Of late, fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince has been an American media icon. The Massachusetts high school student recently committed suicide following a relentless campaign of malicious bullying by ruthless classmates. Her story has served to prompt parents and other concerned parties to ponder the prevention of similar future teen tragedies.
Overall public response has been a veritable rush on government. In response, Massachusetts legislators hurriedly enacted anti-bullying statutes. The new law designates the fourth Wednesday in each January as “No Name-Calling Day” in the Commonwealth.
Touted as the most comprehensive anti-bullying statute in the entire nation, the law goes much further than mere establishment of establishing an official day of anti-bullying observance. It also mandates annual training and mandatory harassment reporting by school personnel.
A prominent query currently on many minds is the likelihood of the law having any real long-term positive impact. Unfortunately, any affect will probably be minimal.
Local authorities made further attempts to deter future bully malfeasance by initiating criminal prosecution against Phoebe’s tormentors. Their sentences to community service with probation led to widespread outrage in many circles. A perceived failure of the criminal justice system was the primary cause of such vehement criticism.
Other commentators have proposed civil suits as the best antidote to the alarming recent rise in harmful teen taunting. Attorney Wendy Murphy publicly promoted federal civil rights litigation by Phoebe’s parents against the school district. Murphy suggested this approach as a strong economic incentive for education officials’ strict adherence to anti-bullying laws..
The sad fact is that virtually every facet of modern society is saturated with bully ented propaganda. From political candidates’ derogatory public statements to primetime television airings right beneath our own roofs, the problem is pervasive.
Sadly, Phoebe’s story is reminiscent of an ancient anecdote about a busy father, his young son, and a magazine. To keep his son sufficiently distracted while he worked, the man tears the page into dozens of pieces and instructs the boy to reassemble them. One side of the page featured a man’s face while the other displayed a globe.
Within moments, the boy returned with the reconstructed picture. When asked how he had accomplished the task so quickly, the child responded that it was easy. It seems that once the man was back together, the whole world also fell right into sync.
Likewise, the most effective anti-bullying approach starts with wholesome adult who examples. Exhibiting courtesy and respect in all interpersonal interactions is the permanent best cure. In the long run, it portends much more effectiveness than mere “Band-aid” solutions of lawsuits and legislation.