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Cyberbullying, Phoebe Prince and Suicide


A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health noted that more than 13 percent of adolescents in grades 6 through 10 had been the victim or instigator of cyberbullying at least once within the last two months. While cyberbullying is a despictable act, when it drives a young woman like Phoebe Prince to commit suicide, it becomes a crime in every sense of the word.

The study also noted that boys are more likely to be cyber bullies, whereas girls are more likely to be the victims. And one more finding: greater parental support was associated with less bullying of all types (physical, verbal, social, and cyber). Where were the parents of the cyber bullies in the Phoebe Prince case? Although the study did not raise the topic of teaching and administrative staff, another question in this case is, where were the teachers and school administrators?

Media reports note that 15-year-old Phoebe, an Irish immigrant, was the target of physical, verbal, and cyberbullying beginning nearly the day after she arrived at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts. The young woman apparently had a brief relationship with a popular young man named Sean at the school, and this did not sit well with some of Phoebe’s female peers, who, along with Sean, reportedly viciously turned on the newcomer.

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Despite the fact that Phoebe’s mother, Anne Prince, informed school officials that her daughter was being bullied and tormented, the school did nothing. Now, months after Phoebe hanged herself in her home, a district attorney named Betsy Scheibel has announced charges against nine teenagers who made their fellow student’s life a living nightmare until the bullied young woman decided it was no longer worth living.

Bullying has moved from the playground and streets to cyberspace. Experts are scrambling to understand this phenomenon and to find ways to deal with and prevent it. In the meantime, young women like Phoebe Prince—and young men as well—can be driven to believe they are not worthy, loveable human beings. They can be driven to suicide.

As is so often the case, it takes a tragedy like suicide to occur before significant action is taken to try to remedy or fix a wrong. In the case of Phoebe Prince, that action has not yet played out. While and until it does, kids, parents, and teachers can find some help with bullying and cyberbullying at Bullystoppers, Stopbullying, and Stopbullyingnow, among other resources.

Boston Globe, Mar. 30, 2010
Wang J et al. Journal of Adolescent Health 2009 Oct; 45(4): 368-75