Bullying and Youth Violence: Who is it to blame?

Almost a week ago, the story of a young boy, Daniel Fitzpatrick, aged 13 years old made headlines in the US and even international education landscapes. Daniel was a grade seven student at Holy Angels’ Catholic School in Staten Island, New York. He has been struggling for a while, having anxiety and even fits allegedly because of youth violence and bullying from his school peers. Danny took his own life, committed suicide by hanging himself and died. Danny left a letter or a suicide note stipulating how he was bullied by his old friends in school and how the school staff did nothing about it. You may read the initial story about it here.

In the initial story, Danny’s letter mentioned about how he was mentally and physically tortured by classmates whom he considered old friends, while the school staff did nothing and just advised Danny that “all these things shall pass”. I have initial discontent about the claim that “all these things shall pass”. Most often, our stereotypical notions of young boys’ or even young girls’ respective characters undermine the serious problems that instigate violence. The school staff may have assumed that it was and is normal to have this competition or power struggles among children. Now, this may also implicate that to some extent, they would agree that violence is fine. But of course, this is totally unacceptable when it actually estranges one from the sanctity of personhood he or she created.

The resonating words from Danny’s note are that: “I gave up”. This is disheartening. Reading this note from a 13 year old boy, who is characterized to be a meek and mild, cheerful and fun-loving, full of life ahead of him, is very heart-breaking. There are also many questions: What would have taken Danny to decide to hang himself and gave up on life? What could have the school community has done or did not do, in order for this tragic event to occur? Danny took an answer to resolve his serious challenges and predicament, but it was not the resolution to end bullying. Did the significant adults in Danny’s life ask for professionals that could have helped him and other students in school who are bullying him and involved in this case? Were the efforts to resolve school bullying not enough, so that it made Danny to kill himself?

The developments of the Danny’s suicide story unfolded after about five days. It was reported that the struggles of Danny may have started at home. You may read the follow-up story here.

In this follow up story, it has been alluded how might Danny’s home situation actually contributed to his death. Although there was no evidence from police and government records that Danny or his siblings were abused and violated by their parents, the new story unfolding by blaming the parents manifest that there is an effort to discredit the family and put the blame solely on them instead of looking at concrete solutions to youth violence and bullying in a school community. While the Ping-Pong allegations go back and forth, there are further underlying questions that may be raised about Danny’s case. While all these bullying in school are happening, what are the things that Danny’s parents have done or could not have done? Should the parents have removed Danny from that school, in order to save him? However, in reflection, Danny’s removal from school may not be the direct solution, as Danny’s permanent absence from school if he was removed, will not make the vicious cycle of bullying to end. If there is a breeding space for bullying, the perpetrators will always make use of this and this could happen to any child who does not seem to belong.

Some more questions: to what extent are youth violence and bullying have been magnified that they have been deeply embedded problems, well entrenched to claim a life of a very young child? What are the deeper systemic issues that allow children, students, parents, the school staff and the entire school system to submit, be complicit or co-opted to school violence? How can these all stop?

Like any form of violence, school violence particularly in the form of bullying has always been there. However, when would school systems and education settings admit that this is serious problem that must be stopped? Should it take a life or death as a serious event so that everyone will be shaken and finally wake up?

I know that it is not only the school system that is to blame about youth violence and bullying. Sometimes, children start to violate or abuse another because of the concepts of inequality and right to discriminate formed in their minds even when they are young. To the my of some children, the “difference means less” concept is formed knowingly and unknowingly and unfortunately, this is the start of violence against the other. Most often, in a society that fights for autonomy and independence as pillars of its moral development, the journey to self-determination is always the negation of the other. We forget about the importance of one another in a community and the equal worth of others regardless of the difference they manifest.

In cascading, we see lots of competition and treating the other as the always-already the adversary that challenges one’s self-identity. For some children, and mostly teenagers, the way to be cool is to manifest power, dominance and that you are in a privileged position. Unfortunately, this does not only happen in school settings. It happens in families, it happens in the workplace and even in intimate relationships. In the midst of violence and negation is the moment of forgetting, that the other is a person, worthy of value and respect just as you are. And unfortunately, this is what we forget when we relate competitively or violently against another. If children engaged in bullying, they forget about the other as persons and fill themselves with the horror of unsocialized becoming. Having said this, I think school violence and bullying create a rupture to any person, the one who bullies and the one being bullied or even those spectators in the system, because they allow themselves to be complicit or co-opted to a violent system. This means that the way I see it, everyone is responsible.

Would it have been different if the educational system or the social structures do not imbibe competition, autonomy and independence as paramount to support development? Would it have been different if children are thought to be more compassionate, caring and considerate of other people just as they want to be treated this way? Would it be different if we abandon this “all these things shall pass” mentality? I think so. One succumbs to the many forms of ruptures that kill humanity and to the many forms of death, be it physical, social or relational, when one allows things to pass doing nothing, or at least be encumbered with this hope. When one is silent, complicit or co-opted by a violent system, the embrace of silence may result to death. The preference for silence over responsibility is the biggest challenge of social justice, of the personal becoming political to fight for persons, fight for humanity and fight for what is just and right. The callous disregard eats up the soul and makes it silent forever, and so we cling to “all these things shall pass” mentality. However, things such as youth violence and bullying do not pass or resolve itself, and we just wake up one day, that a life has been claimed. And it is unfortunate to wake up realizing that we claimed no responsibility in whatever role we have in the situation, by using silence as a response.