Saturday, April 3, 2010

The case for consequences of teen bullying: Phoebe Prince

I have been rattled this week by the Phoebe Prince story. If you haven't seen or read the news a 15 year old girl hanged herself in January as a result of relentless bullying by her peers. The reasons this case should bother anyone are obvious, the reasons it bothers me are closer to home.

I've been chewing on this post for most of the week. Each night I was going to sit down and write....but each night the words did not come easily and today still are not at my finger, I'm going to go with a stream of consciousness thing....

I have a 14 year old niece who I dote on. She is spoiled. I contribute to that. For the most part I believe she is a good kid just trying to navigate the hurdles that come from being a teenager. Her parents are self-absorbed and are not paying attention. Yes, I said it, they are not paying attention because they are so caught up in their own "childhood nightmares" that they can't even see what is happening to their kid. Not to mention that to them, their daughter is just a pawn in their game with each other of torment and hate. While I can talk to my sister and she is beginning to see the light, the EX is a guy who can't see past his own nose and to him my niece is a piece of property and as long as she is getting good grades and staying out of obvious trouble, then he doesn't have to look any further. He doesn't want to see, he might have to sober up for that.

That shit aside, I am afraid for my Niece. Navigating the shit teenagers have to navigate these days would scare a battle weary warrior. When I read the details of the Pheobe Prince story my heart collapsed. I've been monitoring my niece's electronic social networking activity since the early summer and I have to admit I am both scared for her and disgusted by her. She gives as good as she gets....she REALLY works hard at fronting how tough she is, but the little girl I know is really a good, tender-hearted person. It was pointed out to me this morning that I might be just a bit naive about that. I didn't like it, but have to admit, I am being naive.

A week ago friday she was on the phone with me, sobbing, hysterical that she 'just can't take it anymore', (another girl at school has been harassing her, since January and usually my niece puts anyone in their place if they harass her, this particular girl has gotten in her head), she has spoken to a counsellor at school twice, but it appears she has little credibility with the persons in charge and so no punishment has been meted out to the harassing party. We all know that if there are no severe consequences and the consequences aren't enforced, once a bully is called out on their behavior the bullying only gets worse for the it did for Phoebe Prince. I do not believe that my niece is on the verge of hurting herself and when I reminded her of our call last friday, she recalled a modified version of what happened, in other words, she doesn't want adult intervention for fear of reprisal....and I don't blame her.

Because i have been monitoring her myspace, facebook, and formspring I am acutely aware of her conduct and am afraid she is not exactly the 'nice girl' I thought she was. Her swearing and threatening language were a considerable disappointment. But more than that, it was horribly sad for me. naively I want to say, "she's screaming out for her folks attention," but intellectually, I think that teenage girls are horrible monsters, each one to some degree and there is nothing I can do to protect her from herself.

Because I can only do so much and really have no control of how my niece is parented by her parents I feel impotent to intervene with her and on her behalf. More than anything I am afraid that her electronic life is going to horrifically derail her future life. These kids have no concept of how they are presenting themselves to the world and quite literally they are putting their whole lives out there for judgement...they have no sense that what they write on these HEINOUS "networking" sites can be damaging to them in far reaching ways.

That is just one of the reasons the Phoebe Prince story has affected me....they have been able to actually bring charges against these CHILDREN for their teenage behavior. I am both outraged by the teen's behavior, and saddened by their behavior and quite honestly hope that they all go to prison for a very long time as some kind of penance for what happened to Phoebe Prince....but if I feel that way about those teens, how can I defend my niece to those who she might be bullying as either a defense to behavior perpetrated against her or for her own sport.

I am not just rattled, but ROCKED by this case and the possible far reaching reprecussions the outcome will have on all of us.

Yesterday I went to my sister and showed her the details of the Phoebe Prince case, discussed with her in detail what I thought it could mean in the long run, showed her how her own daughter was conducting herself and begged her to start paying attention. We already had a date set for them to come over for egg decorating and agreed we'd wait for another time so that the evening wouldnt' be some point in the evening we began sporadic talk of the electronic forums (my niece brought a friend with her and both teens were eager to share and discuss). Our discussions were lively and emotionally charged and over the course of the evening many feelings and ideas were shared. I'm saying this wrong, but to my surprise, and although things did get heated many times, we managed to cover a lot of ground without actually bringing up the topic of the Phoebe Prince story. At a later point in the evening my sister surprised me with her bravery and brought up the case and then we began to have a hardcore serious discussion wtih both girls about acceptable and not acceptable behavior, based on the assumption that the case will have long lasting reprecussiosn on how teens can treat each other.

Again to my additional surprise, both girls began to own their own heinous behavior and they actually grasped the concepts we were trying to share with them (albeit, my niece tried valiantly to deflect as much responsibility as possible, her friend would not let her get away with it) and while I don't think either girl will abandon their myspace, facebook and formspring pages, nor their phones, I feel that they were given food for thought.

In the end both my sister and I were able to address a difficult topic and hear directly from the girls what was going on....but, again it was pointed out to me, I see my niece with rose colored glasses, the child is mean, disprespectful of all adults and may already be lost. I feel like that is a defeatist attitude and like I've surrendered to the battle and cannot be convinced the war can be won.... I did not sleep well after they left and when I did wake up this morning I had an overwhelming sense of sadness and defeat, like I'd already lost....

Over the next few weeks I imagine there will be a flurry of activity on the part of schools to address the issues that will be staring them in the face due to the Phoebe Prince case....I pray that my niece really HEARD what we said to her and that my heavy heart is wrong and that she will reexamine how she conducts herself and set a new course for herself.....but maybe I am again, being naive.

I am praying for Phoebe Prince and those kids who are going to pay for her death...whether they go to jail or not.



Brian Miller said...

i hope she did goes on way too much...did when we were yound as well, but it seems to have all the more edge these days...

An Open Heart said...

they have so many more insidious weapons these days, too.

Mike said...

Kids do not know how bad that teasing can scar a person. I was teased a lot as a child and it put me in a shell that I have never completely climbed out of. It is a shame that children can not fully comprehend the concept of mental cruelty.

Have a happy Easter. said...

Some kids just don't get how devastating their behavior is. As a parent of a child with Asperger's Syndrome, I've seen firsthand how cruel kids can be. Often the cruelty is by omission... never including some kids in the basic conversations. The pain of being excluded is extreme for kids. My son is an awesome person (now college age) but people rarely take time to get to know him because of his quiet nature.

Kudos to you for approaching this head-on with your niece.

Liz Fulcher, The Fragrant Muse said...

I read this post last week and it has haunted me ever since. My boys are young men and I'm so glad the teen years are over. And that I have boys. Girls have a special brand of meanness that cuts to the bone whereas boys will just kick your ass or be indifferent if they don't like you.

I think your niece is incredibly lucky to have an aunt who is so aware and involved. You did a wonderful thing talking to her, her friend and your sister. Keep it up. I'm sure you're making a bigger impact than you know.