Back in January, a lovely girl named Phoebe Prince was driven to suicide by human manifestations of the ugliest side of our character. The media seem to have fixated on calling this bullying, but to me, bullying is when a kid steals your lunch money. What these kids did to Miss Prince was systematic, relentless persecution with the intent to do harm. This girl had no refuge - they tormented her at school, humiliated her publicly on the web, and sought her out at home over the telephone and via text messaging.
This sort of treatment would drive most adults to despair, so it is painful to contemplate the living hell Miss Prince was forced to endure. The kids that did this are narcissistic sociopaths and need to be dealt with accordingly - but my intent in writing about this, is not to call for their heads or summon the wrath of the heavens upon them. Criminal charges have been filed against them, as they should be, so in that sense the system is working.
What I take issue with, is that not one single adult will be held responsible for this tragedy. This was not something that was happening in secret. School officials as well as teachers were aware of what was going on and did nothing to stop it. These are all people who are paid professionals, who gladly accept their paychecks every month, but are now busy making excuses for why they allowed this behavior to occur during school hours, on school property.
In one account I read, one of the tormentors interrupted a class Miss Prince was in, while it was in session, to yell in front of the entire class that Miss Prince was a slut. Yet nothing happened. Teachers have stated that the "bullying" was common knowledge.
Now they are falling over themselves in Massachusetts writing laws against bullying.
We don't need a law against bullying, we need adults to take responsibility and for society to hold them accountable when things go badly. School officials are responsible for the kids' safety when they are on campus while school is in session. To have school leaders claim innocence because they aren't knowledgeable about teen dating rivalries is tantamount to saying "I have no business holding my current position and accepting money for it because I am not qualified." At the very least, they should be fired.
If this were a private business and adults were the victims, I can assure you plenty would have been done. The law holds businesses responsible for knowingly allowing a hostile work environment to persist.
The parents of the accused teen tormentors have also failed miserably in their responsibilities as parents. These kids should have been suspended from school immediately and law enforcement notified. It is not the school's job to raise children. Once home, real parents would have grounded them with no phone privileges, no Internet access, confined to their rooms except to use the bathroom until they can prove that they are fit to interact with civilized society.
If and when they were allowed to return to school, it would be probationary and the mere hint of an unfriendly act would land them back in their rooms or in juvenile hall. No new law needed.
The kids committed the crimes, but until adults start living up to their responsibilities, these situations will become more frequent and we will find ourselves paralyzed by a straight jacket of hastily concocted legislation that will never be an adequate substitute for the responsible parties simply stepping up to the plate and doing their jobs.