Saturday, April 3, 2010

Resolving My Attention Deficit and the Cruelty of Children

After crawling back home from Seattle last night shortly before midnight, I'm faced this morning with the urgent need to write something to satisfy my craving to write. But where to start? The plethora of material is just daunting. There's the Teflon Pope's Easter Week Vatican backlash against the NY Times which is now making allusions to the Holocaust and persecution of Jews (and I am just so impressed with the Vatican on this one...), or the Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams (who liked one of my all time favorite fantasy series, His Dark Materials so how cool is he) dissing the Irish Catholic Church on lack of credibility or the Obama administration's offshore drilling proposals, or their take on wiretaps or the ultimate Mean Girl scenario in Massachusetts or a food post on seafood in Florida (supposedly local but not) or iPad frenzy.

I guess I'm going to have to go with Phoebe. Back in January, fifteen year old Phoebe Prince hanged herself following months of bullying. Nine youths have been charged as being involved in her death. 

I'm really having such a hard time with this story. My child is routinely bullied at school both for his short stature and his immature social skill set. Meanly bullied. He's the original short fuse child and has so many triggers, having been adopted at age 8 and having had enough bad stuff happen to him by then to last an entire lifetime and still have some left over. So really, the bullying thing, so very not okay with me. His school is middling supportive. Especially after I informed them about the tenth grade kid who was harassing him by grabbing his butt last year in the hallways and said if it happened again, I'd call the police and file a report alleging assault. Yeah, that one kind of got their attention. They knew I meant it. Must have been the menace in my voice. Oh wait. Must have been the fact that I'm involved in the child welfare court system. Yeah. That one.

And so I relate to the whole issue of bullying from the perspective of a parent. Schools are so prone to not finding ways to handle things deftly on this issue. And even when things go very and tragically wrong, they deny all culpability. You have to be really aggressive to get progress on bullying of your children and then you have to hope that the school itself doesn't bully your child. After all, I'm lucky in that my child is in a private school that costs a fortune. I can always use that angle, the one where I'm paying you to take care of, not allow wholesale abuse of, my child, to safeguard him after I've complained. But what options did Phoebe's parents have? They reported it twice to the school and if you believe the investigative report in the NY Times there is ample evidence that the school faculty, administration and even nurse knew this beautiful child was being abused. And for what? She slept with two boys? She spoke with a brogue? A boy who liked her was promised to a cool set girl and she trespassed by default because he asked her out? How cruel would a band of youths have to be to make a child hang herself? She was insulted openly in the classrooms and even in front of unmoved faculty. She was harassed in person, by phone and online. 

The District Attorney in this case has taken a lot of heat in the Massachusetts press for some of the charges filed against the nine youths. Especially the statutory rape charges against the 17 and 18 year old boys who were involved with her and then joined to varying extents in the bullying by speaking badly of her. And then there are the seven girls who are charged. Some are charged as minors and some as adults. The felony charges include violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, stalking and disturbing a school assembly. According to reports in the Times, District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel was quoted as saying “The actions or inactions of some adults at the school were troublesome, but did not violate any laws." 

So what's a parent to do when their child is bullied this badly? Call the police? Hire an attorney or go to Legal Aid? I guess I'd have done all that. But that would be if my child reveals the extent of his or her suffering, which all too often youths are afraid to do. For instance, I found out about that butt-grabbing harassment only by chance, following up on a passing comment by my child and his wanting to take a different route to go retrieve something from his locker when I picked him up at school one afternoon. I asked why he was taking a much longer route and pressed and pressed until he told me why. It turned out that a teacher had witnessed my child getting this abuse and said nothing. In fact, another teacher had reported my son for striking his abuser in retaliation for his being grabbed by the much older and bigger boy! Kids in this age range have to rely on attentive adults, who look out for them. Like school staff who are there to see it happening. I really have to question what the faculty and administration thought was happening when they saw Phoebe Prince repeatedly in tears and having so much trouble coping day after miserable day. I mean yeah, we're all just human and maybe they didn't know it was so very, very bad. But someone should have thought to ask what was going on, what could be done to make it better. It's just astonishing to think that a 15 year old girl hung herself and then they noticed they had a problem. Talk about attention deficit...

So I'll get back to the Teflon Pope later. For the present, I'm just going to ruminate on what savages children can be. And how there's still something so dark in all of us that we can be so cruel as a species. And how utterly indifferent people can become to suffering. 

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