Bill Cosby is right.

On a special anti-bullying segment on Larry King Live, Cosby lashed out at the bullies who tormented Phoebe Prince for months before she committed suicide.  He also took on the teachers, principal and school administrators who said that they didn’t know what was going on.

For months, Prince was assaulted, pushed and shoved, called a “slut” and a “whore” and even had soft drink cans thrown at her – all in school.

The eight students involved are all being prosecuted.  Already two students have been expelled from the school and other students will face felony charges in connection with their actions against Prince.

Among the charges against the teens are statutory rape, violation of civil rights, criminal harassment and disturbance of a school assembly.  Prosecutors accuse the students of tormenting Prince “relentlessly” online and in school, often in plain sight of school administrators, right up until the day Prince hanged herself.

On the day Phoebe Prince took her life, one of the bullies wrote the word “accomplished” on Phoebe’s Facebook page.

I also agree with parent Luke Gelinas, who says superintendent Gus A. Sayer, principal Daniel Smith and school committee chairman Edward J. Boisselle should go.

Of course, many failing principals, teachers and administrators hide behind the phrase, “We didn’t know.”  That shows why the most important thing you can do as a parent is often to document your contact with those supposedly responsible adults who actually won’t help you or your child.

Then they’ll hide behind the same plea that was given by the mother of one of the accused bullies, another girl, “Prince was not fully innocent and they’re teenagers.  They call names.”

Can you imagine if principal Smith, standing with the teachers, superintendent Sayer and school committee chairman Boisselle before the assembled parents of South Hadley High School in Massachusetts back in August had said:

  • We’ll ignore this whole problem of bullying despite many studies showing that:
  • At least 50 percent of high school students are bullied and over 75 percent of the kids in school know who the bullies are.
  • When the first incidents of bullying aren’t punished, the number of bullies and bullying incidents grow hugely, and the severity of bullying increases tremendously.
  • When we allow harassment, bullying and abuse the victims who are left unprotected by the responsible adults suffer from increased anxiety, stress, shame and depression, and low self-confidence and self-esteem for life.
  • Bystanders and witnesses who don’t come forward or who aren’t supported by the authorities suffer from guilt and shame their whole lives.
  • Bullies who get away with bullying in youth tend to become relentless adult bullies as adults, in their personal lives and at work.
  • We’ll also ignore the many suicides that have occurred because of bullying in middle schools and high schools.
  • We won’t have school policies that prohibit bullying or a program that trains us to recognize bullying in the school.  We won’t patrol the classrooms, hallways, bathrooms or cafeteria to see if bullying is occurring.  We won’t work with the police to do anything to the bullies.  When incidents occur we’ll say later that we weren’t responsible because we didn’t know.
  • We won’t involve students in recognizing and reporting bullying to us.  If we accidently hear about any bullying, we’ll minimize it and pretend its just ‘kid stuff.’  If you tell us about your child being bullied, we’ll tell you that we’re too busy to do anything about it and we don’t want to violate the rights of the bullies.
  • The bullies in our school are really good kids with anger and self-esteem issues of their own.  They just haven’t had good enough parenting.  That excuses their behavior.  We have to be more sympathetic toward them than toward their targets.

And imagine him finishing with, “Now, parents, we’d like you to hire us, vote for us and pay increased taxes to support your local school and its staff.  We’re going to be your top executives but we won’t know what’s going on.”  Do you imagine the parents at South Hadley High School leaping to their feet with wild applause because they thought that their children would be protected in the next academic year?

I think the lazy, uncaring cowards that are now finding justifications and asking us to excuse their behavior deserve the strongest consequences.

Of course I start with the bullies themselves and their parents, who turned a blind eye and will now protect their little darlings.  They’ll blame Phoebe Prince for being a weakling.  As if they think that what the teenagers did was okay and Phoebe should have taken it like a good victim because it was her fault.

I also say the same about the supposedly responsible adults at school who failed in their primary responsibility; creating a safe environment in which character and values are modeled by adults and in which academic learning can be maximized.

We do know what to do to easily stop 75-90 percent of school bullying.  Are you holding your school administrators and legislators accountable for doing their share?

If you’re a parent of a teenager, do you know what to do to teach your child to be as bully-proof as possible and to hold your principal and staff accountable?

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Resources Cited: http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Bill-Cosby-lashes-out-at-Phoebe-Prince-bullies-90830324.html and http://www.examiner.com/x-33110-Mind-and-Body-Examiner~y2010m4d1-Fifteen-year-old-Phoebe-Prince-commits-suicide-after-being-bullied-Dr-Alvin-Poussaint-speaks-out

Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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