Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Zero Tolerance

In January, our family celebrated the birthday of my grandtwins. They turned one year old. We had balloons, cake, gifts and the house was filled with laughter and the sounds of celebration.

In January, Phoebe Prince made the decision to end her life. She was fifteen years old. Her younger sister found her hanging in the stairwell of their apartment. Phoebe was the victim of bullying at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts. Her family had moved to America in the autumn of 2009 from Ireland. Phoebe was the new kid in town. And she was not met by the Welcome Wagon.

A freshman at So. Hadley High, Phoebe probably...maybe... dreamt of attending football games, semi-formals, giggling with girlfriends, getting her driver's license, going to concerts and finding Mr. Right. I don't know for sure. I never met Phoebe Prince but I wish I had. I wish I could have put a protective cloak around her and protected her from the bullies ~ the seven girls and two boys who saw it as their right to ridicule Phoebe constantly with verbal abuse. Nonstop. Throwing cans at her as they drove by. Drawing obscene pictures of Phoebe and hanging them for all to see. Emailing her, texting her, Facebook bullying, calling her obscenities as she entered the classroom. 24-7. I have a heavy feeling in my gut as I think about how Phoebe felt every day when she entered hell school.

I have been having flashbacks to my days in junior high school. The new kid in town, I was bullied by three girls. Three mean girls.  Nancy, Valerie and Maureen verbally teased me and physically pushed me around ~ I avoided the stairwells and empty hallways. I feared being locked in a locker - yes, I was quite skinny back in those days and easily could have fit into a locker. They told me they were going to shove me in there and that no one would find me for days. Looking back, I now realize that I probably would have been found alive but at the age of 13, it was a threat that I took seriously. They pulled my hair. They elbowed me hard. I went home and cried. Mom told me to ignore them. I tried. Fortunately, after a year of this abuse, someone new moved into town and they moved onto their next victim. Phew.

So I am now obsessed with Phoebe Prince. There has been a fair amount of finger pointing as to who is at fault. The school, the bullies, the parents of the nine bullies, society at and me. Have you ever looked the other way when you have witnessed a bullying situation ? Would you step in and get involved ? We must. Our society must take a stand against the bullies of the world. And I mean that wholeheartedly and sincerely.

When my husband and I were in Washington, DC recently, we stood in many lines throughout our visit. Musuem lines, restaurant lines, White House lines...but we were patient and chatted quietly while waiting our turn. One day we were in a long line while in the Smithsonian. There were fifty people behind us in line. I know because I counted them while waiting patiently. I noticed two teen-age girls quietly walking up the aisle, cutting everyone in line. I thought to myself, 'No. They wouldn't dare cut fifty people. They must know someone in line.' Well. Apparently they thought they knew me because they cut right in front of me. Out of all those people they picked the wrong lady to cut.
"Excuse me. You don't really think you are going to cut in front of me, do you?"
They turned and just glared at me.
"I am in line. I have been in line and you are not going to cut in front of all of these fifty people. The line forms at the rear, girls." I smiled, sort of.
They realized that I am teacher material. They realized that I am uncuttable.
"Oh. We didn't know there was a line." And they turned themselves around and went to the end of the line.
People around me thanked me, stating that they were glad I spoke up. They wanted to but they didn't dare. They didn't want to get involved.

Well, I am going to get involved. I am a protector of the underdog. I will take on the bullies of the world. I  want to get into my car and drive down to South Hadley and have dicussions with the nine bullies who took Phoebe's life. I wonder if they were bullied at some point in their life. I read with sadness that one of the girls wrote 'Accomplished' on their Facebook wall the day after Phoebe ended her life. I want to talk to the parents of all involved. I want to help.

This is not the world I want my grandchildren to grow up in. I want their world to be one full of love, rainbows, four leaf clovers, peace, daisies, balloons and nonstop laughter ~ a life of celebration. I will don my supergrandma cape and protect them from the bullies, remembering Phoebe Prince and the life that was stolen from her.


Hilary said...

It's a heartbreaker for sure. I heard Barbara Coloroso discuss this child on a talk show recently. These particular bullies sounded particularly cold-hearted. The subsequent Facebook comments alone are so incredibly disturbing. Good for you for taking charge of the teens in line. I have no doubt you can and will make an impact for your darling grandkids.

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

Thank you for taking that stand. I stand with you! I was bullied from K-9th grade for being tall, and not good at sports. I too was told to "ignore" it. Ignoring really doesn't work all that well. The bullies grow up, and begin to work in offices where they continue to make life miserable for all those who work around them.
When my daughter was in 4th grade a bully ring formed in her Christian school. I placed her in another school; a friend's daughter nearly killed herself that year because of the bullies. It was only after the bully notes were found that the school shut down the ring.
Not only must we stand up to bullies, we must also be blessers: look around for people who need a kind word. Admire their choices of glasses, purses, whatever, or simply catch their eye and give them a warm smile.

Brian Miller said...

was just reading another blog on this just realy is not fair...and little or nothing seems to be done...just sent a kid off to detention yesterday b/c i was finally able to convince someone that if we waited someone would get seriously hurt...

Maggie May said...

Good for you. I also feel for any underdog too and that was truly awful about poor Phoebe. What a pity it had to come to this and how callous of those girls. I hope they have nightmares about what they have done, though I doubt it.

Nuts in May

Kim Mailhot said...

Be a Superhero, Wonderful Deb. The world needs us all to step up for what we know is right and against what we know we can no longer tolerate.
Prayers to Phoebe's family, to her attackers who should know how to do differently and to all of us living in the world where such things happen.
Big Love to you !

Daryl said...

And I want you to pick me up so I can go with you. I read the stories about this and I think there is a lot of blame to share here .. beginning with the parents of these horrifically nasty teens...... the song from South Pacific says its all "You've Got To Be Taught" ... children dont learn to be mean or racially biased or anti Semitic or anti anything w/o seeing it at home.

Then there are the teachers at the school who surely saw and heard what was happening but turned a blind eye, a deaf ear ..

But none of this should surprise anyone who has eyes or ears these days when if your team/side isnt the winning one you crap all over the winner and sling dirt so you can feel less of a loser.

I AM ANGRY.. can tell?

R.J. said...

Good for you. It would be great if more people got involved in situations. We have to help others anytime we can. It astounds me when I read about someone being assaulted while others just watch. We are either the solution or part of the problem.

San said...

Great story. How wonderful that your own experience of being bullied steeled your resolve to be a protector and to stand up for those afraid to express their own power. YOU ROCK.

Lori ann said...

Thank you for this post. I am so devasted by it,i am in complete agreement with you, NO ONE should be allowed to get away with bullying. I am not a confrontational person and when it came to my children I let them handle most problems or issues that came up at school on their own. Except bullying. And even though they said they would die if i got involved, afterwards they were glad, and relieved.
Our schools adopted a zero tolerance policy after 9/11, i wish every school did.
This just makes me heartsick, I do wish so much there would have been someone to help this child.

Sarah said...

Thank you for writing this! I'm obsessed with Phoebe and devastated about what she felt driven to do... not because I was bullied and can relate but because I feel guilty for being a bully at times in my life. Yes, it was when I was young and I am sure I can come up with a lot of excuses of why but the point is that selfishly I am grateful i never pushed anyone to such extreme actions and I too stand up against bullying!

Willow said...

I'm standing with you! I hate the bullying!

TSannie said...

I really must take a lesson from your book of life. I don't think I would have had the fortitude to stand up to those two girls. BUT...maybe now after reading your stance I will!
I do believe this is a "Pass it On" moment!
Thank you, Deb!

Jeni said...

Excellent post Deb! A topic not that much discussed in the past but one that needs to be brought to the front more and more, whenever possible.
Thanks for doing that. Thanks for taking a stand.

Akelamalu said...

I am so with you on this! I will not allow anyone to queue jump and will not stand by and see anyone bullied. In fact although I was myself bullied at school I still defended others who were bullied. Even now I write letters to politicians and others when I feel there is injustice.

Excellent post Deb.

SandyCarlson said...

That poor child. How horrible.

I have blogged about a friend who was gay and was bullied by all who loved him so--but knew what he needed to be "normal." I have made the point over and over that we can kill each other with words. And we do.

Thanks for saying it here, and saying it so well. My heart breaks for this child.

Marg said...

What a heart wrenching story of Phoebe. Yes, we saw that all over the news. Right away...I made the connection of your grandchildren....and I was hoping and hoping and my hopes came true...exactly, that now you could provide them a setting and protect them that no one could every take away their self esteem....
I think we have a huge role to play in life...more and more...our community needs us to stand up and dare. It's time to cut the crap. Good on you!

MyMaracas said...

I'm glad you stood up to those bullies in the line. If more people did, it might discourage the behavior. I don't understand the kind of relentless cruelty some of these kids enjoy dishing out. And I know first hand that the schools just look the other way; in fact, if the targeted kid stands up for himself he's the one who gets punished. I don't think things have ever been different, but the number of bullies is much larger and their attacks don't end when the school day does.

imbeingheldhostage said...

Good for you!

She was such a gorgeous girl-- probably why they felt threatened enough to make her miserable. Heartbreaking.
I speak up and I don't tolerate it if I feel the school isn't aggressively dealing with bullies. There's a huge anti-bullying campaign here and yet my 2nd oldest has had more incidents than you can imagine. So far I've been fortunate that he's a confident, secure young man-- but I'm not dropping my guard because when you're a teen that confidence can shatter with a word.

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