Monday, February 22

In the News: Bullying

The girl to the right is named Phoebe Prince. I stumbled upon this news article about her via Twitter a couple weeks ago and it is still haunting me. I advise you to take a moment and click over and read it and then come back, but the long and the short of it is 15 year old Phoebe moved to a town in Massachusetts from Ireland. She was a freshman and dated a popular senior boy. The mean girl clique at her school felt that she wasn't popular enough to be able to date this guy. The tormented her mercilessly, calling her a slut and more specifically an Irish slut. One day, they followed her home from school, threw things at her and called her names, and she walked into her room and hung herself in her closet. Her little sister found her. And the mean girls mocked her death on facebook. They continue to walk the halls of their high school unpunished, mocking this girl that they literally teased to death.

Yeah, I teared up reading about it and I'm tearing up writing about this. I just find it so upsetting the way bullying and the mean girl culture gets worse and worse. I was bullied pretty badly as a kid myself. In grade school, I tried to fit in with the popular girls, but since I didn't have the right clothes, parents who spoiled me, I loved reading and was therefore a nerd, and I was friendly to "uncool" people, I took a lot of crap. My "friends" made fun of me constantly and intentionally did things to hurt me like "accidentally" burning my forehead while curling my bangs. So by the end of sixth grade, I'd decided I was over it. I was just going to be myself and if that meant being "uncool," I wouldn't care.

This went well in seventh grade as I'd started junior high and was meeting more girls who were into different music and didn't think loving to read was a social crime. I'd joined stage crew but decided to try my hand at acting during the summer play. That was when I came up against a group of mean girls again. I wasn't one of them and in their mind I didn't deserve to try out for the play. They used to chase me home from camp every day. Fortunately I was a really fast roller-blader. I tried to act like the torment didn't bother me. I still had a good group of friends. I still remained involved in theater (those girls actually went to a different junior high so I didn't have to deal with them after summer camp and the theater kids at my junior high were much nicer). But I was hurt, upset, and scared on the inside. It was after that torturous summer that I started cutting myself and struggling with depression. The bullying from both girls and boys during my junior high years set me up for major self esteem issues in high school. And of course there were times during high school when I was called slut for dating the wrong person or people gossiped about me. I survived, but I literally bear the scar of my low self-esteem: I cut the word "Slut" into my upper arm when I was sixteen.

So that's when I read Phoebe's story, which sounded like a version of what I went through, my heart just ached. I really wish schools would do more to stop bullying. I really wish society wouldn't encourage girls to attack each other in order to feel better about themselves because I think it does that with every magazine article or gossip blog that mocks a certain celebrity's weight or personal issues.

I wish I had some sort of solution for this and maybe some of you have some ideas. All I've got is this: Be as nice as possible to everyone you know. If you have a bad day or insecurities, find a way to cope that doesn't involve taking it out on other people. And if one of your friends does something to upset you, TALK TO THEM, don't spread rumors or badmouth them behind their back.

And yeah, I'm definitely cooking up a mean girl storyline for one of my future projects because I think talking about these issues and keeping them in the open is key for finding solutions.

Hugs to anyone who has had to deal with anything like Phoebe Prince did.

ETA: After posting this, I was sent two interesting links. Fortunately it looks that some of Phoebe's tormentors will be facing consequences. Here is the information, though unfortunately this is all happening too late to save a young girl's life. A former judge also emailed me after reading this blog entry and told me about this book that he wrote about cyber-bullying. I haven't read it, but it might be worth checking out, it definitely sounds interesting because as the author says: "Only through education and awareness can we fight cyberbullying."


Andrea said...

Phoebe lived not far from me, and the news hit me quite hard. I feel so bad for kids today. When I was bullied, I was able to leave it at school and be safe in my home. Now, thanks to technology, the harassment follows us home.

Sadly it continues well into adulthood. A bully I had to deal with still has a public post on her blog picking on me and allows people to continue to tormenting in the comments. She's an adult with two children, but she likes to pick on people. I almost killed myself as a result of the bullying she started a year ago but somehow found my way through it. I wish Phoebe could have done the same.

I agree that schools need to do something. Punishing Phoebe's tormenters now seems a bit too little too late. But educators need to pay attention and take action before things go too far.

I'm sorry you were bullied too, Stephanie. I'm glad you made it through it all so we could enjoy your writing. *hugs*

Alexandra Shostak said...

I think this is so sad. I saw several instances of bullying during my high school career, one of which forced a girl into cutting herself. It's sad that now that I'm an adult, and deal with many writing professionals online, I still see that some people are bullies and use the power they have from being published to pick on others. I think what Andrea said above me is so true, too--that one can't escape from bullying because it now happens on the internet. I've definitely faced it both in real life, and on the internet, and I can't say it's gotten better as I've aged at all.

I think you're fantastic for sharing your story as well (a few of your descriptions made me think back to my elementary school and middle school days, too).

Alyson Noel said...

Wow. This is just horrifying and heartbreaking and wrong on every level . . . I was bullied BIG TIME for 5 straight years in school, and it was completely awful and took me years to get over it, and, unfortunately, Andrea is right--it doesn't stop in adulthood. While the girls who bullied me recently apologized, most bullies, just grow into adult bullies, continuing the abuse.

"The cheapest way to feel good about yourself is by feeling superior to others."- Deepak Chopra

Words to live by.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Andrea, you are right, it is so sad that it continues into adulthood and especially horrifying that you were tormented by a women with 2 children, what kind of example is she setting! *hugs* to you, dear.

Alexandra, what you said is too true as well and I'm sorry you were bullied as well. And Alyson too! It is just too upsetting to read that all of you who commented have been bullied in some way. We are all survivors and Alyson, that quote is words to live by!

heilige. said...

we had a case here in the lou about myspace bullying. the girl eventually hung herself. horrible situation. that's such a hard time in everyone's life...the reason people bully is the same reason people in your adult life try to throw you under the bus at work, etc. it's because of insecurities. if anything else, i hope girls that are bullied just realize that being different is okay; the one thing all the bullying did for me was taught me to really only live for myself, do what i want to do, and use my uniqueness for good things. i really feel for anyone that has to deal with; sadly there will always be people who are insecure and the only way they know how to deal with it is to bully others that are easy targets.

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

That is so sad and awful, and I'm so so sorry you went through being bullied too, Steph. Thanks for sharing this...others she read and learn.

Authorness said...

Oh, Steph, Phoebe's story is horrifying. I'm so sorry you were also tortured by bullies. (And it really *is* a form of torture.)

I don't have a neat answer to address bullying, but raising awareness through literature and sharing stories like yours helps.

x Vanessa

david elzey said...

we had to deal with a mean girl situation with our younger daughter when the girls were nine years old. delving into the literature available about this behavior - books like "queen bees and wannabes" and "girl wars" not only helped us help our daughter find her way out but also opened our eyes to a whole subculture that had been going on for some time at her school.

once we opened the door we found almost a dozen other families with daughters who had been victims of this one girl for almost five years since pre-school. even then, it's taken two more years to get this mean girl's parents to recognize and admit that their daughter isn't the angel they have insisted she has always been.

the available literature shows that there is a culture of silence surrounding mean girls, and women don't often know how to deal with their daughters bullying problems because they never were able to deal with their own bully issues.

schools, we also discovered, have their hands tied when they cannot get parents to accept that their children are bullies or cooperate in taking action. often parents of bullies refuse to accept any responsibility, and teachers and administrators are equally limited by what they can do even when they are aware of the situation.

finally, often the punishing of bullies only makes things worse. short of being imprisoned, a bully who gets in trouble but isn't physically or permanently removed from the environment emboldens bullies to "get back at" those who attempted to get them in trouble. even a bully who is expelled from a school will still have opportunity (and reason) to terrorize those who have created their situation.

these girls who tormented phoebe should be tried as second degree murders. it's sad that it would take that sort of message to get people to pay attention, but other opportunities are no longer available for these girls.

Gerb said...

Aw, Stephanie. I want to crawl through the computer and hug you. I'm in tears knowing that someone hurt you so bad you carved that derogatory word into your skin. What is it that makes girls be so unbelievably cruel? I know guys bully other guys, but it seems girls are more vicious.

Kate Grover said...

I'm a high school sophomore and during my middle school/junior high years I was harrassed severely, hell I never want to live my middle school years from how bad they were coming home from school crying my eyes out at night, trying to attempt suicide a few times and finally realizing my boyfriend and my friends are the only ones who matter, high school is much better and reading books tends to help ignore the dumb asses who are stupid enough to harrass me, let that be a lesson to people. Harrassment gets you no where, just ends in hurt and sometimes people who commit suicide over the names. My boyfriend reminds me every day no matter what people say, they are just jealous and stupid and will get no where in life when karma bites them back for what they did

Wendy Toliver said...

Oh Steph, I am so sorry for what you went through, and that story about Phoebe is horrible. I had a bunch of challenges growing up but thank God it wasn't being bullied to the point you and Phoebe and so many other people, young and older, are. Thanks for sharing this eye-opening story.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Things like this are just so upsetting and yet we cannot put our heads in the sand. Thank you so much, Steph, for drawing attention to this important issue.

Sara Hantz said...

Steph, that's such an awful story, that poor, poor girl and her family. It's dreadful that those girls can do such things and get away with it.

Katie said...

This broke my heart...

Melissa said...

I'm so glad you wrote about this on TFC, Steph. That story has been weighing down my heart for a while. And to know it's happening to girls all over, and has been for decades, is just devastating. I remember many mean-girl slights from my time in junior high. Some done to me, and even some I did (I'm ashamed to admit).

Talking about it, like we're doing right here, helps immensely, I think.

Monique said...

its amazing how many people go through this, i went through it in highschool i got called a geek because i wrote evert day and spent alot of time in the libary, i hate when i hear other people cut them selves and try to off them selves because i know how horrible it makes me feel every time i get so low that i try it, if any one esle reads my message please stay strong this world needs you

Natalie (Mindful Musings) said...

That anyone, especially one so young, would have to go through this completely breaks my heart. Sadly enough, it really reminded me of a quote from Jay Asher's THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.

"You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything."

It goes both ways. Like you said Stephanie, being nice to everyone you know is great. You never know the effect your simple act of kindness may have. On the other hand, backstabbing and teasing can have dire consequences that you might never consider, even if your actions don't seem to appear all that harmful.

To every one of you who've had to go through that, you have my sympathy and admiration. It truly takes a lot of character and strength to be able to dig yourself out of such a deep hole.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention!