Choosing death at 15

At a suburban Virginia high school six students have committed suicide in the last three years, reports the Washington Post.

“There is too much stress in my life from school and the environment it creates, expectations for sports, expectations from my friends and expectations from my family,” wrote Jack Chen, 15. He’d earned a 4.3 grade point average, captained the junior varsity football team and competed in crew and track. He stepped in front of a train.

The six boys who killed themselves were good students and athletes with supportive parents, according to the Post. They did not appear to be “troubled.”

Girl saves boy, faces expulsion

Sixth-grader Adrionna Harris saw a boy cutting his arm with a razorblade at her Virginia Beach middle school. She persuaded him to give her the blade and threw it away. The next day, she told a school administrator what had happened. She was suspended for 10 days with a recommendation for expulsion. She’d handled the razorblade.

After her mother complained to the local TV station, the administration moved up the disciplinary hearing and cleared the girls record. She missed four days of school.

“She thought he would bleed out, as he was cutting himself, and there was no teacher in sight,” said Rachael Harris, the girl’s mother. 

Adrionna said she’d do it again. “Even if I got in trouble, it didn’t matter because I was helping him.”

“The way school officials responded led to a question of if the school’s zero tolerance policy went too far,” reports WAVY-TV.

Ya think?

Korea: High scores, unhappy kids

South Korean students are among the best in the world, according to PISA. They’re also the world’s least happy school children reports Quartz.

Economic growth rates are high in South Korea. So are suicide rates. Some blame the intense academic pressure.

High math scores correlate –somewhat — with unhappiness, notes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Those happy Indonesians score near the bottom in math. (Qataris are depressed and bad in math, however.)

Teen in bullying death: I did nothing wrong

Felony stalking charges have been dropped against two Florida teens accused of bullying Rebecca Sedwick. The 12-year-old girl committed suicide in September.

“I do not feel I did anything wrong,” said Katelyn Roman, 13, on NBC’s Today show. Her former friend’s suicide taught her, “it’s not OK to bully and you should stand up … to bullying,” she added.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the two accused teens agreed in juvenile court to undergo counseling as a condition of the charges being dropped.

“Our goal is that these kids never bully anyone again, never torment anyone again,” Judd said.

Jose Baez, a high-profile lawyer, threatened to sue the sheriff for filing charges against the girls.

Anti-bullying videos linked to suicides

Anti-bullying videos shown in school have been linked to two recent student suicides, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Brad Lewis’ son Jordan, 15, a sophomore at Carterville High School in Illinois, killed himself Oct. 17 by shooting himself in the chest. He left a note that ended, “Bullying has caused me to do this. Those of you know who you are.”

Lewis criticized investigators for not pursuing the bullies more aggressively, but also turned some of his questions toward his son’s school, which showed an anti-bullying video to students the day before Jordan killed himself.

“All I know is they were discussing the bullying, and showing kids bullying, and at the end of the show they showed pictures of kids that took their lives,” Lewis said. “When a child or a person is at the end of their rope, and they don’t think there’s anywhere to go, and they don’t think anyone’s doing anything about it, and they see something on video, and they relate.”

The video showed suicide as an easy way out, Lewis charged.

A week later in Sparks, Nev., 12-year-old Jose Reyes brought a gun to school, shot two classmates and killed a teacher before killing himself. Jose had been harassed in school, classmates said.

On Oct. 11, the documentary “Bully” reportedly had been shown to all Sparks Middle School students during their sixth-period class. The film, according to students, depicted two stories in which bullying drove one student to commit suicide by hanging and another to bring a gun on a school bus.

A new study suggests that anti-bullying programs may be backfiring.

Cyber-bullies charged with stalking

Two Florida girls, ages 12 and 14, have been charged with aggravated stalking, a felony, for cyber-bullying a classmate.
Rebecca Sedwick
Rebecca Sedwick, 12, committed suicide in September.

“Witnesses said that the girls sent messages to Rebecca, calling her ugly, telling her to drink bleach and die, and saying Rebecca should kill herself,” reports the Orlando Sentinel.

The “tipping point,” Sheriff Grady Judd said, was when the 14-year-old wrote on a social media site,  “Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don't give a fuck] ?”

The girl’s parents deny she sent the message, claiming her Facebook site was hacked.

The girls “repeatedly and maliciously” harassed Rebecca while all three attended Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland, investigators said.

“Several students corroborated stories of both girls bullying Sedwick on different occasions, through name-calling, intimidation, threats to beat her up, and at least one actual physical fight,” a Sheriff’s Office report said.

Judd said neither family cooperated with investigators, so the girls were placed under arrest Monday and charged with the third-degree felony. The 12-year-old was released to her parents because she demonstrated remorse to the judge, but she can’t go back to school.

The 14-year-old is in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice until her next hearing.

Slate’s Emily Bazelon is the author of Sticks and Stones, wonders “why are we blaming two young teenagers instead of holding the adults around them—their parents!—responsible?”

Bazelon asked readers why kids write cruel taunts online like “Can u die please?” Caitlin Armtrong, the counselor at Unaka Elementary School in Elizabethton, Tenn., asked the question to 7th graders. Six of 22 said they’d been told they should die or kill themselves. They wrote:

“Its about popularity.  Sometimes, I think people do mean it.  They think it will make you feel like a loser if they tell you that you shouldn’t be alive…and it does.”

“People . . .  don’t know that most kids don’t let these things just roll off. They just aren’t thinking.”

“Kids are mean. It is a simple fact. I’ve been mean.  . . . No one is listening to us, they think we want attention. We don’t. Nobody cares, so it keeps happening.”

“Kids say to go kill yourself because they don’t really know you. And if they don’t know you, they really just don’t care what happens to you.”

“Some kids are just full of hate.”

“It makes them look cool. It is the meanest thing you can say, so they say it. The meaner you are, the cooler you look.”

“Honest conversations with kids” is “the first step to make suicide baiting online unacceptable,” writes Bazelon.

Bullies are narcissists with contempt for their victims, writes Paul Coughlin.

District monitors students’ social media posts

In hopes of preventing violence, drug abuse, bullying and suicide, a suburban Los Angeles school district is monitoring middle and high school students’ social media posts, reports CNN.

Glendale is paying $40,500 to Geo Listening to track middle and high school students’ posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

When the idea was piloted last spring, monitoring identified a suicidal student. “We were able to save a life,” said Superintendent Richard Sheehan.

Recently, a student posted a photo of what appeared to be a gun, but turned out to be fake, Sheehan said.

“We had to educate the student on the dangers” of posting such photos, Sheehan said. “He was a good kid. … It had a good ending.”

Geo Listening sends a daily report to principals on which students’ comments could be causes for concern.

A 12-year-old Florida girl committed suicide after months of bullying on social media, her mother says.

Student-teacher sex: Is it always a crime?

A Montana teacher will serve 30 days in jail for involuntary sex with a 14-year-old student, who later committed suicide. Stacey Dean Rambold, who was 49 when he started a sexual relationship with Cherice Morales. The troubled girl killed herself a few weeks before her 17th birthday.
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Judge G. Todd Baugh said the girl was older than her chronological age and “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher. In response to protests, Baugh apologized.

Rambold had a chance to get the charges dismissed, but failed to complete a sexual offender treatment program.

Thirty days was too long a sentence, argues Betsy Karasik, a writer and former lawyer, in the Washington Post. Sex between students and teachers shouldn’t be a crime, she believes.

“Teachers who engage in sex with students, no matter how consensual, should be removed from their jobs and barred from teaching unless they prove that they have completed rehabilitation,” Karasik concedes. But let’s not get “hysterical.”

When I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, the sexual boundaries between teachers and students were much fuzzier. Throughout high school, college and law school, I knew students who had sexual relations with teachers. To the best of my knowledge, these situations were all consensual in every honest meaning of the word, even if society would like to embrace the fantasy that a high school student can’t consent to sex. Although some feelings probably got bruised, no one I knew was horribly damaged and certainly no one died.

No harm, no foul? That’s hard to argue when Cherice Morales killed herself, but Karasik blames the criminal case against Rambold for his victim’s suicide.

If someone wants to argue that it’s OK for teachers to have sex with their underage students, I’d look for a 23-year-old teacher who falls for an 17-year-old student. This was a 49-year-old preying on a 14-year-old girl who was hurt so badly she killed herself. If she was mature, consenting and in control, she wouldn’t have killed herself. 

How low can we go? asksWesley J. Smith, who links to articles “normalizing” what used to be called pedophilia and is now “cross-generational sex.”

Standing up to bullies

In The Bully Effect, Anderson Cooper follows up on children and parents in Lee Hirsch’s documentary, Bully. The show will premiere on CNN tonight at 10 pm ET.  February 28.

When Alex Libby was a 12 year old in Sioux City, Iowa, the slurs, curses and threats would begin even before he boarded the school bus.

. . . Today Alex has become an anti-bullying rock star with appearances on national television and a visit to the White House. He also regularly delivers speeches to capacity crowds as an activist, and considers himself a spokesman for the bullied.

Kelby Johnson, who came out as a lesbian in middle school, feels empowered, but still encounters hostility in her small Oklahoma town.

Kirk Smalley’s 11-year-old son TY committed suicide after he was suspended from school for fighting back against a bully.  “I will fight bullying forever because my son will be 11 forever,” says Smalley.

When cruel is cool

As an eighth grader in 1986, John Cook urged a girl to commit suicide in the underground newspaper he briefly published with two friends. He accused another of promiscuity. He attacked black teachers and classmates with racial slurs. In Confessions of a Teenage Word-Bully, Cook tries to understand why he did it and the effect on his victims.

Ramming Speed was filled with gutter racism, written by me, that turns my stomach to think of today. It directed at two young girls the same sort of highly public, humiliating sexual slander and innuendo that helped drive 15-year-old Phoebe Prince to kill herself in 2010 in Massachusetts, and it literally called on one of those girls to commit suicide. As much as it was an act of defiance against a school administration we perceived as wanting, it was an act of brutal and indefensible bullying against children we knew to be vulnerable. It was wanton adolescent cruelty of the sort that routinely makes headlines today.

The girl urged to commit suicide by “Ramming Speed” did attempt suicide.

Cook was trying to impress the “cool kids,”  writes Emily Bazelon on Slate. The most promising strategies to prevent bullying rely on shifting the social norms, “figuring out how to make meanness socially costly, as opposed to power-enhancing,” she writes.

Bazelon links to a story on “slut shaming” on WNYC’s Radio Rookies. Reporter Temitayo Fagbenle, 16, interviews a friend who boasts of ruining a girl’s reputation by posting sexual photos of her online. He’s reveling in the “coolness points he scored,” writes Bazelon.