“Thirteen Reasons Why” offers insight into teen suicide

At times it seems synonymous with daily dramas….
until a child takes her/his own life.

Shaken, communities look for motives, causes, anything to make sense of such a tragedy.  And, as a culture, we have identified new culprits:  bullies.

Still, shocked and remorseful, we still silently wonder—suicide?  How could it have gotten that bad?   Why didn’t s/he go to a guidance counselor, a teacher, a parent or anyone who could have intervened… Continue reading


People who ‘stand by’ and watch.
There are many reasons why they don’t  intervene, one of which  may be  the ‘diffusion of responsibility.’
Research has shown that the more witnesses there are, the lesser the odds that someone will say something.
Why?  Because everyone thinks “someone else can / will do it”  (this explanation came about when it was realized that many witnesses did nothing to prevent Kitty Genovese’s  murder).
In fact, the larger the audience, the less responsibility s/he has to do something.

What does this mean in cyberspace?

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May, 2012: In Harlem, another Bullying-related Suicide

Again the headlines scream …driven to Suicide…and “…hangs himself after bullies tease… and sadly, it appears that we are reading the same articles we read only a few short months ago—with one important difference.   Continue reading

Bullying is OK if you do it in the name of Jesus

It is a well-known , sad-but-true irony that most wars have been fought in the name of religion.  The same judgmental tendencies which armed the righteous on battlefields are now playing themselves out in Tennessee courtrooms.  There,  members of the Family Action Council of Tennessee ( FACT )  seek exemption from any ‘bullying’ laws that seek protections for, or educational initiatives designed to insure tolerance of, individuals who express  LGBT identities.  Legal locus is shifted to attributes of the victims, as opposed to the behaviors of the bullies.

‘All men are created equal’, when written, referred only to white men—legally.  Men of any other race were not fully human ( and women were an entirely different story).  Now it seems FACT wants to courts to acknowledge that men (and women) of all races are equal under the law, but not men (women) of all sexual persuasions.  They are not entitled to protection in the pursuit of happiness—and their life and liberty may be at stake as well.

Bad Behavior on Display: The Republican Debates

According to Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney does not care about the ‘very poor’
Mitt Romney mockingly congratulated Newt Gingrich on the 15th anniversary of his censure for ethics violations

And on it goes.  Ron Paul has even produced campaign ads that have been banned.  These ads, like the statements above, are not lies.  And admittedly, the stakes are high—presidential nomination of the republican party.

So is it ok to “play” in ways that state legislature is trying to ban in the schoolyards??

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Once Again, Teen Suicide….What could Her Brain Waves have told us?

Sadly, another teen, this one on Staten Island, has taken her own life, and both humiliation by peers and loss of relationship have contributed to her tragic decision.  Amanda left a note—as if the comments on her facebook page weren’t enough.

Relatives, but not her school, knew of the bullying as well as her suffering.
What if doctors had known too?
Could neuropsychology come to play a role in helping the victims (even as we continue to address the problem itself?)
C. Nathan DeWall claims that research has found “common neural overlap between social and physical pain mechanisms.” In other words, the  pain centers  that light up in our brain when we experience social shame, rejection, and exclusion are the same pain centers that light up when we are physically injured. (This is probably evolutionary—rejection by a mother, and/or exclusion by the primary social group or tribe, would threaten survival as much as physical injury).

Which leads to the question, can medication designed to reduce pain-sensitivity—such as over the counter acetaminophen—help reduce the pain, thus preventing the suffer from reaching a threshold that is intolerable, and taking extreme action? Preliminary Research apparently indicates it can.   Perhaps this fact needs to be added to our growing arsenal of tools attempting to address this social issue, and prevent tragedies like the one Amanda Cummings’ family is suffering.

"Pumped up Kicks"

“….yeah he found a six-shooter gun.  In his dad’s closet hidden in a box of fun things, and I don’t even know what.  But he’s coming for you, yeah he’s coming for you.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, outrun my gun.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, outrun my bullets…”
—Foster the People.

I was truly puzzled to hear all the criticism of this song….people not letting their children download it, complaining that it shamefully glorifies tragic school shootings,  that it encourages copycats, etc.

The obvious response– ‘but isn’t that what we want our rock music to be—a social commentary?’ was quickly followed by the realization that  no-one of my generation went to school with the thought of gun-violence secreted in the back of their brain.  It never occurred to us that a  classmate might bring a gun to school.  So kudos to this generation for putting the issues of their generation on the table for processing—in the parlance of their generation.  “Adults” have hardly been able to address the topic in productive ways, or in language that is meaningful to those who do have to process the possibility—if not reality—of school shootings every day.   Why would we even think to do anything less than use the song to open and encourage dialogue around the topic—whether that is what the band intended or not.

MICHIGAN on way to MANDATING anti-bullying PROGRAMS in schools

Michigan’s senate voted today to require schools to adopt anti-bullying PROGRAMS.
Kudos on taking action, and requiring more than a vaguely-certified bullying point-person in each school.
The politicians did their work.
Now what?
What kinds of programs?
Will they be pre-emptive, or caught up with mediation and victim-services?
For K-12, or just targeted grades?
Is there funding allocated?
How extensive will they be?  Are school assemblies considered ‘programs’??( What do you remember from school assemblies??)  How about ‘poster-campaigns’ or ‘respect for  all’ week?  (Does anyone expect these type of initiatives to be “enough” to be effective?)
On what basis will such “programs” be adopted? (that is, who has answers and what are they?)
How long between the passing of this bill, the answering of these questions, the implementation of ‘programs’, and the assessment of their effectiveness?
In the meantime, what to do while we wait and watch?
Bills and Laws are great, but it really does take a village.

BYSTANDERS at Penn State

As the scandal at Penn State continues to dominate the news,  talk about why the key administrators and law enforcement  ‘didn’t  do more’ is accompanied by disgusted head-shaking: because of  ‘fear of losing their jobs.’    Such speculation, while not wrong,  has not taken into consideration the bystander effect—which suggests that most of us would not have acted much differently.

Although the Huffington Post has already noted this angle, it bears repeating on a bullying blog site.

Of course they were afraid of losing their jobs, just as fourth grade bystanders are afraid of ‘telling’ on a bully, for fear of losing all that they have—their social standing in the schoolyard.   But they also did what most bystanders do:   they deferred responsibility, assuming that ‘someone else’ would take care of it.  Paterno passed the buck to Curley, Curley to Schultz and presumably, Spanier.  Spanier was let go immediately because as president, he should have stepped in.  But as president, he must delegate, and he had Curley overseeing athletics…..and Curley of course deferred to the president….and round it goes…..each thinking the other was ‘handling’ the situation.

This is not to defend what they did, or to suggest that no cover-up was involved.  But it is to add another consideration to our understanding of how and why it happened.  Kitty Genovese had how many witnesses to her murder, all of whom deferred to the person in the next apartment, who might have seen something more….and ‘handled’ the situation.

It is a question of the cost of assuming responsibility in our society—how forgiving are we if someone ‘says something’ and is wrong?  Not to mention, what is often (though clearly not in this instance!)  the cost of being right?

Will the Supreme Court get to know Kara Kowalski?

Remember Kara Kowalski?  Maybe not.  2005 was almost 7 years ago, and sadly, so many instances of cyberbullying like hers have been in the news since then.  Kara, a cheerleader and reigning “Queen of Charm” at Musselman HS, created a MySpace page called S.A.S.H. and invited a number of her friends to check it out.  In her deposition, Kara claimed that S.A.S.H. stood for Students Against Sluts Herpes, but her peers said  otherwise.  What it really stood for was Students Against Shay’s Herpes, Shay being a fellow student who was pictured on the page.  Students posted photos, photoshopped them, left derogatory messages, and were, in general, demeaning and hateful.  Kowalski , found guilty by the school officials of creating a ‘hate website’ which was against school anti-bullying policies, was suspended for 5 days, kicked off the cheerleading squad, and (ironically) prevented from crowning the next “Queen of Charm.”
Kowalski sued the school, claiming they violated her free speech and due process rights, and claiming the school had no authority to punish her, as she had created the website from her home.

She lost her case, and just this summer, lost her appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  This has not deterred her. She is now seeking Supreme Court Review—and, sooner rather than later, the Supreme Court is going to need to revisit the issue of student’s freedom of speech, which they ruled on in Tinker vs. Des Moines in 1969 (see my earlier blogs on cyberbullying).

Julie Hilden, writing for CounterPunch, is hoping she does not get it.  Hilden discusses the complexities in the case, most notably the  fact that legal remedies already exist to address Shay’s rights, a fact which fritters away her need for school authorities to intervene on her behalf, and the blurring of lines distinguishing a bullying case from a First Amendment case.  While Hilden’s arguments are convincing, Kowalski’s behavior was heinous, and surely bullying behaviors which the courts will need to address will be complicated, and involve Freedom of Speech issues.  AND, for precisely that reason, the court will need to sift the complex set of factors which are involved in this claim, and determine which to prioritize in setting legal precedent.  That would seem to be half the battle in such cases—‘seem to be’ from the perspective of a concerned citizen, not a lawyer.  Refresh your memory of the case  Would you want your school to be able to sanction Kowalski if she created a MySpace page about your daughter, turning her into a social pariah at school?  Would it be reasonable to claim such a page would interfere with her ability to learn?  (Are my pandering, emotional appeals going to be left to dangle off a legal chessboard?  Should they be?)