Sixteen-year-old Christian Taylor was found hanged in his bedroom on Monday, May 31: Memorial Day, a school holiday, which for most kids means the start of summer.
Taylor was a freshman at Grafton High School in Yorktown, VA. What’s especially tragic about this suicide is that the teenager had complained to school and law enforcement officials about being bullied, but nothing was done to stop his tormentor. According to York-Poquosen Sheriff Sgt. Dennis Ivey, authorities had also looked into complaints by Taylor’s mother, Alise Williams, weeks ago, but turned the matter over to his school after finding no crime had been committed. No action was taken, and Taylor’s tormentor remained at school.
Because of Taylor’s death, Ivey said, authorities are now re-examining the case to see if any laws were broken.
How many lost teenage lives are we going to have to witness before school authorities take this issue seriously? In Massachusetts, less than six months ago, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself after being assaulted and bullied by classmates. Currently six teenagers face charges in that case.
And now here’s another one. Teenagers can be both mean and cruel, as well as scared and extremely vulnerable. Above all, they need guidance from adults, even when (maybe especially when) they act as if they hate all authority. Every school has a legal responsibility to deal with bullying that occurs on school property and, in many cases, between school and home.
What happened in Taylor’s case? According to his mom, “Chris was a good kid…. He had the usual teenage problems, the awkwardness and all, but he had a girlfriend and friends and they’re devastated.” She described her son’s bullying as “just a lot of taunting and saying mean stuff” but added that in one instance, his tormentor, a classmate, told her son to “go ahead and commit suicide and get it over with.”
Meanwhile, the bully “is still in school,” said Williams. “They have not suspended him. He has not been expelled. And he doesn’t just target my son, he’s targeted quite a few others.”
As someone who has been teaching teenagers for over twenty years, I know that someone, if not several people, at that high school had to know what was going on, but chose not to see. It’s easy to do, since teachers are all so overworked and pressured these days. But that’s no excuse. Teenagers can be a tough bunch, but it’s also pretty easy to read them.
Bullying is a serious social problem. According to the National School Safety Center, one in seven children becomes a victim of bullying at school. Wake up, schools! Getting good test scores is nice; saving lives is crucial.
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