In January of 2010, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide after schoolmates from her South Hadley, Massachusetts high school bullied her both at school and online. Prince had recently moved with her family from Ireland, and almost immediately became a target of bullying. There was a specific group of five teens who carried out a “three month campaign” of torment that eventually led to Prince’s suicide. Last week those same teens received sentences after being tried for various offenses including, as reported by Time, criminal harassment, disturbing a school assembly and a civil rights violation with bodily injury resulting.
All five of the accused teens pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of criminal harassment, but the sentences they’ve received (probation and community service) are already being criticized as too lenient and modest. However, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan defended the sentences saying that the court had still shed light on a greater message because “the era of turning a blind eye to bullying and harassment is over.” Prince feared physical attacks because of the threats she received both face-to-face and over the Internet, and this case has drawn attention to school bullying and the resulting dangers.
Whether or not people think the teens’ punishments are too harsh or too lenient, this story shows what can happen when kids don’t understand the full ramifications of their actions. Hopefully all youth involved either directly or indirectly with harassing fellow students can learn a lesson from what happened to Phoebe Prince. As Kayla Narey, one of the indicted teens said in in her statement to the judge and to the court last week, “Phoebe…I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the unkind words I said about you. I’m sorry for what I wrote on my Facebook page. Most of all I’m sorry for Jan. 14, in the library and in the hallway, when I laughed when someone was shouting humiliating things about you. I am immensely ashamed of myself.”
What was your reaction to hearing about this tragic case? Do you ever worry that your kids are directly or indirectly involved with bullying?