When we heard the news of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince’s tragic suicide in South Hadley, MA, our thoughts immediately went out to the family and community grappling with this incomprehensible loss. A target of extensive cyber-bullying through negative Facebook messages and texts, Phoebe’s victimization sadly mirrors what so many other students are struggling with today. In fact, the National Crime Prevention Council reports cyber-bullying is a problem that affects more than 40% of all American teens. The more troubling statistic is that of those affected, almost 60% of kids never told their parents or another adult about the incident. No longer can we dismiss this type of negative behavior as an adolescent phase or kids just being kids. Too many of our children are being left to face this issue alone, while parents and educators struggle to understand this rapidly changing form of harassment.
The only way to counter any type of bullying is to acknowledge the problem and educate students and adults alike on ways they can stand up against this type of abuse. Just as we teach our children how to read and how to act in class, we must teach them what to do when faced with a difficult bullying situation and talk to them about the harmful effects of bullying. This conversation needs to take place in schools and at home, and it must be part of what we live as a community — from our legislation and in-school/at-home rules to the type of behavior we model for our children each day.
The question is what can each one of us do now?
Know the Law: Phoebe Prince’s shocking death has prompted lawmakers in Massachusetts to shepherd a long in-development anti-bullying bill through the House and Senate sometime next week. You can check the status of bully prevention legislation in your state, and work with your local community to push for greater awareness of this crucial issue.
Educate yourself and your community: Learn about the most common Bullying Myths and Misconceptions, and share this knowledge with others. Download the Cyberbullying Tips for parents and educators and for students, and visit www.BullyBust.org to access free supports for students and adults alike. Access more resources here, here, and here.
Speak Out and Stand Up Against Bullying: Be proactive about recognizing and addressing bullying when it occurs. Read the 10 Tips for Being an Upstander, sign the Stand Up Pledge, and consider a school-wide bully prevention program to address this issue systemically. You can also share your story with Slate here.
Together, we can put an end to the harmful bullying and cyber-bullying that is far too prevalent in our schools. We want to hear from you: Tell us what your community is doing to stop bullying now.