CBSNews reported yesterday that Seth Walsh, the 13-year-old who tried to hang himself after relentless bullying from schoolmates about his homosexuality, has died. Seth had been in the hospital after being found unconscious and not breathing. He succumbed Tuesday to injuries he sustained in the attempt.
Seth’s death throws another harsh light on a topic that has been the subject of much debate in recent years, as incidents of extreme bullying, especially those leading to death or suicide, have been on the rise. Police have said after interviewing Seth’s bullies that no charges would be filed, as the children didn’t anticipate or try to cause Seth’s suicide.
But many children — and now even adults — engaging in bullying can’t claim such naivete. The New York Daily News reported that South Hadley H.S. student Phoebe Prince committed suicide earlier this year after relentless bullying by classmates, leading to charges against the so-called “Mean Girls.” What was troubling to many who watched that case, besides the tragic circumstances, were allegations that school officials knew about Phoebe’s plight and did nothing to stop it. Equally troubling was the defense of one of the accused teens by her mother, who claimed that Phoebe started the initial trouble by saying something to one of the girls and that her daughter had done nothing wrong in responding the way she did, because she had never physically harmed her.
The helplessness of school officials, and sometimes the ignorant or complacent attitude of the parents of the offending children, hampers efforts to curb bullying in schools or, by extension, the Internet, where social networks like Facebook and MySpace are sometimes being used to cause harm. In one of the most extreme cases of school bullying over the Internet, Lori Drew and two others, including her daughter, created a faux MySpace account to harass neighbor Megan Meier. According to CBSNews, the trio allegedly fabricated a profile for a 16-year-old boy named Josh which they used to flirt with the girl before “breaking up” with her and sending her messages like, “The world would be a better place without you.” Megan later committed suicide.
ABC News reported last year about the suicide of 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover, who hung himself after being targeted by other students with anti-gay slurs. The child had apparently been taunted almost ceaselessly since the start of the school year, which had prompted his mother to talk and meet with school officials repeatedly to try to get the bullying to stop, to no avail.
Parents of bullied children and some school officials are at a loss what to do. Educators at some schools cannot affect change because the parents of the offending children don’t see bullying as any big deal. Other times they are too embarrassed or overwhelmed by the behavior to know how to deal with it. Schools and parents need to find a way to band together to create procedures that educators can follow when confronted by a bullying issue, and children need to be made to understand that bullying can have consequences that they may or may not intend.
Edecio Martinez, “Seth Walsh: Gay 13-year Old Hangs Self After Reported Bullying.” CBSNews.com
Helen Kennedy, “Mom of Teen Charged With Bullying South Hadley H.S. Student Phoebe Prince into Suicide Blames Victim.” NYDailyNews.com
CBSNews.com, “Cyberbully Mom Guilty of Lesser Charge.”
Susan Donaldson James, “When Words Can Kill: “That’s So Gay.”” ABCNews.com