Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bullying and Suicide

Rebecca Sedwick, suicide victim of bullying

People are pretty disgusted by the news of twelve year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick's suicide jump from a tower at an abandoned concrete plant in Florida last month.

On Monday, the county sheriff, Grady Judd took a hard stand and charged two Lakeland teenage girls, 12 and 14 (12 and 14!) with felony aggravated stalking. Bullying, technically, isn't a crime; it is something kids do. But aggravated stalking is an adult crime across the nation, and juveniles can be just as guilty as adults.

Who stalks? There are many reasons, and we'll discuss them below, but the behavior seems to be generated by either insecurity or sociopathy.  Those fearful of abandonment take matters into their own hands and punish the ones who try to leave. The sociopaths or almost sociopaths, are criminal-- they have no remorse, no guilt for the harm they cause. Sociopaths (legal determinations) are often diagnosed with personality disorders, antisocial personality disorder at the top of the list. Some are children.

Even after the suicide, the older of the two young adolescents continued to write cruel things about Rebecca on Facebook.

"Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don't give a f***]"

That threw the sheriff over the top, determined the felony charges.

Heartless. How does a kid write such a thing!? Does this kid need therapy? Undoubtedly.

And to think I just told a mother of a bullied child last week, "I like working with kids like yours, with the victims. The kids seem to like therapy."

What I don't mention is that victims are easier than the perpetrators because they don't have the attitude, the resistance, the disdain for authority. So they are easier clients. Merely depressed as hell.

Now I feel bad for implying I don't even want to work with the bullies and cyber stalkers. It isn't all their fault. Aggression doesn't happen in a vacuum.  Bullies are usually victims, displacing their own anger, no matter the cause, often unconsciously, onto someone else.  Displacement is a psychological defense, protects our fragile egos. Being young, these kids have time to work on their identities.* It's what we do in therapy.

Most of the time, too, aggressive behavior is easy to reverse -- a little anger management and family therapy and the kids are giving workshops to their friends. That has to be woven into the new bullying laws, the family therapy part.

When it isn't displacement, aggression is likely to be transgenerational, passed down generation to generation under the guise of domestic violence or child abuse. It is usually learned, and in some families considered normal.  They all have tempers in our family.  Every therapist has heard that one.

There's research that tells us a predilection toward violence might be caused by a birth accident or the lack of the empathy gene.  Wonderful people have difficult kids, and their parenting doesn't necessarily pay off.  We need more specialists, more research to help them.

This new sociological darling, bullying, or cyber bullying, cyber stalking, concerns us because now, more than ever before, suicides are mounting. We don't know which causes are the most likely, but in Rebecca's case the lead tormentor apparently learned the behavior.

Caught on camera, Vivian Vosberg, the step-mother of the "bully ringleader," is pummeling a boy in her home. A group of children laugh, push. Chaos ensues, noise, a scuffle, and all the while, someone is manning the cell, the video cam.

She's been arrested on child abuse charges, sent to jail, and her daughter, the cyber stalker quoted above, is supposedly in state custody. Ms. Vosberg claims she was merely breaking up a fight.

She is only thirty years old, looks like a teenager herself, and her neighbors are talking about her as a bad role model, blaming her for her step-daughter's behavior, no matter what really happened or what triggered her behavior on tape. It would be nice if Ms. Vosberg would tell the press more about her stress, more about why she hit that kid, and more about her trouble with her step-daughter. As it is, she denies the child's role as a cyber stalker. She needs to become a part of the solution. We need one.

If she won't own her part, the lesson for her step-daughter is that old adage, See one, do one, teach one. Many children joined in the stalking but they didn't have the audacity to continue the abuse after Rebecca's death. This kid, Vosberg's step-daughter, needs more attention, more of an intervention than the rest.

Meanwhile, Rebecca's mother, Tricia Norman, knew there was a problem, tried to help, but laments that she couldn't do enough. She pulled her daughter out of school, home-school her, then arranged a transfer. Still she couldn't protect Rebecca.

Probably because cyber stalking is a crime without walls, and continues even after the stalker stops talking. What is written on the Internet is permanent. The tragedy is that Rebecca believed herself worthless. She believed what those young girls wrote on her wall.

Her mother told reporters:

"She would come home every day saying she's not worth anything, she was ugly and stupid," 

Rebecca heard it from ten or more children, was verbally taunted, physically abused, beat up. Repetition makes its mark. It's hypnotizing.

Her mother made her delete her Facebook account but after Rebecca's death found messages on the child's phone: "Nobody cares about you," "I hate u," "You seriously deserve to die."

Mother tells reporters:
The effect of such abuse?  She started cutting, left pics of cuts on her thighs, cuts her mother had never seen, and pictures of herself lying on the railroad tracks, waiting for the train. 
Tricia Norman blames herself for not doing more to help her daughter. I want to tell her not to, that the problem is epidemic. The violence in our culture defines our culture (see Saturday's WSJ, Are the Streets Really Paved with Gore). When kids witness violence in the home it reinforces what is seen in the movies and on television, YouTube, everywhere.

Therapy might have helped, for sure, but a socially isolated child is at risk, even while in therapy, when systematic, repeated, mental, verbal, and physical abuse has torn down, whittled away at the will to live. Without friends, at any age, we're miserable, feel we're better off dead.

Just one more jab will do the job.  And we can't control all of the jabbers.  Children, the old saying goes, are mean. They have their reasons.

What to do?  Identify them early. Intervene early. Call the parents of your kids' friends, the ones who hurt them. Programs in schools have work to do, and should include discussions of the media, the lessons learned watching.

We need to establish interventions for bullies-- suspensions, amends to the victim, group therapy in the school, family therapy at a local agency, and legal proceedings to add some teeth to the solution. Keep that therapy alive for at least a year, make that two.
Then maybe we'll find out what young people like Rebecca Sedwick have to contribute to our society. My guess is, something special, given the chance.


*We're starting to see that intractable, violent personalities, kids without empathy, are recognized in early childhood. They are a minority. Most of us take quite awhile to decide who we are, who we want to be, and may be well into our twenties before we begin to really become the people we hope to be.


MissBrens Law said...

Bullying and Suicide- Right On! My Facebook Says "No-More LEGAL Abuse Bren" for a reason! So many forms of "Bullying" and it is not limited to teens. Adult Bullying is a HUGE PROBLEM and comes in many forms!

Chelsea Sawyer said...

Unfortunately, dysfunctional behavior seems to be an ingredient in the fascinating brew that makes up big city living. I've read that cognitive behavior therapy is the best if you suffer from depression, anxiety, phobia, panic attacks, or some other form of psychological disorder.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in the poor drug ridden ghetto, work minded suburb, free living coastal regions and chicken farm rural Maryland. Dysfunctional behavior is everywhere, mostly in rural life, if not more so because rural beings isolate more, drink more and fear change.

Anonymous said...

some children internalize everything

Do we as parents need to be more alert and get treatment for our kids??? Some families have no family supports like a grandma and grandpa,aunt, uncle or parents who care about emotional well being and development. Do we as school personnel need to be more alert for depression in children??? I think so there must be emotional/mental assessments of children in this dysfunctional society we are raising a generation of sociopaths.

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts