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.

Anti-bullying law stresses NJ schools

A new anti-bullying law requires New Jersey schools to police campuses and online communications to protect students, reports the New York Times. But superintendents and school boards complain they’re being asked to do more with the same resources.

Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.

In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights “demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes,” reports the Times.

Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its Web site. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.

School officials also worry about lawsuits.

Most bullying complaints involve Internet comments that lead to campus confrontations, says Richard Bergacs, an assistant principal at North Hunterdon High. “It’s gossip, innuendo, rumors — and people getting mad about it.”

This summer, thousands of school employees attended training sessions on the new law; more than 200 districts have snapped up a $1,295 package put together by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page manual and a DVD.

Westfield Superintendent Margaret Dolan worries that students and their parents “will find it easier to label minor squabbles bullying than to find ways to work out their differences.”

The law was motivated by the suicide of a Rutgers freshman, Tyler Clementi, whose gay sexual encounter was secretly filmed and aired online by his college roommate.

 

 

 

California textbooks will include gays

California public schools will be required to teach students about the “contributions” of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans — and Americans with disabilities — as part of the social studies curriculum in all grades, under a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

California law already requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor. The Legislature over the years also has prescribed specific lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust, among other topics.

Those helpful legislators!

The state can’t afford to buy new textbooks till 2015 at the earliest, but eventually the requirement could affect social studies textbooks sold nationwide.
Advocates hope teaching students that Walt Whitman and Willa Cather  were gay will prevent bullying and suicides. It’s a real problem, but not a real solution.

 

Violence, sex and 'dark' lit

School reading lists are full of violence, wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a California law barring the sale of violent video games to minors on free-speech grounds. It starts with violent fairy tales, Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.

Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. In The Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. … And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island.”

I wonder how many high school students read Homer or Dante.  Still Lord of the Flies is still big on high school reading lists (no sex) and some complain that teachers are assigning or allowing students to read “dark” novels.

Much of young-adult literature invites teenagers to wallow in ugliness, barbarity, dysfunction and cruelty, writes Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal, defending an earlier commentary.

It is true that so-called problem novels may be helpful to children in anguished circumstances. The larger question is whether books about rape, incest, eating disorders and “cutting” (self-mutilation) help to normalize such behaviors for the vast majority of children who are merely living through the routine ordeals of adolescence.

Siobhan Curious, who teaches 17- and 18-year-olds worried about going too dark in choosing a book list for a class on personal narrative.

When preparing the list last year, I hesitated over a couple of titles, including Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss (about the author’s consensual adult sexual relationship with her father) and Alice Sebold’s Lucky (about the author’s brutal rape and its aftermath).  In the end, I decided to include Lucky on the list, and when I presented the book to the class as one of their choices, I told them about its subject matter and my hesitations.  I warned them that certain passages were very graphic, and that they should keep this in mind when deciding whether they wanted to read the book.

Almost every girl and about half the boys put Lucky on their list.

. . . many readers said that they found the book upsetting but rewarding.  Many of the boys who read it said it helped them understand the effect rape has on a woman; many girls said it allowed them to see how, after a terrible and scarring experience, someone could struggle on and make use of their suffering to help others.  But mostly they said that it was a really good read.

Adolescence is a dark time for some kids, counters Linda Holmes on NPR blog. She “took an entire class in high school where we read books about killing your family, double suicide, drowning, being murdered in your bed … it was called ‘Shakespeare,’ I believe.”

I was troubled by the murder of MacDuff’s family in Macbeth, the tortures of sinners in The Inferno. And poor Piggy.

Violence, sex and ‘dark’ lit

School reading lists are full of violence, wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a California law barring the sale of violent video games to minors on free-speech grounds. It starts with violent fairy tales, Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.

Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. In The Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. … And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island.”

I wonder how many high school students read Homer or Dante.  Still Lord of the Flies is still big on high school reading lists (no sex) and some complain that teachers are assigning or allowing students to read “dark” novels.

Much of young-adult literature invites teenagers to wallow in ugliness, barbarity, dysfunction and cruelty, writes Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal, defending an earlier commentary.

It is true that so-called problem novels may be helpful to children in anguished circumstances. The larger question is whether books about rape, incest, eating disorders and “cutting” (self-mutilation) help to normalize such behaviors for the vast majority of children who are merely living through the routine ordeals of adolescence.

Siobhan Curious, who teaches 17- and 18-year-olds worried about going too dark in choosing a book list for a class on personal narrative.

When preparing the list last year, I hesitated over a couple of titles, including Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss (about the author’s consensual adult sexual relationship with her father) and Alice Sebold’s Lucky (about the author’s brutal rape and its aftermath).  In the end, I decided to include Lucky on the list, and when I presented the book to the class as one of their choices, I told them about its subject matter and my hesitations.  I warned them that certain passages were very graphic, and that they should keep this in mind when deciding whether they wanted to read the book.

Almost every girl and about half the boys put Lucky on their list.

. . . many readers said that they found the book upsetting but rewarding.  Many of the boys who read it said it helped them understand the effect rape has on a woman; many girls said it allowed them to see how, after a terrible and scarring experience, someone could struggle on and make use of their suffering to help others.  But mostly they said that it was a really good read.

Adolescence is a dark time for some kids, counters Linda Holmes on NPR blog. She “took an entire class in high school where we read books about killing your family, double suicide, drowning, being murdered in your bed … it was called ‘Shakespeare,’ I believe.”

I was troubled by the murder of MacDuff’s family in Macbeth, the tortures of sinners in The Inferno. And poor Piggy.