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Bullied to Death
Assignments, games, practices, plays and musicals, plus numerous other extracurricular activities piled onto an already heaping plate of class work depicts the classic high school student. High school is tough to begin with, but add a few bullies to the mix and the culinary creation comes out burnt and unsatisfying. (metaphor) Phoebe Prince, an Irish immigrant who attended South Hadley High School, came to know the prior stated situation all too well. Prince became involved with certain boys at her new school which attracted the attention of some girls in her class who “were only helping out a friend” and took to calling her names, such as “slut.” Prince, having suffered in silence through three months of unrelenting misery caused by the bullies, went home after a particularly hard day and hanged herself. She was fifteen years old. Sadly, Prince’s story is the only one of its kind. One of the many pandemics that are spreading like wildfire across the nation is teenage suicide, which encompasses suicidal behavior and also suicidal tendencies. (similie) Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth aged fifteen to twenty-four years old (“Teen Suicide”). The suicide rate, which has been increasing since 2000, has summited a fifteen year climb to the top (“Suicide in Youth”). (metaphor) So, what pushes a teenager or anyone for that matter, to the point where suicide seems like the only way to be free from the suffering that he or she has endured? (rhetorical question) In high school there are a lot of changes; one’s body is changing, along with one’s thought (i.e. the ability to think about things in a new way, problem solving, decision making.) Other changes occurring include changes in feeling and life, such as stress, pressure to excel, family changes, and loss. Certain risk factors increase a teen’s chance of attempting suicide. Such increasing factors are those such as prior suicide attempts, depression and the use of antidepressants, substance abuse, available means to commit the act, such as firearms and potent medication in the house, mental disorders, exposure to suicidal behaviors of others, including family, peers, in the news, or in fiction stories” (“Teen Suicide”), and abuse. (pathos) Abuse encompasses bullying. As the suicide rate is climbing, so is the rate of bullying. The Surgeon General of the United States published a report emphasizing how much of a problem, a major health concern even, bullying has become in the Western world. There are four types of bullying: direct-physical, direct-verbal, indirect-relational, and the newest type, cyber (Sourander, Gould, Klomek 283). Bullying is often seen as only a catalyst of suicide, but it is so much more than that. It is an affecting situation that increases a teen’s possibility of committing. In the case of a “bullycide,” a media-coined term to describe the suicides of individuals who kill themselves due to bullying the symptoms of suicide, such as depression, low self-esteem, feelings of despair and hopelessness, etc., spawn from the bullying that took place (Waters 7). If the act of bullying were prevented, the suicides might have been prevented too. If future bullying is prevented, future suicides can be prevented too. Bullying is an epidemic that has numerous and, as seen in teenage suicide, often catastrophic effects. It is a serious issue that induces innumerous effects and if it is not taken care of soon, it may become even more out of control than it already is.
On Sunday, September 18, 2011, Jamey Rodemyer was found dead outside his home. Foul play was at hand, not in reference to Rodemyer taking his own life, but in reference to how he was bullied for years leading up to this tragedy. His mother stated that he was bullied in middle school and the bullying intensified in high. Rodemyer complained of the bullying and was “subjected to hateful comments in school and online, mostly related to his sexual orientation.” He had an account on a website called Formspring. It is, in a way, like Twitter and Facebook, in which users are able to set up a profile and ask questions of other users. Rodemyer began receiving anonymous hate posts on his profile. Such posts included: “Kill your self!!!! You have nothing left!” “Listen to us, you’re a bad person, you don’t belong here, jump off a bridge or something!” “Go kill yourself, you’re worthless, ugly and don’t have a point to live.” “You weren’t born this way [in reference to his sexuality.] You shouldn’t have ever been born” (qtd. in Tan). This falls under the fourth type of bullying, cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is the newest and harshest form of bullying and it shows, even more, the cowardice of the bully. The record of the posts online provides evidence against the bullies who may face harassment violations if they are criminally prosecuted. “Using a computer to bully someone would elevate the charges to aggravated harassment…And if the bullying centers primarily on Jamey’s sexual orientation, then it’s possible that hate crimes could be filed,” stated Police Chief John C. Askey (qtd. in Tan). When Formspiring asked Rodemyer seven months ago, “What’s one thing people don’t know about you?” he answered, “How much I hate my life. Maybe it’s cause I’m bullied, a lot” (qtd. in Tan). It’s unsettling to think that this tragedy, as with many other teen suicides, could have been prevented. Rodemyer used to be a happy kid. He even had lots of friends who instantly came to his defense regarding the hate posts. The only thing “wrong” with Rodemyer was his sexuality. Gays and lesbians are controversial too, albeit, but where do the bullies, who are different in their own way, gain the right to bully the “outcasts?” Everyone faces challenges, especially in high school. Those four years of “education” provide innumerous opportunities to grow and change and identify oneself. Bullying inhibits these opportunities and makes high school a dreaded blip in the past that would rather be forgotten, provided those who were bullied in high school did not commit suicide first. (pathos) Recall the cliché, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It may have worked in elementary school, but its power quickly dissipated upon entering that seventh grade. (cliché)
Thinking about Rodemyer again, had his life been bully-free, he might still be alive and living vivaciously today. The myth that “[a]ll suicidal people are mentally ill” is exceptionally false (Smith 38). Studies of the autopsies on those who completed suicide suggest that most were relatively rational and coherent at the time of his or her death (King 160). Although there is no such act as “rational suicide,” the act does involve logic, but a very flawed logic at that. Suicidal teens fight between the pulling tides of not wanting to die, but not necessarily wanting to live either. In the case of a bullied teenager, the hope that the suffering will cease if her or she ends his or her own life is enough to push the idea of suicide to action. Restating the effects of bullying, such as depression, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair along with fear and a life void of joy, lead one to inquire if these effects, which spawned from the bullying, lead to the suicide, as in Prince’s case? (parenthesis, logos) Or, if the bullying was a mere symptom of the suicides, rather than the arousing vinegar being poured over the sedentary baking soda? Had Prince and Rodemyer been show love and a sense of community and belonging rather than being pelted with hate and disdain, their suicides might be non-existent. Where have high school students’ morals gone? Where is the mercy, the compassion, the tolerance, the respect? (anaphora) The leaning tower of peace rests precariously on the foundation comprised of the prior stated morals. If one brick is slightly disturbed, everything will come toppling down, leaving a broken pile of rubble. (pathos)
Enter Tyler Clementi. A gifted musician; a tortured college student. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge and landed in the Hudson River six hundred forty feet below. In the days leading up to his jump, Clementi, who attended Rutgers University, was webcammed by his roommate, Dharun Ravi, while having an encounter with another man. The footage was broadcasted live. Clementi was then harassed by those who viewed the occurrence which lead to his decision to take the plunge, and his life. “A 2005 Harris poll found 90 percent of gay and lesbian teens say they’ve been bullied in the past year. And nearly two-thirds of these students feel unsafe in school, according to a 2009 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network” (qtd. in “Tormented to Death?”). It appears that those with abnormal sexualities are harassed more and more. Bullying in general has brought many cases to court. In Clementi’s case, Ravi and the owner of the computer he used, Molly Wei, were charged with invasion of privacy which had the possibility of five years in prison. Hate crime charges were also an added possibility. The question as to whether it was “cold blooded cyber-bullying or a dumb prank” plagued friends of Clementi and the officials on the case. Friends of Ravi and Wei were shocked to hear what had happened and that the two were being charged. Both were popular and excellent students. Friends backed them up by saying things like, “He found irony and dark situations funny,” and, “She did nothing wrong and committed no crime. There’s not an ounce of bias in her” (qtd. in “Tormented to Death?”). One of Clementi’s friends was quoted with saying “Tyler seemed depressed sometimes…He was very introspective” (qtd. in “Tormented to Death?”). Some people viewing this situation from the outside may take this quote and say that the situation that about was nothing more than a lit fuse to an already armed bomb. They may view the alleged as innocent because they did not mean any harm. “They were just having some fun.” “It was only a prank gone wrong.” “Bullying is a normal part of growing up.” However, Clementi chose to die due to the result of Ravi’s disastrous decision to degrade the “outcast” and Ravi’s respectability. (alliteration, zeugma) Bullying is bullying whether deliberate or not. Bullying is when a person “is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more people” (Sourander, Gould, Klomek). The truth is that the people who received repercussions for invading Clementi’s privacy did not think about what could happen if they shared the recorded footage. They made a choice; they received the consequences. (logos) Although they did not directly assist Clementi in ending his life, they pushed him to the brink of making that decision.
Bullying has been a part of society and schools for as far back as one can remember and then further yet. It would be incorrect to say that it is an accepted part of society; incorrect it would also be to say that it is a condemned aspect of society. (anadiplosis) Bullying is something that has been taking place for so long that it does not spark intense attention when the subject is aroused. One might argue that bullying is a natural part of growing up, or that it has been occurring since he or she was in grade school. However, more mature bullying, if there is such a thing, still takes place in the corporate world. Those working under the CEO are held in place due to fear brought on by the intimidating CEO’s actions. So when does the cycle end? How many kids have to suffer and possibly commit suicide before action is taken? (pathos) The Surgeon General realized the connection between bullying and suicide and emphasizes focusing attention on the issue (Sourander, Gould, Klomek 282). The United States Department of Education “fully supports [the efforts to take steps in reducing bullying in schools since bullying] fosters a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of its victims and create conditions that negatively affect learning, thereby undermining the ability of students to achieve their full potential” (Ali). (logos) Obama stated that there is a need “to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage” (qtd. in “Bullying, a Deadly Sin”). Ellen DeGeneres declared, “Something must be done” (qtd. in “Tormented to Death?”). Lady Gaga imployed the president to take anti-bullying action when one of her fans, Jamey Rodemyer—who was previously discussed—ended his life on the basis of being bullied (“Lady Gaga Presses Obama”). The question is then repeated, when will this never ending cycle cease? Who is going to step up, or down rather step down, and be the bigger person? To do that would appear cowardly. Quite the opposite however, it would show a great deal of courage.
Other causes of suicide and bullying stem from the media. Recently suicidal themes have become common in movies, books, and the news especially when directed toward adolescents. While most Americans are pelted with many media messages throughout the day, teenagers absorb more of them than adults. Consuming media had become a “full-time job” for the average child in America, seeing as he or she spends about forty hours per week watching television (Bondora, Goodwin 7). Studies on the negative psychological effects on adolescents from taking in pessimistic media have found that “exposure to media violence increases aggressive behaviors while decreasing pro-social behaviors” (Bondora, Goodwin 7). The “Werther effect,” which is more potent towards teens than adults, pertains to news coverage of suicides. A study on the contagious effect of suicide coverage reports that “(a) the national level of suicides increases significantly for a brief period after a suicide story is nationally published by newspapers; (b) this increase in suicides after the suicide story is published; (c) the more publicity given to the story, the more the national level of suicides increases; (d) the increase in suicides occurs only in the geographic areas where the suicide story is published’ (Bondora, Goodwin 6). One of the most powerful forms of media influence is music. Although all types of music contain suicidal and violent themes, heavy metal, rock, and rap are the most recognized. Songs such as “Suicide Solution” by Ozzy Osborne have been linked to many teenage suicides including a particular incidence where a teen listened to Osborne’s song for five hours before shooting himself. Music is targeted mainly towards the younger generations, thus raising concerns as to whether the music’s messages will generate radically negative results and/or actions. The impact that the media has on innocent minds need to be considered due to the fact that the younger population is typically more accepting of suicide than the adult population. Younger people tend to see death as glamorized and tend to romanticize death and the way it will affect people, especially loved ones. Views adolescents have towards death include: a peaceful sleep that will make everything better, a means of punishing someone, a way of forcing someone to express their love for them, a way of being reunited with a deceased other, a way of expressing great love, and an escape from feelings of helplessness and hopelessness” (Bondora, Goodwin 7). The first and last views especially pertain to teenagers who are suicidal. Media does have an enormous effect on adolescents. After Marilyn Monroe’s suicide in 1962 there was a twelve percent increase in the suicide rate, thus showcasing the Werther effect in action. Since the media does have such a powerful influence on teenagers, it is the entertainer’s duty to portray positive themes and role models to the audience.
Popular fictional books containing suicidal themes, such as The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Looking for Alaska by John Green and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher are often placed on the banned book list for fear that they arouse suicidal tendencies in the readers. John Asher’s book, some might argue, has had quite the opposite effect. The main character in his book, Hannah Baker, is an outcast at her school and consequently bullied which leads her to commit suicide. “From the beginning, the reaction to the novel has been intense: an outpouring of emotion from readers who connect with the book’s message of tolerance and compassion.” Readers began sending Asher messages saying things like, “This book makes me more aware that even the small things I do can have an effect on people,” and “I was suicidal when I picked up your book, and I identified with Hannah, and I wanted her to live” (qtd. in “Mystery Novel”). If a book has this profound of an effect on readers, then what effect would influential people present everyday in one’s life educating peers about the dangers of bullying and the possible results, such as suicide, have?
Even though bullying in a common occurrence in today’s society and schools that does not mean that it has to be a normal happening. Preventative measures, such as implementing anti-bullying programs in schools and screen students for suicidal tendencies, can be put in place to ensure the safety of tomorrow’s leaders. Children who were bullied at a young age are more likely to develop psychiatric symptoms in their adolescent years (Sourander, Gould, Klomek 283). Rather than future mental illnesses adding the already outlandish health care disagreement, why not reduce the contributing factor now and prevent the effects that it generates. With support from President Obama, The U.S. Department of Education and celebrities like DeGeneres and Gaga, why is the coexistence of bullying and teenage suicide still present? What is stopping students’ parents and others who are concerned with the education and overall well being of American students from taking a stand against this preventable occurrence? Have Americans become this disheartened and desensitized to the pain and anguish deeply felt by America’s youth that there is no mercy or compassion towards these young souls, nor any value in protecting the innocence of youth? The children are crying; America, do you hear them? (personification, pathos)
Ali, Russlynn. “Department’s Office for Civil RIghts.” Dear Colleague Letter. United States, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Department of Education, 26 Oct. 2010. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://www2.ed.gov//////.html>.
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