The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 19, 2013

Murray: Florida bullying case cause for alarm


The Mankato Free Press

---- — It happened again in September. Rebecca Sedwick of Florida, after being tormented viciously by two classmates — including one instance where one of the girls told her to “drink bleach and die” — climbed to the top of a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and hurled herself off, presumably feeling there was no other way to escape the torture and pain.

Reports are emerging that the bullying started, like so many other female adolescent tiffs, over a boy. Whatever the case, we have another case of failure.

Failure of a girl to find her way to freedom from bullying, failure of the adults around them to do anything about it, and most of all, failure by the parents of the bullies to raise kids who wouldn’t do that to another kid.

Grady Judd, the sheriff in the county where this tragedy occurred, is coming at this case guns-a-blazin’, and I for one wish every bullying case would be handled this way.

They’ve made public the names of the bullies — who, by the way, went on Facebook and bragged about their actions — and have arrested the girls involved.

The sheriff has also called out the parents of these bullies, and this is really the part of this I want to point out. One set of parents has claimed their daughter’s Facebook account was “hacked,” or hijacked by someone else who posted hateful messages such as, “Yes I know I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but IDGAF.” IDGAF, in case you’re unfamiliar with the latest wave of phrase abbreviation, stands for “I don’t give a f---.”

But I think we all know that’s a lie. The sheriff himself even said as much, calling the parents’ story “baloney.”

I’ve written about bullying before, including one column that ran just a few weeks ago. This is something I really, really wish we’d get a handle on quickly, folks. And admonishing kids yet again to stop being mean to each other is not going to work.

Quite simply, I believe this comes down to parenting. Do these girls deserve to be punished? Absolutely. Punished severely. But punishing them isn’t really going to do much. Instead, I think parents need to take a more active role in keeping an eye on what their kids are doing online, and have a better sense for what’s going on in their kids’ lives.

Actually, I think it’s more than that. When a child bullies another child so badly that it results in death, that tells me mistakes were made a long time ago. I’m still somewhat baffled that it could occur to a child that behavior such as this is even an option!

My coworker Tanner and I often joke about how our fathers would have reacted if we’d exhibited the kind of disrespectful behavior I see routinely from this generation of young people.

If we would have disrespected our parents in public the way I see it happening at the mall or at the grocery store, we both agree it’d be the LAST time it happened. Frankly, it simply would never have happened.

Respect for other people is required to function well in society. In our home we try and make sure our kids understand that even if you don’t like someone, they’re still worthy of respect and deserve to be treated like you’d treat anyone else. Are they perfect? Despite what I tell myself, no, they’re not perfect. But we’re trying, it’s part of the process of raising good kids.

Something tells me “respect for other people” wasn’t something that was a topic for discussion in the homes of these two bullies. I could be wrong, of course. Maybe their parents spent time trying to teach them how to be good people. But if they’re explanation of the post-suicide gloating is “my daughter’s Facebook was hacked,” I’m doubting I’m wrong about this.

These kids are not alone. I’m fearful, in fact, that it’s becoming the norm. Humiliation is a common theme in entertainment these days. How many viral videos have we clicked on in the last year that, had the subject had a say in the matter, would have never seen the light of day? And what does it all add to our lives?

I know this is veering into sanctimonious territory, but my goodness, you guys, how many young lives have to be cut short, how many dead bodies need to be scraped off parking lots before we realize something’s wrong here? Are there always going to be suicides? Sadly, yes. But this is getting out of hand.

My fear is that this community, or any community, will wait to really deal with it until it loses one of its own. Is that what’s going to happen?

What are you doing to make sure it’s not your kid, either on the tower waiting to jump, or online pushing her off?

Robb Murray can be reached at 344-6386 or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com