A 'Watershed' Case in School Bullying?

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Monday, April 5, 2010

A 'Watershed' Case in School Bullying?

Last week I posted on the criminal charges brought against nine Massachusetts teenagers in the wake of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince's suicide on January 14. An interesting article today in USA Today provides more details, an overview of bullying in our culture, and how prosecuting these teens might become a watershed case for American schools in how they might have to deal more aggressively with school bullying in the future as a result.

At first, it seemed like a morality play: school officials stand by as an innocent high school freshman, new in town, is harassed into suicide by a pack of older teens.

A week after criminal charges were filed, the case of Phoebe Prince seems more cloudy and complicated, much like the insidious national problem that may have helped kill her: school bullying.

Parents might not realize that the stereotypical bully of generations past — a swaggering schoolyard lout, low on self-esteem, quick to lash out, easy to identify — has become as anachronistic as the blackboard at many schools.

Educational psychologists describe a new kind of bullying. The perpetrators are attractive, athletic and academically accomplished — and comfortable enough around adults to know what they can and can't get away with, in school and online.

Last week, the district attorney here created a sensation when she took a rare step, filing criminal charges against nine South Hadley High School students who allegedly bullied Phoebe Prince until she hanged herself at home Jan. 14.

Felony charges against six of the teens, two boys and four girls, range from statutory rape to stalking and civil-rights violations. Three other girls were charged as juveniles.

The students will be arraigned this week. Whatever the resolution of the charges, "this case feels like a watershed" for American schools, says Elizabeth Englander, founder of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State College. By bringing criminal charges, "the D.A. really vaulted this into another class."

Source: USA Today