Can’t let bullies win

Among the most heart-wrenching stories in the news last week was that of a 12-year-old Florida girl who committed suicide after being bullied for nearly a year.

Investigators are looking into whether charges can be filed against some of the 15 or so girls who ganged up on Rebecca Ann Sedwick, probably goading her into killing herself.

Her diary and computer are full of evidence of mind-numbing cruelty by the other girls. Some urged her to commit suicide.

In December, she was hospitalized for three days after cutting her wrists. At the time, she said she did so because of bullying.

So pervasive was the harassment at her middle school that her mother finally withdrew her and began home-schooling the girl. Yet through cyberspace, the torment continued.

The enormous amount of bullying Miss Sedwick suffered – and the sometimes public manner in which it was delivered – begs a question: How was it that no one did anything effective to stop it?

Saranac Lake’s school district learned a painful lesson from a nasty racial bullying incident at the middle school during the 2008-09 academic year. Yet the victim’s mother claimed, in a subsequent lawsuit, that the new policies, training and posters in hallways didn’t necessarily stop her daughter’s tormentors. They kept at it, even after the whole thing had gone public.

In that case, too, bullies told the girl she should commit suicide. She was too tough, though, and we and the rest of the community are extremely grateful for that.

Most school systems have anti-bullying programs and policies. Almost undoubtedly, so did the district in which Miss Sedwick attended school.

Nevertheless, she is dead, a victim of vicious kids who must have known the danger in what they were doing.

How could this kind of thing be prevented here? It goes beyond the bounds of school. Certainly, local school administrators and teachers must think hard about Miss Sedwick and about whether anti-bullying programs in this area really are effective, but parents should be vigilant, too, looking for red flags and inquiring when necessary. Bullies’ parents may be in a better position to stop the harassment than anyone else, although they may also be the last to know about it.

Limiting kids’ access to electronic devices is another good idea. Bullying is ancient, but cyberbullying is relatively new, and horrible. It’s surprising to us that parents so easily give 11- and 12-year-olds adult tools that have such amazing power to hurt others.

Of course, all of this oversight is hard and bound to be imperfect. After all, kids are very good at hiding this kind of thing from adults.

On the other hand, how can we not do our best? None of us wants a dead child up here to be our wake-up call that we weren’t doing enough.