what was done, and sort of puts blame on the victim by going and making the situation worse by committing suicide.

Bullies prey on the weak. This girl's weaknesses underline the case against them; not diminish it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:44 AM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


And making a sweeping prediction that if she hadn't killed herself, she would've gone on to college and shrugged it off is, I'm sorry, laughable. First of all, because it's like saying, "If that person that group of people beat and stomped on the ground had survived her injuries, she'd fully recover and get on with her life." How do you know? Plenty of people "survive" bullying as emotional cripples.

Yes, exactly.

I know someone who was bullied in middle school who, not only did not "laugh it off" in college, but was still seeing a therapist about it a decade later. It was hard for me to grok this, as someone who was bullied as a kid - but the bullying was really the least of my problems and didn't bother me at all. It did take some time for me to accept "You know what, it just felt worse for that person and that's totally legit. I wasn't there, maybe it was worse - I have no way to know."

Your experience with bullying =/ everyone's experience with bullying. Someone else might have had it a lot worse or experienced it on a deeper emotional level than you did.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:50 AM on July 21, 2010


So, for high school, I went to a small part-day-part-boarding prep school populated with the wealthy and the very wealthy. My graduating class was about 160. My graduating class was also known as one of the worst classes to date insofar as bullying and not getting along among groups. My group of friends was the arty, music/theatre/writing crowd, and due to our non-Dave-Matthews-Band-music choices and general non-football/sports interests we were deemed goths and freaks. (You couldn't actually be goth at this school--the dress code requirements were extremely strict. They have uniforms nowadays). My friends and I were called "the Cult." In 9th and 10th grades, I was a prime target for the mean girls, who were in a group called "the Clique." They did things like call my parents' line at our house at 3am over and over and RSVP for my sweet 16 party, to which they hadn't been invited. They broke in my locker and put a popsicle in my Algebra book. They wrote notes in other books I had, calling me a satanist, a heroin addict, a lesbian, a freak, a slut, ugly, everything a high school girl trying to be mean could possibly say. I had things thrown at me during assemblies. I was someone the popular girls would accuse boys of liking as a joke.

The thing is, sometimes I brought it on myself. I think about the topic of high school social relations a lot, because in retrospect I understand a lot more than I did then. I was shy, awkward, creative, weird, fearful kid. I think there are two forms of naivete teenagers can have--overacceptance and overrejection. Overacceptance is the "I'll try anything!" carefree, invincible, risky outlook parents are terrified of--these kids are the binge drinkers and drunk drivers and drug-triers. Overrejection is the opposite: refusal to accept anything new. My mode at the time was overrejection--if I was scared of something or intimidated by something, I would reject it and deem myself too cool for it. In high school, I was militantly straight-edge for this reason, and this didn't help matters. I stayed home and published a zine and wrote songs and poems rather than go to parties to drink--part of this was my parents' not allowing me to do much, and part of it was my own reticence to relate to people different than I was.

The weird thing is, if you were to look at our high school yearbook, you would find that my friends and I were the hot girls. The "popular" girls were much less attractive than we were. Prep school misfits, in our case, were mostly pampered, pretty only children whom obsessed with their own individuality, were just a little more neurotic and creative and a little less joiner-y than the others. The "popular" girls were louder, had less strict parents and thus lots of parties, and were probably more socially mature than we were at that age. (Socially mature as in, acting 16. Not adult). One of them was a good 6 feet tall and over 200 lbs and, I kid you not, she once threatened to sit on me. She used to hiss "satan" at me in the hallway, and my friends and I called her the moose.

We felt antagonized and beleagured at the time, but we gave it right back--they may have put a popsicle in my algebra book, but I threw away one girl's 200-dollar literature anthology 4 times (she just left it on a table in the quad all the time), causing her to have to buy it again and again. We didn't suffer academically. We all went to good schools for college and we all participated in extracurricular activities to our hearts' desires. Really, we didn't suffer socially either. We had our clan, they had theirs, and it was more like a weird gang war than bullying in either direction. By the time we were seniors, all of it had cooled down, and while we were not best friends with the other group, the drama was pretty much over.

High school, despite all that, wasn't that negative of an experience for me. It had a lot of ups and downs. I am mostly over it, although it has influenced my life in certain ways. For instance, I chose to go to NYU for college mostly because it was the opposite of my high school. I wanted somewhere without a stupid campus where people might throw frisbees or play hacky-sack. I wanted somewhere huge where I could be anonymous. I wanted somewhere where other strange people might go so I wouldn't feel like the weirdest person in a 50-mile radius.

Our ten year reunion was a few months ago. NO ONE in "the Cult" went. We aren't even all in touch anymore. It's as though we signed a pact 12 years ago to never join anything. Not attending the reunion is our adult version of sitting under the bleachers during a required-attendance pep rally.
posted by millipede at 8:55 AM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


The weird thing is, if you were to look at our high school yearbook, you would find that my friends and I were the hot girls. The "popular" girls were much less attractive than we were.

One of them was a good 6 feet tall and over 200 lbs and, I kid you not, she once threatened to sit on me. She used to hiss "satan" at me in the hallway, and my friends and I called her the moose.


I don't get why this is relevant at all. So they were popular, but you thought you were thought of as extremely attractive and called a tall girl a moose? So you were a bully and bullying back.

Again, I'm not sure what your personal experience as you're telling it has to do with Phoebe Prince. I don't mean to offend you, but it's trivializing Prince's situation. Are you saying she should have given it back? That it was normal? That it would have been over by senior year, because the girls and boys involved were seniors. Are you saying that it was her own fault for not understanding the level of bullying that goes on in public (non-rich) high schools in small American towns? Are you saying Phoebe brought it on herself?
posted by anniecat at 9:12 AM on July 21, 2010


Are you saying that it was her own fault for not understanding the level of bullying that goes on in public (non-rich) high schools in small American towns? Are you saying Phoebe brought it on herself?

I didn't read that at all. I saw millipede's comment as a reflection of her own experience in High School and how looking back, she was able to see her own participation more clearly. I saw this as a comment in a greater conversation about bullying and no direct statement at all on Phoebe Prince, even though she is the subject of the FPP that sparked said conversation.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:15 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I didn't read that at all. I saw millipede's comment as a reflection of her own experience in High School and how looking back, she was able to see her own participation more clearly.

Ah. I misunderstood. I was thrown off by her calling the popular girls less attractive and wondered what that had to do with anything.
posted by anniecat at 9:21 AM on July 21, 2010


If you put 700 adults in a building and forced them to be together for 8 hours a day for most of four years, I'm pretty sure the end result would look like Lord of the Flies.

I went to "privileged" summer camp for a few years, age 10-13, all boys broken into cabins/teams of eight or ten, all more or less the same age. Over a two week period, it never failed that in each cabin/team:

1. a "loser" kid would get singled out by the others for ridicule/humiliation.
2. not all of the other kids would participate but none were brave enough to stand up to the others, less they become the victim
3. the "loser" would usually break down around the end of the first week; the counselor would finally clue in and stop the harrassment
4. a new "loser" would be chosen, usually the "weakest" of the group of tormentors.
5. this second "loser" would inevitably break down, the counselor would finally clue in ... and so on.
6. the two weeks would end, everybody would be "friends" and go home to their parents and tell them what a great, great time they had.

The point here is, whether by original sin or just good old fashioned nature, children have as much devil in them as angel, and both victims and tormentors learn early to keep this "secret" from adults. Always have. Always will. And it's a situation that magnifies once you put children into groups. Some high schools have 2000 kids, some 700, some 100. My summer camp had groups of 10. I've seen it happen with groups of 3.

I wish I could say that anything in this article and/or this thread strikes me as surprising. But sadly, it doesn't. Particularly the ignorance of the various adults who didn't see it coming. It's always coming.

Does this mean we need WAY MORE supervision of our kids? No, I don't think so, as I see this "Lord Of The Flies" phase as something that kids must grow through, learn from. That is, there's a darkness in them that must be recognized, and at an early age, or else they're just going to grow into adults with an unhealthy lack of insight into the full dimensions (angel and devil and everything in between) of their selves.

So the word that comes to mind is Harm Reduction. How do we raise our kids in such a way that they are not blindered to their propensity to be both tormentors and victims ... without anyone being irreparably damaged? How do we make childhood in general, adolescence in particular, one big, proverbial padded room, where all manner of chaos can unfold but everyone lives to healthily tell the tale?
posted by philip-random at 9:21 AM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't get why this is relevant at all. So they were popular, but you thought you were thought of as extremely attractive and called a tall girl a moose? So you were a bully and bullying back.

IN RETROSPECT.

I'm saying that bullying situations are often complicated and are easy to oversimplify. That at the time my friends and I felt as though we ere 100% the victims, but now that I'm older and I can look at it with the benefit of hindsight, it was a lot more nuanced than that. At the time, the moose and her brethren were comic-book-style villains to us: 2-dimensional characters who only existed as our foils. But they were people too. All teenagers have their own issues, and it's easy to forget that while you're a teenager.

Jeez. Sorry to offend you, anniecat. I read the article about the bullies and the bullied and it made me think about my own experience. That's all.
posted by millipede at 9:22 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I looked it up and South Hadley High seems to have 700 students, making it about average in the US. That is way, way too big.

My high school had around 2000 students. My graduating class was over 600. This was in the 1980s. We didn't really have crowding issues, and the student/teacher ratios were pretty good.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:37 AM on July 21, 2010


i felt like i was reading a law & order episode where jack mccoy decides he's going to bring the bad guys to justice & make them pay.

teenagers, by and large, are cocky, uncertain, awkward, overly confident, insecure, and a million & one other things that scream GROWING PAINS! i honestly didn't see anything in this story that looked like aberrant behavior for the age group--which, by the way, starts at about 6 years old & continues until people finally get comfortable in their own skins. it's a tragedy, yeah, just like it is anytime you get someone who makes a huge mistake based on transient emotions, and an even bigger tragedy when the mistake is irreversible. my condolences to the family.
posted by msconduct at 9:39 AM on July 21, 2010


Any way you look at it, giving children heavy brain drugs is just as dangerous and immoral as any half-grown, poorly-raised bully.

Nonsense.

I know kids who cannot function without help, including medication. There is no shame in that. Asking a kid with severe ADHD to function in school without meds is asking a lot. Some kids can, but dismissing "brain drugs" out of hand is ignorant.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:47 AM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't think this matters. She was clearly crying and upset over what they were doing and they were relentless. Their intent was to break her through verbal abuse and it was excessive.

I think it matters if the school were intent on not having an emotionally unstable student kill themselves over bullying. That was really what I was talking about. I mean, I do feel that the charge(s) are heavy-handed and responsibility lies with the school to better police bullying, especially in the case of a student who had a documented history of self-harm and a previous suicide attempt.
posted by ob at 10:04 AM on July 21, 2010


Any way you look at it, giving children heavy brain drugs is just as dangerous and immoral as any half-grown, poorly-raised bully.

I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder at the ripe old age of 18. Retrospectively, my doctors were able to determine that I spent most of high school in a Major Depressive Episode.

I wish someone would have put me on Prozac. My life would have been infinitely better. But they didn't. Because I was "just a kid." It's luck that I didn't kill myself, pure and simple.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:06 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess I have an interesting perspective on this, because I live two towns over from South Hadley (though I never generally read local newspapers so ordinarily I might never have even heard about this). Also, my girlfriend previously worked with one of the parents of one of the "mean girls." It's hard to figure out whether this girl really was a bully or just a girl who said the wrong things to a depressed girl because of a perceived slight. The news stories don't contain any proof, the D.A. is clearly trying to make a name for herself, but the personal perspective of my girlfriend's colleague is of course tainted by being the girl's parent. The whole situation brings to the forefront the borders between being in a fight with someone and bullying someone. Then there is the seperate issue of prosecuting consensual sex between teenagers of similar age (could anyone really argue that these charges would possibly have been brought if Phoebe had lived?)

The part I haven't really seen covered here, is that with hardly any evidence, these maybe bullies have been torn apart. They were labelled "mean girls" by the press, and all have been eviscerated for their perceived behavior more than their actual behavior. The local newspaper articles on the subject have comments SCREAMING for these kids' blood, they've received harassing phone calls, threats, and have been hounded by press outside their houses. I shouldn't be surprised that internet commenters and the shrieking hordes who react to stories like this don't see the irony of bullying bullies or believe that they somehow DESERVE this treatment because they may have done it themselves. Numerous forums have posted public information about these girls with messages like "Ruin their lives. Make sure this follows them forever." Many negative references have been made to the fact that one "mean girl" has lesbian parents.

The whole thing is a disaster really, with no justice or good outcome to be had. Maybe some of the kids deserve to be punished or receive jail time, but they've all been painted with the same brush regardless. Some of what this Slate writer wrote doesn't come off well, but at least she's asking critical questions rather than demanding blood from any and all involved Nancy Grace style.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:07 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm extremely conflicted about his. I'm a nerd. I was picked in school. My heart goes out to Mrs. O' Brien. I'm just having a hard time finding the brutal and sustained campaign against Phoebe Prince.

Assuming the Slate article is even remotely accurate, the actions of the so-called "South Hadley Six" don't seem to be those of sociopathic monsters that "went beyond the pale". To my mind they were acting like typical teenagers who think the minor social slights of high school are the most important things that will ever happen in their lives. One presumes a classmate of Ms. Prince is behind the Facebook page The South Hadley Six - Bullies Or Killers. The level of vitriol there is… unhealthy. It's as if people don't realize suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers, accounting for approximately 11% of all deaths for those aged 15-19.

So I don't know what to make of this. We have a teenaged girl who hung herself rather than face another day of emotional pain, and six other teenagers accused, tried, and convicted in the court of popular opinion of hounding her into the grave with name calling and icy stares. Hell, I know adults who engage in name calling and icy stares, i.e. the kind of people who think that Heathers is a documentary about the proper way to interact with other people. The whole sorry mess is a tragedy to be sure, but am I the only one who's reading a moral panic about "cyber-bullying" as the pretext for these prosecutions?
posted by ob1quixote at 10:14 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know kids who cannot function without help, including medication. There is no shame in that. Asking a kid with severe ADHD to function in school without meds is asking a lot.

The other option, of course, is not forcing them into a school situation. I mean, at what cost conformity?
posted by philip-random at 10:14 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


School was really brutal for me, to the point I ended up finally getting help recently for being a defensive and paranoid wreck. You get bullied for years, you end up with a lot of psychic damage.

But I ended up going back to my 20 year high school reunion after dodging my 10 year. The chief lesson for me was that high school wasn't nearly as bad as I made it out to be, that had I been willing to be less afraid that everyone was in on some massive put-on and more willing to risk my fragile psyche, things could have been different. I'm not saying it wasn't rough, but the more I talked to people, the more I realized it was rough for everyone, and that the central clique in the school (this being a school with, I'm not kidding, an institutionalized clique in the form of Skull and Bones style social clubs) was different for every person.

The other thing, too, was having people come up to me all wanting to see me. Me. The social outcast of the school. The truly scary thing was my presence is what pushed a few people over the edge to come to the reunion, and they were not people who were in my social circle. It was as if my presence validated the idea for some people that this wasn't a kegger for the popular kids.

When Columbine happened, I just nodded my head. It was horrible, but I knew what they were thinking in their own psychotic way. Now, though, I wonder how much of the problem was theirs and how much was the brutality of others. Middle and high school are social Darwinism in action, and it doesn't matter if it's a school with 3000 kids or 3. Schools need to do more to prevent bullying and less time sitting on their hands. But, unfortunately, you can't force kids to not be cruel. All you can do is try and give the downtrodden hope.

At the reunion, I finally realized what every adult -- teacher, parent, counselor, etc. -- told me when I was a teenager: Don't give up hope, this is a phase, the adult world is nothing like this, just hold on until then. It did turn out fine in the end. I did survive. I didn't kill myself (which I did consider numerous times in high school).

But then I realized, too, how hard it is to communicate that to a teenager. Even if I could travel back in time and tell young me that it will be OK, I wouldn't have believed myself, and I wouldn't have listened to myself. Showing the scars doesn't help someone whose wounds are unstaunched and unhealed.
posted by dw at 10:19 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


The other option, of course, is not forcing them into a school situation. I mean, at what cost conformity?

This may be a good point in the case of ADHD, but in the case of depression, a school environment is moot. A depressed individual is going to be depressed no matter where they are. Certainly, school didn't help - but if you take someone who needs anti-depressants off of them, and also take them out of school... chances are they're still going to be depressed.

If you need the drug, you need the drug. Period. Whether you're 18 or 80. If you need it, you need it. This is not about the strawman of overdiagnosis of ADHD in kids. This is about teenage depression and suicidal behavior - a very serious phenomenon and one that can be treated with medication under a doctor's supervision.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:20 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been wondering if the bullies could have been banned from attending the public high school and put into an alternative school or a different school. I would think, despite their popularity and social status, this kind of behavior makes them the problem and they should be labeled as such and separated from kids who practice civil behavior.
posted by anniecat at 10:36 AM on July 21, 2010


The other option, of course, is not forcing them into a school situation. I mean, at what cost conformity?

OK, but that's not going to happen for most people. In any event, it's not really about the school situation. I don't know if you've been around someone with severe ADHD - at a certain level of severity it's a lot like autism in its outward appearance, except that ADHD kids are always moving. It can cause a lot of problems for someone's entire life if it's not treated.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:36 AM on July 21, 2010


Jeez. Sorry to offend you, anniecat. I read the article about the bullies and the bullied and it made me think about my own experience. That's all.

I'm not offended. I just didn't get what the point of it was. The only point I thought you were making was that Prince should have recognized she was to blame for her bullying, and that seemed really odd to me. I didn't know it was a journal entry recording your own high school drama. I thought it was meant to somehow relate to what was being discussed beyond your having once attended high school too.
posted by anniecat at 10:39 AM on July 21, 2010


So the word that comes to mind is Harm Reduction. How do we raise our kids in such a way that they are not blindered to their propensity to be both tormentors and victims ... without anyone being irreparably damaged? How do we make childhood in general, adolescence in particular, one big, proverbial padded room, where all manner of chaos can unfold but everyone lives to healthily tell the tale?

I think it's kind of funny that we ask this, as if we're Just So Mystified as to the answer, despite the fact that "adolescence" barely existed as a social category just 100 years ago. These bullies were 17 and 18 -- adults by any other name -- yet they were surrounded by much younger kids (Phoebe was 15), prohibited from displaying adult behaviors by the school and their parents (and the law, c.f. the statutory rape charges), and generally treated like incompetent, untrustworthy children. People tend to live up or down to social expectations, so it's no surprise that that's exactly the way they acted.

If we want our young people to stop acting like children, we should stop infantilizing them. IMHO, our attempts to make childhood a "padded room" are only contributing to this behavior... because like any healthy animal, no young human wants to live his or her life trapped in a padded room.
posted by vorfeed at 10:41 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know what I don't understand about this whole thing? Maybe somewhere it was addressed but what I don't understand is what made the mother think it'd be a good idea to pack up both her children, move them from their home country to another one across and ocean, leaving their father that she was divorcing behind?????

I'm not a psychologist, but even I know that is just a recipe for depression and attention seeking behavior that Phoebe showed. I mean, even with the most amicable divorces where children are involved, the children still have a hard time with the split and the parents could still live on the same block!

I know Phoebe had a hard time in Ireland, too, and I know she seemed to start thriving at Hadley. But I do wonder if she would have been better either living with her father in Ireland or if her family had stayed in Ireland. It sounds like such a brutal separation for someone who was as close as she sounded to her dad.
posted by zizzle at 10:55 AM on July 21, 2010


And sorry, but Prozac makes kids manic and unreasonable. Makes adults manic and unreasonble. So, yeah. Prozac and shrinks and the pity party and not letting kids be the miserable shits they are and lying to them about the sunshines and lollipops and rainbows that life ought to be, but isn't. That's what causes this shit.

I've taken Prozac, with excellent results, and only switched to another anti-depressant when I started getting migraines. I have no clue where the manic and unreasonable claim is coming from--was this your personal experience on the drug, or do you have some studies you could cite?

I do see that another poster, newpotato, had an extremely negative reaction to the drug--after, by their own admission, taking it when it was not warranted, after seeing another teen take it to good effect.

"...it's common knowledge that Pfizer paid scientists to fake a study about its effects on adolescent suicide..."

Really? I didn't know this. I did know that there was a push by some Scientologists to discredit Prozac. I also know that Pfizer is slow to publish negative press on their own drugs (big surprise there), but that there is no compulsion by the FDA for any of the drug companies in the US to do so at this time. That's another issue entirely.

And I see a red flag when someone uses a phrase like "common knowledge." Often it means, "Well, I heard this somewhere."

Again, I'd love to see some citations here. Or is this the bash anti-depressant thread?

Because if we are going to suggest that this girl committed suicide not because of her depression or insecurities or the underlying problems that led to her being prescribed anti-depressants in the first place but because of the drugs themselves, I have to ask why the lawyers in this case aren't going after Pfizer instead of, you know, the kids who were bullying the hell out of her.
posted by misha at 11:18 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


If we want our young people to stop acting like children, we should stop infantilizing them. IMHO, our attempts to make childhood a "padded room" are only contributing to this behavior... because like any healthy animal, no young human wants to live his or her life trapped in a padded room.

vorfeed, my first inclination is to say, NO, YOU'RE WRONG.

But then I think about the few kids I knew growing up who were not, on some level, adolescent monsters ... and what did they have in common? They were all, in their way, taking life more seriously than the rest of us. Adult-level commitment to some sport, art, study.

Which raises questions:

How many kids would choose to go to school if they didn't have to? That is, how many genuinely understand the rationale for these institutions to which they are more or less sentenced at age five or six for a decade or so of their lives? Do they just come to see and experience them as kinder, gentler prisons (Darwinian systems to be gamed and/or survived)? Or do they actually embrace them for what they purport to be: training grounds wherein real-world survival and success skills are learned and honed?

Of course, this last point is the "official" purpose of all formal schooling but I can't help but feel many (most) kids might just learn more, "de-infantilize" faster (and less psychotically) if they were apprenticing out into the workforce as early as say, age thirteen.
posted by philip-random at 11:51 AM on July 21, 2010


Why is it not the adults' responsibility to act when they see the kids saying things to each other that would be legally actionable in a workplace?
posted by yeloson at 12:20 PM on July 21, 2010


Why is it not the adults' responsibility to act when they see the kids saying things to each other that would be legally actionable in a workplace?

It IS their responsibility to act, but the laws are that they have to have both known about it and were 'deliberately indifferent', which can be rather difficult to establish. I'm not sure, but I think there's also a different standard w/r/t peer harassment when dealing with minors as opposed to adults.

There was a discussion about this in the last Phoebe Prince thread and I'm respectfully staying out of this one beyond this comment.
posted by Kirk Grim at 12:52 PM on July 21, 2010


It sort of seems to me that a whole bunch of MeFites had bad experiences in high school and have come to think that bullying is the Worst Thing Ever.

I'm just not sure I get it.

I had my share of run-ins with kids who made fun of me over an extended period of time, and I was something of a social outcast, but unless there's some sort of difference in kind which I'm not seeing, I really just don't understand why the whole phenomenon of outrage about bullying has moved beyond the kids-are-shitty-to-each-other-film-at-11 stage.

Yeah, electronic communication makes things a bit more invasive, but the idea that abuse from your peers justifies become an absolute basket case doesn't seem to have developed until the past few years.

If anything, treating these sorts of petty--and let's be honest, the vast majority of what we're talking about here is unbelievably petty--slights, even if they're extended over a length period, as serious, life-altering events makes them that way. I don't understand how we sync up telling our kids that what other people say doesn't matter and then treating what those other people say as the most psychologically damaging, malicious, hideous, unforgivable injuries. More to the point, I fail to comprehend how treating them that way is supposed to help anyone learn that petty bullshit really is just petty bullshit.

I'm not saying this stuff doesn't hurt. But I just don't understand how the fact that it hurts is supposed to take on cosmic significance because it's happening to a high school kid or because it happens more than once.

I also fail to understand how suggesting that a victim might have had something to do with their own fate always amounts to blaming the victim in unacceptable ways. If anything, that perspective seems to victimize them again by positing that they aren't agents capable of making their own decisions about their lives. The whole concept of "driving someone to suicide" grates on me, as it minimizes the agency of the suicide. Hell, the whole idea that a victim of bullying has no choice about what happens to them or about what they think about what happens to them implicitly denies their agency too. What's worse? Blaming the victim or requiring that they be victims instead of free actors? When someone says something about you that isn't true, you do have a choice about whether or not to get broken up about that. It isn't always an easy choice, but it's still a choice. Denying that denies part of what makes us human, I should think.

Phoebe made some stupid choices. She just did. She got emotionally intimate with a number of older boys--which wasn't terribly wise to begin with--all of whom were seriously involved with other girls--which turns the merely unwise into the spectacularly unwise. Did she deserve everything she got? Of course not. But did the girls whose boyfriends she poached deserve the treatment they got either? No, they didn't. And while they didn't react appropriately, neither did Phoebe.

If the fact that she wound up committing suicide means that we can no longer say that she made those stupid choices, I'm not sure I like what that says about the rules for our discourse.
posted by valkyryn at 12:55 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


And I rose above it, mocking the fat kid

Uh.
posted by fleacircus at 6:17 AM on July 21

By singing his name to the melody of "Tom Dooley". I was a ruthless aggressor, and the fuck deserved it. Welcome to my world.
posted by eegphalanges at 1:23 PM on July 21, 2010


But did the girls whose boyfriends she poached deserve the treatment they got either? No, they didn't. And while they didn't react appropriately, neither did Phoebe.

You can't poach a boyfriend. There's no such thing as "stealing" someone's boyfriend.

Those guys made themselves available, and Phoebe got punished for it. It's just convenient for the girls to have thought she stole boyfriends, so they could have their boyfriends and still vent their anger and abuse on someone who was innocent.
posted by anniecat at 1:27 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can't poach a boyfriend. There's no such thing as "stealing" someone's boyfriend.

There is when you're 17.
posted by ob at 2:46 PM on July 21, 2010


If anything, treating these sorts of petty--and let's be honest, the vast majority of what we're talking about here is unbelievably petty--slights, even if they're extended over a length period, as serious, life-altering events makes them that way

I am so sick and tired of this argument. It presumes that at some point, people were dealing with being bullied just fine, but then some secret cabal conspired, for whatever reason, to embark on a campaign to make people think that no, actually, bullying can be psychologically damaging, and just like that, bullied kids started cracking up and falling apart. It takes no evidence to make this claim apart from the anecdotal, but seems to be pretty pervasive. It presumes a sort of weird, voodoo power of the secret cabal over the brains of the nation's youth, instead of the simpler fact that as mental health professionals paid more attention to bullying's effects on kids, we learned more about it, and paid more attention to it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:58 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I purposely kept the fact that I'd been bullied for years out of all the counselor and most school psychologist meetings, because I got the distinct whiff of impassioned voyeurism from "concerned adults" trying to horn in on the last vestige of emotional privacy I had left as a teen. Too much of the time, adults who thought they "cared" just wanted to earn professional points by picking the brain of poor, maladjusted, overly-expressively emotional me. They wanted to force me into some transference/counter-transference therapeutic model I never volunteered for. It stunk. They needed to do something with the square peg. I needed to admit my victimhood before the authorities. I refused.

Psychologists wanted to "fix" me when nothing was wrong with me. I was okay with me. I'm still okay with me. I had bad experiences, felt and expressed strong emotions, but I didn't act rashly on those emotions. I was bullied because I expressed what everyone was feeling; the fearful and overly earnest bottled-up kids and adults didn't like that I put our collective frailty on display. I didn't mind taking my lumps, cos I knew This will pass, this will pass. I still am fragile, volatile, emotional. I worked out a quiet life and profession and surround myself with gentle, nutty people.

I grew up in a family who cursed and muttered and laughed and complained to the air and kvetched and wept and raged. This was normal. Nobody beat on each other. There was no real violence. I had five siblings, two parents, one bathroom, no bedroom of my own til I was twelve. You learned to value emotional space, silence, and learned to love and respect one another despite or because of all the crowding and noise. At home, I learned early to maintain my own head space with the people who loved me.

The school psychologists, administrators, bully kids and distracted teachers were not the people who loved me. I had strong defenses learned at home to defend my head space, my imagination, my thoughts, my mind, my focus from the constant monkey distraction and brainwashing that was my--and your-- high school. I got an top-notch public school education, btw, in rural PA, surrounded by bullies and malcontent adults.

We do not teach children and adolescents to deal with strong emotions effectively. We don't teach them much of anything, actually. But, my, if we aren't well-socialized.
posted by eegphalanges at 4:02 PM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


And, yes, I'm supposedly bipolar, too, but my family never sold me out to the shrinks, either. You just lighten up or kill or die or be miserable. Somehow, you gotta rise above it.

The whole idea of "survive or die" is actually at the root of a lot of people's problems. Quite a lot of people spend years miserable because they didn't know they had an option of seeking professional help, that they were raised not to do that sort of thing. I guess it's like saying you'll deal with your own medical problems by the seat of your pants, which isn't really that wise. Sometimes it works out, if you're lucky.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:53 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do not doubt that professional help helps those who seek it out. It often does not help those who it seeks out.
posted by eegphalanges at 5:23 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


It presumes a sort of weird, voodoo power of the secret cabal over the brains of the nation's youth, instead of the simpler fact that as mental health professionals paid more attention to bullying's effects on kids, we learned more about it, and paid more attention to it.

There is evidence that the relationship between something being a psychological problem and being classified as a social problem is reciprocal. Rather than merely increasing the diagnosis and treatment of symptoms that were already there, the entry of mental health professionals into a community or culture changes the symptoms themselves.

To quote:
We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.

This unnerving possibility springs from recent research by a loose group of anthropologists and cross-cultural psychiatrists. Swimming against the biomedical currents of the time, they have argued that mental illnesses are not discrete entities like the polio virus with their own natural histories. These researchers have amassed an impressive body of evidence suggesting that mental illnesses have never been the same the world over (either in prevalence or in form) but are inevitably sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places.
I think there really is reason to be skeptical of the recent upsurge in interest in bullying--which coincides rather conveniently with what is arguably one of the single most over-protective generation of parents in recorded history. Some things, particularly in the area of psychology, really aren't problems until we decide to make them problems. We can even decide that certain things which used to be considered problems aren't anymore, e.g. the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness in the DSM-IV.

So no, it doesn't assume some sort of "cabal," it just assumes that psychology is weird, that mental illness is not the same thing as illness caused by microbes or physical trauma, and that moral agency should not be entirely removed from discussions of emotional responses.
posted by valkyryn at 5:59 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


being classified as a social problem

Replace "social" with "psychological" there, if you don't mind. Dammit.

posted by valkyryn at 6:13 PM on July 21, 2010


valkyryn: "I just don't understand"

Oh, it's evident.
posted by mwhybark at 6:52 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suppose I should expand a bit. Bullying produces PTSD, and as we have been engaged in a decade-long experiment of ramping up the number of PTSD sufferers in our society, it should come as no surprise that A) the intensity of the bullying has increased and B) the amount of media attention paid has too.

As long as we are all participating in our global warfronts in our own special snowflake ways, we'll be seeing more kids hounded to death, increasing interest in BDSM, etc etc etc.

I'm sure you're correct, valkryn, when you note "we can no longer say" say certain things (which you of course then proceed to say) and your uncertainty "about the rules for our discourse."

Your anxiety regarding these issues is a reflection of our society's increasing economic investment in mechanisms of control. Your sympathies, in my opinion, are misplaced.
posted by mwhybark at 7:01 PM on July 21, 2010


I think there really is reason to be skeptical of the recent upsurge in interest in bullying

I'm happy with the recent upsurge in interest in bullying, to be honest. If it means more research is done, maybe we can better understand its effects. That school staff taking it more seriously, also, not really seeing a downside to that. Unlike the homosexuality classification, an interest in the effects of bullying on children doesn't infringe on their human rights.

When it comes to the notion that we're putting our children in padded rooms, I think sometimes we confuse our personal barometers for dealing with the world with a general rule for how things are for everybody, or at least for all "normal" people. Everyone leaves an experience differently. I have a hard time seeing a downside to understanding how children can best cope with bullying.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:12 PM on July 21, 2010


When it comes to the notion that we're putting our children in padded rooms, I think sometimes we confuse our personal barometers for dealing with the world with a general rule for how things are for everybody, or at least for all "normal" people. Everyone leaves an experience differently. I have a hard time seeing a downside to understanding how children can best cope with bullying.

The downside is that this approach implicitly assumes the status quo. Things like bullying, widespread mental illness, and suicide among teens are not constants; there may be ways to prevent them in most cases, rather than simply coping with them. If we start by assuming that the increase in these problems can be chalked down to "as mental health professionals paid more attention to bullying's effects on kids, we learned more about it", however, we cut off this possibility from the start. We assume that bullying is a constant, and that there's no way that the "weird, voodoo power of the secret cabal over the brains of the nation's youth" (generally known as culture) can either increase or decrease it.

In particular, if our social system is itself causing or contributing to these problems, then no amount of in-system observation is likely to help. In the best case, you'll end up with a generation of kids who are "coping with" problems they should never have had to begin with... problems which we assume to be a natural part of being age 15-19, even though there are thousands of years worth of evidence to the contrary.

As for "confusing our personal barometers for dealing with the world with a general rule for how things are for everybody, or at least for all "normal" people": this has nothing to do with anyone's personal barometer, and everything to do with the built-in barometer all human beings have. Sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen-year-old human beings are not children. Yet we're treating them like children -- like weak, incapable, untrustworthy, asocial little morons, no less -- and we're doing it during the biological prime of their lives, at the very moment when they're most able to grow into strong, capable, social, and trustworthy geniuses. And then we ask ourselves how they can "best cope" with that?

As far as I can tell, we've no interest in an honest answer.
posted by vorfeed at 8:48 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


In particular, if our social system is itself causing or contributing to these problems, then no amount of in-system observation is likely to help.

Replace "college" with "high school" from with an excerpt from this article:

"In short, the way students are treated in college trains them for the social position they will occupy once they get out. At schools like Cleveland State, they’re being trained for positions somewhere in the middle of the class system, in the depths of one bureaucracy or another. They’re being conditioned for lives with few second chances, no extensions, little support, narrow opportunity—lives of subordination, supervision, and control, lives of deadlines, not guidelines. At places like Yale, of course, it’s the reverse. The elite like to think of themselves as belonging to a meritocracy, but that’s true only up to a point. Getting through the gate is very difficult, but once you’re in, there’s almost nothing you can do to get kicked out."

I think we're only paying attention to the bullying now because it's affecting the rich, elite kids as the social fabric and economy of this country is fraying and falls apart. The "social system" is a crock, always has been. I knew this as a teenager, and my opinion has not much changed now.

Society has no use for "strong, capable, social, and trustworthy geniuses." They want and need little frothing monkeys who do what they're told when they're told to do it, or else they get to be the one cracking the whip. I have not seen any cooperative human endeavor which does not somehow involve people giving and taking orders. It's crummy, it's majestic, it's people. We're not all geniuses. And we're certainly not all trustworthy. And some of us aren't too social, either. To hope to find a nice use for every special, gifted, exceptional, bullied freak such as my self and all these other special snowflakes involves a certain kind of modification of ego and the importance of Our Big Feelings that no one's ready to accept. I honestly don't think it's possible on a grand scale unless we evolve beyond being merely human.

But, all that doesn't mean I don't think we shouldn't try, at least, to make kids tougher, smarter, durable, and more savvy. Society just doesn't have a use for so many free-thinkers. What to do with these mean little plodders?

I like the David Lynch Foundation, actually. I think a little less ego and more introspection, meditation--and not having to "share it with group"--might be a first step.

I realize this is messily organized, but I don't have the time to select the right word and idea choices. I hope some of it comes across. I really don't have a good for either the state of the nation or this world much lately. I can only try my best to make things better rather than worse. God knows if my good intentions make any difference.
posted by eegphalanges at 10:35 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


...don't have a good feeling for the state of the nation or the world...
posted by eegphalanges at 10:38 PM on July 21, 2010


The Boston Globe is now running an article about the Slate article. No mention of "hey, maybe our reporters should have actually investigated instead of just taking a position and running with it."
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:06 AM on July 22, 2010


Awww, it's so sweet that there's so many brave people willing to leap to the defense of bullies and bullying with a "They were just a bunch of kids, and bullying is just a fact of life, get over it." attitude.

I'm certain they'll be willing to leap to the defense of other people unfairly maligned by society and the system with similar arguments: "Oh hey, priests molest children, it's just what they do. And besides, those kids were undoubtedly already psychologically damaged, and maybe on drugs. Can't they just get over it and move on, already?"; "Yeah well, redneck kids, the way they get brought up, they're going to drag the occasional gay kid behind their car, so whatcha gonna do? It's the system's fault."; "Hey I got over it when I started bullying other kids, so like Winston Smith, I learned the system is tough but OK."

Oddly enough, I think this "Will nobody think of the poor victimizer" stuff reminds me of something. Hm, what could it be? :

Oh yeah. This:
Only a lad
Society made him
Only a lad
He's our responsibility
Only a lad
He really couldn't help it
Only a lad
He didn't want to do it
Only a lad
He's underprivileged and abused
Perhaps a little bit confused


Now me, I kinda agree that one of the problems is that kids aren't treated like adults- they are assumed not to be able to exercise any judgment at all, and aren't held to be responsible for their actions, even though they can drive cars and join the army. And one way to remedy that, would be to charge kids who are old enough to know better as adults. And this way teachers could use the whole incident as a teaching moment. "OK kids, remember when we talked about that bullying incident last month? Well, today I found out that one of the kids who went to prison for it just got shanked last weekend. Now open your math books to page 123."
posted by happyroach at 11:13 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


They want and need little frothing monkeys

I don't really need little frothing monkeys, but now that you mention it I kinda want some. Actual monkeys, little ones, frothing - not kids. Fuck that.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:47 PM on July 22, 2010


The D.A. responds.
posted by availablelight at 6:28 PM on July 23, 2010


That's really the author's response to the D.A.'s response. The author ends with:
I’m sure that if Phoebe’s parents had understood her despair on the day she died, they would have done their absolute utmost to help her.

So now its the parent's fault?

I realize that it isn't that simple, that there were many contributing factors. But there are, unfortunately, lots of teenagers without access to one of their parents, who are sad, depressed, even to the point of cutting themselves. These kids are vulnerable. You can say that maybe some are prone to suicide, and that the normal emotional battles that kids have in high school could push them over the edge.

But I think you would be wrong, and I think that the author is very wrong, if you were to say that this is what happened here. The author's own description shows an unrelenting public and private attempts at tearing this girl down. That she was vulnerable no doubt made her an easier target. Maybe I'm naive--maybe this is normal, and I just happened to go to a school where this extreme level of social bullying would be unheard of.

Still, I believe this kind of unrelenting bullying of a vulnerable child is wrong and should not be tolerated.
posted by eye of newt at 7:09 AM on July 24, 2010


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