of Phoebe Prince, a Massachusetts high school student driven to suicide
by bullying, has commentators searching for explanations. What follows
is by no means a comprehensive guide to debate on the topic, but some of the clearer recent commentary from experts tracking the case closely.
- Failure of Adults The Boston Globe's Kevin Cullen
has used his column repeatedly to reprimand many of the adults
involved in the incident. He particularly targets the school officials, who are cooperating with the legal investigation but
giving the media very little information. "Phoebe Prince was the victim
of an ethos of secrecy," he says, and in her death there has only been
"a ringing endorsement of the ethos of secrecy." He's unconvinced by school officials' statements saying lawyers have
instructed them to remain silent: "very little good comes when there is
a dead girl and secrecy is the most valued currency." He is one of many
to fault officials' response, and also to point out (in another column) that the fight against bullying "starts at home." In response to calls for more laws against bullying, he retorts: "you can't legislate good parenting."
- A Matter of Context, 'Differential in Power,' Slate reprints an article on bullying by Yale psychology professor Alan Kazdin and Carlo Rotella.
Bullying happens between individuals of differing levels of social
power within a group, and can usually be stopped if peers intervene.
"Even when the child who steps in is considered weak in the group's
hierarchy of power, the bullying stops within 10 seconds in more than
half the instances of intervention by peers." They actually say--contradicting Cullen's point--that
teachers can't always do much: "teachers detect only about 4 percent of
all incidents," partly because "a competent bully chooses opportunities
precisely to exploit a lack of adult supervision."
- Not About an Increase in Female Aggression In The New York Times, researchers Mike Males and Meda-Chesney Lind
rebut the notion that the Prince case is "evidence of a modern epidemic
of 'mean girls' that adults simply fail to comprehend ... We have
examined every major index of crime on which the authorities rely. None
show a recent increase in girls' violence; in fact, every reliable
measure shows that violence by girls has been plummeting for years."
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the author at
hhorn at theatlantic dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.