New Braintree, MA September 24, 2013 Bullying has been recognized as a significant factor in social development in terms of the negative impact that has been shown on victims of this repetitive intimidation and harrassment. The underlying dynamic results from an imbalance of power among peers that has been linked to risk of adolescent suicide. Arguably, school districts across America have developed programs to combat bullies and reign them back into the social main stream but modern day bullying goes far beyond the playground. Some school districts offer mediation for bullies and victims with mixed results. When I served as a school psychologist in 2010, members of faculty were surveyed regularly by the principal about students they feared were being bullied and those who were doing the bullying but little was done to intervene.
Bullying has been an issue for children throughout time. Now, with some much dependence on social media and text messaging the problem of bullying has grown and is more powerful than ever. Students were once free from intimidation and the impact of bullying once they returned home. They could relax and allow the day’s torment to wash away. But with intimidating text messages and social media posts being sent and received almost 24 hours a day the true impact of bullying and the stress of being bullied can be a round the clock threat and humiliation.
15-year old Phoebe Prince killed herself after weeks of intense, humilating rumors and threats that psychologically wore her down. “The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to remain at school,” District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said according to New York Daily News in 2010. Phoebe and her family moved to South Hadley, MA from Ireland. Almost as soon as she arrived in South Hadley she was preyed upon by the older boys and relentlessly humilated by the girls in the form of text messages, physical taunts, and covert threats that arrived on her cell phone around the clock. Several months into this relentless torment Phoebe hanged herself at home. The social media humilation became too much. This 15-year old Irish teen could not tolerate the vicious rumors, threats, and hostility simply because she was different. She was new.
By outward appearance the school did what they could but the system failed miserably – as it has with too many other children. Phoebe could not get away from the lies and rumors being cast by other students her age. Phoebe’s parents never knew the truth of the impact of social media on their child’s suicide. Most of us don’t know what impact a subtle post and running thread can have on an uncertain mind. Fear and intimidation may slowly rob the sense of self we each need to be productive and to thrive. In the moments as she planned for and prepared her final delivery, Phoebe was entirely alone with her anguish. No person should die this way.