Bullying and Youth Suicide in the Modern Age
THE JOSEPH PROJECT - by MARK SNYDER Copyright LEXINGTON MASSACHUSETTS
This document is the heart of The Joseph Project. A Resource for Parents, Teachers and Youth Workers the Joseph Project's goal is as follows:
- To study and identify the sociological, technological and psychological factors that have given rise to cyber bullying
- To help identify and help children who are at risk of injury from cyber bullying
- To explore some of the societal problems that need to be recognized and addressed
- THE JOSEPH PROJECT - Bullying and Youth Suicide In the Modern Age
When I was growing up there were bullies also. They were the tougher kids in town, maybe from a broken family situation, maybe they were abused at one point, or maybe they were the youngest of six boys who learned to be tough and yearned to have someone smaller than them to pick on. Sometimes they were physically bigger, stronger or tougher kids who otherwise lacked self-confidence and saw bullying as a way to assert their dominance. At its roots, bullying comes from a very simple need for children to feel power and control, which manifests itself in asserting control physically or mentally over someone else, thereby making the child feel than he or she has comparative control and/or power. Bullying is not restricted to children but children were traditionally more subject to it for several reasons:
1) Children have less developed self control than adults do. As we grow up, and presuming that we do so in an environment which is not severely counterproductive (ie - highly abusive home, abandoned and living in an orphanage, etc), we develop the ability to control both our actions and our words. While we still do break through our boundaries from time to time, we generally conduct ourselves in a more self-controlled manner than children, giving thought and pause before acting or speaking.
2) Lack of societal consequences such as concern about lawsuits, losing their jobs or being dragged into courts by ex-spouses.
3) Perceivedly smaller actual consequences. A simple schoolyard fight results in a bloody nose not a gunshot wound or a stabbing. Name calling results in someone's feelings getting hurt and some crying perhaps rather than a six year old feud.
Unfortunately, the bullying of old has given way to a new manifestation of pretty much the same old set of feelings, emotions and lack of self-restraint. However unlike the bullying of old, where black eyes and hurt feelings which a good visit to Dairy Queen could usually fix, the bullying of today is far more serious, insidious, irretrievable and yes, deadly. A few cases in point:
September 1998 Thirteen year old Jared High was assulted in a school gym by a known school bully. Already suffering from depression from persistent bullying at school, Jared became more severely depressed after being attacked and eventually took his own life. Read about Jared and his Mom's quest to help other teens who suffer from depression here.
October 2003 Ryan Halligan from Essex Juction, VT takes his own life over distress caused by online conversations. See the youtube video essay here featuring Ryan's father telling the story of what happened to Ryan. (video no longer available)
October 2006: In Dardenne, Missouri, thirteen year old Megan Taylor Meier hung herself after being repeatedly cyberbullied through Myspace.*
March 2009: In Springfield, Massachusetts Carl Walker-Hoover, an eleven year old boy who was repeatedly taunted for being gay, hangs himself with a belt.
March 2010: In South Hadley, Massachusetts, Phoebe Prince, a 15 year old school girl hung herself after being repeatedly taunted and verbally abused and harassed by students in school. Several students have been criminally charged in this pending case.
April 2010: 13 year old John Carmichael of Josuha, TX hung himself in the family barn after being repeatedly bullied for being 'little'
January 2010: In Colony, TX, nine year old Montana Lance hangs himself in the school bathroom. Children from the school said that he was continuously picked on.
April 2010: A Middle School Principal urges parents to "Get Children Off Facebook", citing not the dangers of online predation but instead the dangers of online bullying.
April 2010: HS Sophomore Ashley Rodgers from Kenersville, NC hangs herself after being harassed by text messaging from two classmates.
September 2010 - Nineteen year old Tyler Clementi, an accomplished violinist who happened to be gay is video taped by his room mate involved in a sexual encounter which was subsequently broadcast online. Tyler jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge. Clementi's room mate and accomplice may be charged with invasion of privacy.
October 2010 - Asher Brown, a straight-A 13 year old student from Cypress, Texas shot himself in the head with his step fathers gun after coming out as gay. Asher was bullied relentlessly over his sexuality. Asher's mom insisted that she had tried for 18 months to get some intervention from the school board but to no avail.
September 2011 - Fourteen year old Jamey Rodemeyer takes his own life in spite of repeated calls for help on social networking sites on struggles with his sexuality.
This is a small list of several recent high profile stories. Yet, it hardly scratches the surface of what modern day bullying has become and the long term damage that it is doing to a generation of children. Not all children are thankfully going to hang themselves, but all children are at risk to the affects that modern day bullying may bring and if we do nothing more than 'outlaw' the offense in certain states, we will once again try to solve a problem by legislating a symptomatic action, rather than understanding a root cause and helping to address it.
So, lets begin again by reviewing the root source of bullying.