Tragic story: A 15-year-old Massachusetts girl whose family recently immigrated from Ireland, committed suicide almost two weeks ago. She was found dead in a bedroom of her South Hadley home.
Police say Phoebe Prince was likely pushed over the edge by "Cyberbullying," which is common enough these days that it has made its way into law enforcement lexicon. Police say Phoebe Prince was mercilessly taunted by classmates for the thick brogue on her accent and for being a foreigner, for dating a football player - something the cool girls apparently disapproved of, and simply for being new and different.
Now, some Massachusetts authorities want new anti-bullying laws passed to prevent this sort of thing in the future.
I'm always reluctant to cheer for new laws, 'cause frankly we've got plenty. And in terms of individual criminal behavior they don't get enforced consistently anyway. We should start there before adding to the pile.
I'm also usually reluctant to point a finger at parents for teenagers' bad behavior, 'cause unlike a lot child shrinks I'm not convinced teenagers are so naive these days. Mind you, I'm writing only from the perspective of a journalist who's spent nearly 15 years on the streets in a variety of neighborhoods, interviewing thousands of teenagers about issues that directly and indirectly involve their lifestyles, attitudes, and motivations. Far be it from me to contradict a doctor who says that teens don't have the maturity to form criminal intent, but my layman's observations make me skeptical of that notion.
Anyway, in spite of my reluctance, I kind of agree with the authorities in Mass. Not every kid has a thick skin. And you can't always blame that on a kid being a "wimp" or "too soft." It's not so black and white as to suggest that telling a kid to "toughen up" is the way to protect them from bullies.
Some bullies are relentless and don't just tease. They aim to torture, to inflict pain - emotional or physical - on their victims.
And as with most of my "exceptions" in the debate of parent v. child culpability, I want to blame the bullies' parents for their kids' behavior. Why not? In some municipalities like Boston, if kids play hooky too often and skip school without cause, even if their parents don't know, those parents can be called before a judge to account for the unauthorized absences.
I wouldn't mind seeing a law that compelled parents to "allocute" to what they may or may not have done in their children's lives to help their children become bullies.
Again, I'm not talking the stereotypical teasing lots of us dealt with in our school days. I caught grief in elementary school for having thick lips, and in high school for being too skinny (imagine that!) and for having an eraser head (tall, flat-top box haircut). I got over it. In some cases, I laugh myself in retrospect. Some of those scrawny girls from elementary school would pay big bucks for my lips these days!
No, the kind of stuff that Phoebe went through was on a different, much darker level.
If you haven't followed the link above and you question just how relentless bullies can be, consider this: Even after Phoebe died, bullies, run-of-the-mill A-holes, or a combination of both left mean-spirited taunting messages on a Facebook page set up to memorialize her.
PS. Follow me, please, at twitter.com/jamesburnett.