Today, several news venues across the country are covering the latest angle of the Phoebe Prince bullying tragedy: apparently some of the accused bullies are experiencing negative effects from the incident.
While there are several versions of this story on the air right now, here's the story as it appeared on Fox News this morning (you'll have to get through the first part where the irate parent is thrown out of the school committee meeting though, to get to the part about Sharon Velazquez and the comments by her attorney).
Here's what I find surprising -- that people are "surprised" by the response of others toward the accused. I do believe that sending threats to the kids accused of the bullying doesn't make things better and I'd hope for more restraint on the part of the people that are doing it, but here's a harsh reality people don't seem to acknowledge or accept:
Bullying affects more than just the victim.
When bullying occurs, more than just the targets get hurt. Families are affected, friends who have to take sides, in some ways, even the perps are damaged because of the "second-hand" aftermath. In the case of Hadley, Mass., an entire community is impacted. It's the parents against the school, it's the accused vs. the victim's family, friends and neighbors. This story has national impact so there are any number of people all across the country who are talking about it, debating it, arguing over it.
And somehow we're surprised that Ms. Velaszquez can't even "go to school" right now because of the impact her alleged involvement or acts have had?
Even if she is found not guilty as her attorney confidently declares, life will never be the same for her. Is that fair? Well, I don't know about "fair." Is it fair Phoebe Prince was harassed, bullied, tormented to the point of taking her own life? What about her parents -- is it fair that they will have to spend the rest of their lives with this memory? I don't think there's a single constituent in this entire picture for whom this situation is "fair."
People are angry, and they are getting angrier by the moment. I'm worried, however, that in the heat of passion over the topic where everyone is looking for someone to blame, the important questions aren't being asked:
What can we do to ensure it'll never happen again?
Tougher laws, stricter legislation, tighter policies aren't going to do it. We know "zero tolerance" doesn't work; heck, we have a zero tolerance policy on murder in this country -- how many murderers thought about that before they pulled the trigger, buried the knife in their victim or choked them to death? I heard a suggestion today that the kids should have been suspended at first sign of trouble: oh, yeah, I'm sure that would have helped..."You bullied, now you get a free day off from school. That'll teach you!"
No, we have to start reframing this whole idea and work toward developing character, socials skills and values from early on that prevent this kind of behavior from happening...as a systemic part of the school culture, not as a bandaid to apply "in case of emergency." We have to stop thinking "after the fact" and consequences as the only way to deal with it and start thinking preventative, preemptive. Consequences do need to be there, of course, for when the break occurs, but we have do more to prevent those breaks from being allowed to occur.
Someone asked me today, "What discipline do you think these kids should get now?" "Discipline." Uh, I think the time for disciplinary action is long gone. If they did what is being alleged, they don't discipline, they get severe consequences. But, that's not for me to decide or recommend -- at this point it's in the hands of the courts.
What I'd rather focus on is what we do, today and every day to keep this from damaging more of our kids -- victims and perpetrators alike -- keep our communities safe, peaceful, and productive. I hope you'll join me in that effort.
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