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05/19/2010

Bullying the Bullies?

Phoebe_Prince_020210 Phoebe Prince, 15, committed suicide on Jan. 14, 2010, after being relentlessly teased and tormented by classmates. Her tragic death (just one among so many) has catapulted bullying into the spotlight, and nine of her classmates are being criminally charged for their involvement. Nine kids whose lives are ruined because of stupid choices and petty jealousy. Well, ten, if you count Phoebe.(And I do!)

I am in no way defending their actions. Under no terms should bullying behavior be tolerated. And as a victim of bullying myself, I know how painful it can be. Hell, I was bullied as an adult and it almost drove *me* to do something drastic. As an adult! So I can easily see how a teenager, who lives so much in the "now," would consider death the only option. It is hard to see there is a whole world of sunlight and laughter out there when you are living at the bottom of a well of depression and self-hate. So no, I am not defending the bullying behavior, I am merely questioning ours.

Does it do any good to prosecute these kids as "bullies?" To condemn them to a life with a criminal record? To label them "bad?" I argue it does not. These kids are NOT bullies, rather they are kids that engaged in bullying behavior. They made some seriously bad choices, serious errors in judgment, and the consequences were pretty damn serious. But think for a minute--each kid is someone's daughter or son, someone's grandchild. Each one has shed tears at the loss of a loved one. They have had skinned knees and broken hearts. They are not horrible people--rather they made horrible choices. See the distinction?

Words cut both ways. Their words cut Phoebe to the core. Our words are no better. We humans tend to label things; it makes our world more comfortable. But labeling people--good, bad, shy, bully, stupid--only limits us. "Well, I can't care what she thinks. I am bully." "I'm shy, so I can't talk to the new person!"By doing this, we miss out on so many growth opportunities.

When we box ourselves, or others, into labels, we stifle the options that exist outside the box. Instead of labeling the person, I say label the behavior. These kids exhibited bullying behavior. Doesn't that sound better? More open to change? Because despite popular belief, people CAN change. I know I have. I am no longer the victim. I am an anti-bullying (behavior) activist.

People can change their behavior, but they cannot change who they are. And if you believe that people can change, then the behavior exhibited by these kids can change. Wouldn't it be a better use of resources to get them into counseling? To find out why they were acting so viciously? To teach them other ways of coping? To teach them new behaviors? I would think *that* would help society more, as a whole, than permanently slapping a label on them and throwing them in jail. 

In fact, they could use their actions as a teaching tool. Require them to provide community service and travel to high schools to talk about anti-bullying behaviors. Have them work on a suicide hot-line to help them uncover the empathy that lies within. There are many ways they could better serve the community at large, and ways they could regain their lives.

When I started writing this article, it was going to be an assassination of bullies everywhere. But as I delved further into my thoughts, I realized that we were acting no better. We were bullying the bullies. The finger-pointing needs to stop and we need to *do* something about it. Something different. Something more likely to actually do some good. It is important, as a nation and for those kids, that we refrain from these pernicious labels that can frame the lives of others as well as ourselves. That is just not fair to anyone. 

This is an original post to Ohio Moms Blog.

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