Wednesday, March 31, 2010

South Hadley Actions May Cause More Suicide

The town of South Hadley, Massachusetts made headlines this week when 9 students were charged in connection with bullying Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old student who committed suicide. Supporters of the charges believe they're discouraging the type of bullying that allegedly led to Prince's suicide. They believe that by punishing the bullies with harsh consequences, there will be less of a chance for other Phoebe Princes in the future.

They're wrong.

What message is really being sent here? For other girls and boys who are bullied mercilessly, they learn that suicide can be a great way to finally teach the bullies a lesson. Not content with their tormentors being sent to the principal's office, they may see suicide as a heroic act, a way to assure that the bad guys really, really regret ever being mean to them.

The truth is, bullies will always exist. How do I know this? Well, how about the fact that even as adults, we still encounter bullies. If years of social conditioning and education can't eliminate bullies from our midst, punishing a few students isn't going to end it either. It's a fact of life, as painful as it is.

I was bullied in middle school. Pretty badly. There were times when I myself considered ending it all. Cause as a kid, you think that's the only way to end it. You don't realize that life is long and the world is big, and the bullies are a very very tiny part of that. You don't realize that it really doesn't matter what some kid who ate his boogers a few years ago thinks about you. I wish that's the message that the people of South Hadley tried to send to kids. It's a much more worthwhile one.

I can tell you that from my own experience, my thoughts of suicide were not only driven by sadness or feelings that I was worthless. They were driven by the thought that, "They'll be sorry when I'm gone." Everyone knows that suicide causes pain for the people who survive around them. Everyone knows that people who commit suicide often become the talk of the town, with heartfelt memorials and a bunch of people questioning, "What could we have done differently?" We often hear of suicide as a way to "end the pain," but to my young mind, and I'm guessing, in the minds of many other troubled youth, suicide is also an act of revenge. It's a way to take control of other people's emotions, to take control of a situation you feel no control over. We often hear that suicide attempts are meant to get attention... and when you feel that all your complaints about bullies and the pain they've caused you have been belittled or dismissed, following through on an act of suicide becomes a logical way to punish the people who you feel have ignored you.

This, I fear, is the message the South Hadley prosecutions send. That suicide is a legitimate way to not only end the pain, but punish your tormentors and the people who just didn't listen. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were bullied too, and they committed suicide also. Do we hold the kids who bullied them responsible for the shootings at Columbine? Of course we don't.

Violence, towards oneself or others, is a decision made by the person who carries it out. Phoebe Prince was in pain, and the people who made her life painful are terrible, horrible, despicable people. But they didn't kill her. Phoebe Prince did. As painful as that may be to admit for the people who loved and cared about her. Punishing the bullies won't bring her back. And it won't end bullying. But it might just encourage some other tortured kid somewhere else to view suicide as a legitimate method of revenge.

And that would be an even bigger tragedy.

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