Bullying cost Phoebe Prince her life—What can you do about it? Editor's Note

Teenagers aren’t supposed to die. They’re especially not supposed to die like this. Phoebe Prince only had two strikes against her, and if you were a normal person, they were not strikes at all.

Teenagers aren’t supposed to die.

They’re especially not supposed to die like this.

Phoebe Prince only had two strikes against her, and if you were a normal person, they were not strikes at all.

She was a recent Irish import, and she had briefly dated a popular football player at her Massachusetts high school.

But to a crowd of so-called “mean girls” at her school, those two things were enough to harass the sweet-faced teen, literally, to death.

On Jan. 14, after months of being taunted with slurs, physically abused and stalked through Facebook, Twitter and text messages, a despondent Prince went home from school and hung herself in a stairwell.

She was 15 years old.

Her taunters couldn’t stop even then: they began posting their trash on the teen’s Facebook memorial page.

Today, nine of those abusers are about to see something Phoebe never did: Justice.

Seven girl students are facing charges that range from criminal harassment to civil-rights violations. And two boy classmates are facing statutory rape charges.

The prosecutors are calling the bullying that this ostracized teen endured “unrelenting.”

This may have happened in a town more than 3,000 miles from Kent, but the case of Phoebe Prince should ring bells for all of us. Especially those of us who have any dealings with teenagers.

This could happen anywhere. All you need is a phone and a vendetta.

I know this because something like that happened to me. And it was hell.

I went to school in New York, and my single year at Gelinas Junior High School was one filled with taunts, threats and anguish.

At one point, one of my tormenters went so far as to shoot out the windows of our house with a BB gun, while my mom was home.

Our home phone was called again. And again. And again. A couple of hundred times in one day, by another classmate.

I was punched in the stomach, threatened with a soldering iron in shop class.

This was in a school that prized its academic success, passed levies, and was, for all outward intents, a model of providing a solid education.

It was in this same school that I hid in the bathroom, skipped lunch because of threats in the cafeteria, and fantasized about bringing a gun to class as protection.

Nobody should be afraid to go to school. We have a civil right to basic education in this country.

That’s what the adults keep saying, at least. To kids, it can be a different thing entirely.

While our local schools are appreciably adamant about policing their students and enforcing anti-bullying policies, the fact remains that they can’t read everyone’s mind, and they can’t be everywhere at once. And the bullying that happens is often in places where the teachers aren’t: on the way to school, on the bus, in the hallway.

Thanks to cell phones and computers, that bullying can happen even more quietly - but no less effectively - in cyberspace, away from the attention of all but the bullier, the victim, and, thanks to contact lists, as many bystanders as they choose to involve.

This is why it’s not just our schools’ job to be on the lookout for this most lacerating of kid behaviors. It’s a responsibility of any adult who is aware of it to step in. To stop it.

Bullying is not just “kids being kids” - it leaves scars for life.

Phoebe killed herself after what must have been a truly terrible day - just one day of many for her. Many of us who were the long-term targets of bullies - myself included - had thoughts about doing just what Phoebe did. The difference is that we did not. And we grew up. But always looking back over our shoulders. Always doing gut checks about our self worth.

Bullying bites. It destroys lives and it’s just as wrong as stealing, physical assault or underage drinking. All of those are things that can result in jail time.

If there is any positive aspect to Phoebe Prince’s story, it’s that authorities finally woke up to what was going on and charged a group of unscrupulous abusers with an actual crime. They’re also considering charges against school officials, who apparently knew what was going on but didn’t do anything about it.

If you’re an adult, you have the choice to step up and step in when you know bullying is going on. You can cancel a cell-phone contract, revoke computer and car privileges, report what you suspect to school officials, police or other parents.

You have power, and that’s more than most kids have. Especially kids like Phoebe Prince, whose greatest mistake appears to have been simply going to school.

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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact thebrunells@msn.com.
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