Watching the recently screened TV program Bullied to Death: The Tragedy of Phoebe Prince, several thoughts came to mind.
This scenario is no doubt played over and over throughout the schools in many countries around the world. New female student arrives at a school, leaving behind friends at a previous school. At first the student is popular, perhaps because of a novelty factor. Then the girl is seen as a competitor with the popular boys of the school. The perpetrators join forces to threaten and punish the victim.
Without intervention this can be an ongoing barrage - deliberate, calculated, purposeful.
Phoebe Prince hung herself, after this ongoing verbal assault over many months became intolerable.
A similar scenario occurred at the school when I was deputy principal. The new eleven year old girl arrived – very attractive and bubbly – and at first was welcomed into the group of popular girls. The friendship and the subsequent behaviour of all of the girls deteriorated, to what could only be called a ‘cat fight’, with physical abuse escalating.
The teacher was unable to resolve the issue and parents became involved.
I used an intervention called the Solving Circle from Dr Glasser’s book Choice Theory, a new psychology for personal freedom.
The long term results of that intervention are documented – years later - relayed to me by the mother of one of the girls. The girls involved in the whole situation at school were still friends. The Solving Circle had lasting impact.
In the TV program there was blaming, criticism and calls for punishment of the bullies and of the education staff. Legislation was introduced involving the mandatory reporting of bullying. Nowhere in the article was there any thought given to the ‘system’ and how a school can be such that students learn to resolve differences.
The obvious cliques in the story, the adversarial relationships are likely indicators that competitive forces are at work. Power-over seemed to be the predominant way of interacting.
Until schools change their ‘system’ to one where issues like this are ‘worked out’, bullying will continue and unhappy students may take the ultimate choice, that of taking their own lives.