Heroes and bullies

My heart has been heavy this week. It’s been a disturbing week for news about teens. A young girl in Florida commits suicide after repeated bullying and now a group of middle school students in Urbandale appear to be the subject of bullying on Facebook. And in Massachusetts, a young woman was penalized for doing the right thing.

Erin Cox is a Massachusetts high school senior who was punished recently by her school district for doing what most parents would applaud. This honor student tried to help a friend who was too drunk to drive home. She knew she shouldn’t drive and so she called for help.

Erin arrived from work, stone-cold sober, to give her friend a ride home. At about the same time, the local police also arrived. Several kids were arrested, but not Erin, because the police determined she had not been drinking and was not in possession of alcohol. She merely came to the aid of a friend.

But the North Andover school district didn’t see it that way. The administration, citing its “zero-tolerance” policy concerning alcohol and drug use, demoted Erin from her position as captain of the volleyball team and made her sit out five games.

Keep in mind, she didn’t attend the party, she had no alcohol and was not drunk. And the local police cleared her of any wrong doing. In fact, the responding officer even wrote a letter outlining her innocence. She was acting as a good samaritan – an act that should make her parents, community and school district extremely proud of this responsible young woman. Think about what could happen in the future if someone like Erin had to stop and consider that she could be punished for doing the right thing.

I think the young lady who called Erin for a ride should also be commended. Of course, teenage drinking is nothing to be applauded, but this girl had the presence of mind and the smarts to know that she shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car.

The bullying of the young girl in Florida was disturbing to read. The attacks had apparently been going on so long that she eventually felt suicide was her only escape.The sheriff in the case spoke passionately on the morning news programs about bringing the two teenage girls to justice in the incident. The two were arrested after posting deplorable comments following Rebecca Sedwick’s death. It’s devastating that bullying remarks made on social media have lead to another death, and there are two girls in custody who will have much different lives from this point on – regardless of whether they are convicted.

Just yesterday, I heard of the bullying going on in Urbandale. Offensive and hurtful photos and comments were posted on Facebook about nine middle school students – about their looks, weight, whether or not they are gay and one comment made fun of the fact the student’s father had died of cancer. Apparently the Urbandale middle school turned the information over to police to handle. No one seems to know who was posting the photos and comments.

Bullying has been around forever, but it seems that social media, text messaging and other avenues have certainly amped up the practice. I remember middle school – well, it was junior high for me- with surging hormones and kids trying their hardest to be grown up. It was awfully easy for those inclined to bully to do so in the halls and locker rooms of the school. But now, add in digital resources, and bullying has moved off the playground and followed the kids home. It’s hard to escape those attacks when they are coming right into your cell phone or computer.

So this week, we’ve seen some incredibly good behavior by a teen who came to the aid of her friend and some incredibly bad behavior by some young bullies. Perhaps instead of punishing students like Erin Cox for being a responsible and caring friend we should identify her and her actions as something for young people to emulate. I wonder what she would have to say to the bullies in Florida or Urbandale?

We as parents have to take the bullies by the horns and put a stop to it now. We have to teach our children that everyone is worthy of respect and love and compassion. We have to stop encouraging any behavior to the contrary. We need to routinely monitor our kids’ social media and text messages and lead by example by not posting hurtful and despicable comments. And we need to do it now before any more children decide the only way to end bullying is by ending a life.