Thursday, May 5, 2011

Phoebe Prince: An American Tragedy

Some of you may have heard about the little girl who was bullied by six girls and ended up killing herself. I hate hearing about these things especially when it is about a young girl who feels her only way out of being tormented by her peers is suicide. This is something that hits way close to home for me. The first three years of high school for me were an experience in hell. Sure it could have been a lot worse but for me it was bad enough. I started high school as a Freshman, excited, and ready to have that kind of experience I had only seen in tv and movies. I wanted to have loads of friends, go to dances, have boyfriends, go to games, and take hold of everything that I had thought high school to be. I wasn't a stupid kid, nor was I one for getting into trouble. I was shy and a bit chubby. What I didn't expect was from day one, everyone I had known from middle school(jr.high) to scatter to the four winds. Everyone fell into new cliques and I found myself feeling like a little fish that had gone from a small pond to an ocean. I won't say I had never been teased before, because like everyone else, I had. However, nothing I had experienced before prepared me for just how cruel kids could be until I hit high school. I don't much like going into details because those first 3 years are something I wish I could forget. I can remember for no reason-no reason other than maybe I was chubby and red headed being picked on and then that picking escolated. There was a girl who was one of the ones who started the frenzy, that I knew from church. Her father had married a woman who with her two children already attended my church(the church I had grown up in and everyone knew me) and the girl didn't like me. I don't know why to this day other than maybe she was jealous because maybe she had her own feelings of insecurity-reguardless when she started high school and was in 3 of my classes, the lies she told and storm that followed afterwards was unbearable! I was a virgin in the 9th grade and already because of her and a group of followers(most of those girls btw are bigger now than I was then and haven't went anywhere in life not to mention they've all had broken marriages)had spread around school I had STD's. In the 9th grade, I didn't even know what "crabs" were but it went around school like wild fire. The teasing just didn't stop there-it was rumored I was sleeping around with other boys, (after defending a girl with a mental handicap in gym) it was spread that I was lesbian and the word "dyke" was used daily in reguards to me, and I had books knocked out of my hands. There was not a day that passed that I wasn't out in the hall or girl's bathroom crying my eyes out! I had gone to the girl's disciplinary dean, Mrs.Matchette and she didn't do anything. No really, she didn't do crap-more sided with the bullies because after all, why would that many girls and few guys be teasing me if I wasn't doing anything. I guess breathing constituted as guilt on my part! By the time the tenth grade hit, I wanted to quit school! IT didn't matter that my grades for the most part were good or that my teachers liked me. It didn't matter that I came from a good home and that there were some that really did like me. It didn't matter how much weight I dropped or the nice clothes that I wore that were always clean. It didn't matter that I had my sister to spend most of the morning prior to school fixing my hair and helping me to make sure my make-up was near perfect. I was placed in a support group at Marion High, and even though it was beneficial-it still didn't stop the bullying which by now had turned physical. Two girls in particular based upon a lie now, were threatening me regularly. I wanted to quit school-I mean I didn't want to but something had to give because I was tap dancing at the breaking point! By the start of the eleventh grade, a few things had happened. For starters, my papow had given me the strength and will power to not quit school. Secondly, I stopped trying to seek out Mrs.Matchette's help with anything! Mr.Hickland, the man became my hero! Any problems I had, he attacked! It might have not stopped the bullying but he didn't play favorites and he didn't make me feel worse by siding with those making me miserable. Third, I quit having my mom and papow come to my aid. I mean I was calling them to school frequently until one day at Tucker, I had enough. These two girls had threatened and tormented me until I had enough. I threw my books down and stood toe to toe with them. I simply said, "If you're going to beat my ass then do it! Do it right now! I may not can beat you up, but I'm standing right here-I'm not running and crying and you can either put up or shut up!" which brought the excuse, "I'm not getting suspended from school" which brought my response, "No, I won't tell and we can go around the building-we're going to do this and if you pound me to the ground, then you do it and do it now but either way you're leaving me the hell alone!"

The fight never took place. It didn't make them become my instand best friends nor was there an After School Special moment happening but it leveled the field as far as they were concerned because I just didn't care anymore-I didn't fear them anymore! I had taken their power away from them. It didn't make me invincible nor did it just suddenly make everyone sit up and take notice. I was still teased and tormented and I got to the point where any friend was better than no friend at all and that led to some friending of two faced people and those who I probably should have steered clear of. I wore my heart on my sleeve and no matter how hard I tried I was just way too trusting and sensitive. I was raised in a home where the Golden Rules exsisted. I believed all people at their heart were good-and maybe they are-just not always in high school. I was taught that sticks and stones break bones but words-words never hurt. What's a word, it's just something people say-they don't wound. Well whoever came up with that theology needs shot! Really, I would have at least been able to dodge the sticks and stones. I think it was in these years, even as low as they were for me that I really threw myself into writing. I wrote all sorts of things to try and occupy my thoughts, to express my feelings, or create a world in which I could hide or thrive in. My senior year was my best year in school simply because it was my last!
I had my sister who had started school and believe me there wasn't one person that made fun of her! My sister Kim would have handed someone their head because that was the way Kim was. Kim was not a sensitive butterfly like me-she was a tom boy who had scores of friends who didn't take crap of anyone! Kim wasn't a bully and didn't start fights but she could more than hold her own and finish one if need be. To my knowledge, Kim never was in a fight in school. We might not have gotten along at home, but at school-Kim closed ranks and if you were against me-you were against her! It also helped that my cousin Leroy came to Marion High and played on the football team which meant some of the jocks left me alone. I also met my husband that year and by the middle of the year, no one was teasing me. All that had long since passed and I was happy-happier than you know! I had awesome grades, I had even went to home coming for the first time and was on my way to prom and graduation.

My point in writing this is-no child no matter the old saying, "Teasing is just a part of childhood" should be the victim of bullying. The person(s) bullying are mentally afflicted no matter their social standing or how much money they may or may not have. No one has the right to degrade or tear a person to shreds and by not putting down stricter policies that protect kids in school and outside of school-then we're saying it's okay! Children should not be killing themselves over this! I am a grown woman and if I harassed someone-bullied someone I would be arrested or sued. We can give all the positive talks we want and tell our children that words mean nothing-but they mean EVERYTHING to a child and teenager! No matter how many positive reinforcement you give your child or teenager, words still hurt! They still have the power to tear someone apart! Schools all over the nation need to adopt stricter policies! Those policies need to apply to everyone-even the "popular" kids. There needs to be more done by the principals and deans to handle children who are being bullied and targeted because there are going to be more Phoebe Prince's out there. Empowering is important but you have to have enforcement as well. I am not saying NEVER SAYING that violence is the answer! NO NO NO! I am saying that children who are seen bullying other children during the school calender year both on school grounds and off *Because alot of kids are being bullied on Facebook and Myspace* need to be held accountable! If a child or group of kids can't stop the bullying, then they should be reprimanded to the juvenile authorities or an alternative schooling program or home schooled. We adults cannot harass and assault others without some consquence and it should be the same in some form or another for other children.

We have less traditional families and more children coming from single family homes, some come from broken homes(constant turmoil in the home), abusive homes, and some from homes where there just is no parent and kids are left to raise themselves. Our teachers have a lot on their plates, but that's not an excuse to turn a blind eye but teachers can only do so much-they have to have a policy or policies to back them up. The same goes with principals and deans. Schools today have little funding. Teachers are out of work and I get it! I GET IT! However, that doesn't mean that a school gets a free pass to ignore what's going on with the kids that attend their schools. IT doesn't give them a free pass to look the other way and pretend that all the power talks and pep talks will solve everything. NO parent should have to bury their child because that child felt their only way to be free of being tormented was death! I am a mother of two and my eldest has been bullied. I never wanted that for her. I didn't want her to go through what I went through. I told her early on, "Olivia, be a leader not a follower" and "Listen, treat people how you would want to be treated! You're not better than anyone else but no one is better than you. Make friends and those you can't be friends with, don't let them make you miserable!" Those were things I told her repeatively. That didn't stop the times when she came home in tears or the times I had to go to her schools. I tell her now to hold her head up and keep her nose clean and to go to her teachers and people at her school that are in positions that can help her.No one wants to be a tattle tell. There is some unwritten shame I think that a child or teenager feels to where they don't want to tell. The fear of further torments weights heavy. It did with me. One thing I can say is that it doesn't last forever. School doesn't last forever. Most of the people that bullyied me haven't went anywhere in life and that doesn't give me any satisfaction-but I look back and I wonder how it was that I thought they had so much power, how they were so much better than me. They weren't. So if your child is being bullied or if your a teen reading this, don't feel ashamed to ask for help! Don't feel second rate or even bottom of the barrel because you're being tormented! Consider the source-anyone who has to resort to underhanded bullying techniques has more going on in their head than you and they only have power if you let them have it! It can be overwhelming and terrible but don't be afraid to stand up! Don't be afraid to succeed, and most important-Don't let it stop you from being who YOU are!

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