Phoebe Prince, 15, of South Hadley, Mass., hanged herself after months of being taunted and bullied by classmates. Tyler Clementi, 18, a freshman at Rutgers University, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after an intimate encounter was streamed over the Internet by his roommate. Jamey Rodemeyer, 15, of Buffalo, New York, an openly gay teenager, committed suicide as a result of constant bullying. Two weeks after Rodemeyer’s death, another 15-year-old boy, Jamie Hubley of Ottawa, Canada, killed himself. All four teens were subjected to cruel verbal and online bullying. But they certainly were not alone.
Over a three week period in the U.S. last October, 10 boys ages 11 to 14 killed themselves — all “relentlessly targeted over and over by their peers with derogatory sexual comments,” according to Barbara Coloroso, an international bestselling author, speaker and consultant on parenting, teaching, school discipline, bullying and conflict resolution.
“The old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,’ is a lie,” Coloroso, a special education teacher and former Franciscan nun, told an audience of Patch High School students Jan. 25 in one of three anti-bullying workshops she conducted for U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart in advance of an anti-bullying policy that will take effect in April. Bullying, as defined by Coloroso, is a conscious, willful and deliberate hostile activity, intended to harm.
According to her book, “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander,” bullying is “not about anger, or even about conflict. It’s about contempt — a powerful feeling of dislike toward someone considered to be worthless, inferior or undeserving of respect.”
Coloroso said there are three types of bullying: verbal, relational and physical. The most common form is verbal and it can “pack a tremendous wallop.” But when combined with the tools of cyberbullying — cell phones and the Internet — the effects can be deadly, she added.
During the workshops, Coloroso described case after case of extreme bullying that resulted in the targeted students committing suicide, or even worse, such as the 1999 Columbine High School massacre where 12 students and one teacher died; 23 students were wounded; and the two killers took their own lives.
She noted that the two seniors responsible for the killing siege, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were targets of frequent, vicious bullying by athletes at Columbine High.
She said relentlessly targeted kids eventually beat themselves up because they are “no good” and a small percentage may turn their self-loathing “outwardly toward others.”
Because much of the bullying goes on “under the radar of adults,” Coloroso encouraged the students to stand up to those who resort to name calling, or who target students by shunning them, excluding them from social activities or spreading rumors.
“You never know when you’ll make a difference in another kid’s life,” she said.
“Pay attention, get involved and never, ever look away,” she advised. “I want each one of you … to be … the kid willing to stand up and speak out, to step in to do the right thing … .”
The Department of Defense Education Activity has adopted similar language for the slogan of its national bullying awareness and prevention program that began in the 2011-12 school year: “Stop Bullying Now! Take a Stand. Lend a Hand.”
In an August 2011 memo, Marilee Fitzgerald, the DODEA director, asked each school to launch an outreach effort to prevent bullying.
In Europe, Installation Management Command and Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe officials collaborated with bullying and resiliency experts (to include Coloroso), youth program professionals and community leaders to formulate an anti-bullying policy and procedures.
“Bullying is an issue worldwide,” said Judi Patrick, IMCOM-Europe School Liaison Officer, who initiated a comprehensive bullying prevention program in coordination with DODDS-Europe in U.S. Army Garrison Garmisch last year. That program is being rolled out to all Army garrisons in Europe this school year.
The bullying prevention program and the anti-bullying policy include a clear definition of what bullying is, its impact, and outlines discipline procedures. It also recommends programs for schools to adopt, such as Coloroso’s or the Committee for Children’s “Steps to Respect/Second Steps.”
“We want our students to feel safe in and out of school. We’re trying to build resiliency and respect,” Patrick said.
For more information about Barbara Coloroso’s work, visit her website, www.kidsareworthit.com. Information on DODEA’s bullying awareness and prevention program is available at www.dodea.edu/StopBullying.
The U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart School Liaison Office has copies of Barbara Coloroso’s books, DVDs and CDs for check out. Call 430-7465/civ. 0711-680-7465.