When Parents Teach Bullying

It's time for parents to take responsibility for their children

Photograph by ABC

Rebecca Sedwick was 12 years old when she decided she couldn’t take it anymore. The cruel words. The cyber-taunts. The intimidation. The physical altercations. Last month, according to police, she changed the name on her cell phone to “That Dead Girl,” climbed a concrete tower, and leaped to her death.

It’s too late now to help Rebecca. But there still may be time to save one of her alleged bullies, and that girl’s siblings.

RELATED: Bullying Parents: You're To Blame

Authorities in Polk County, Florida last week arrested 30-year-old Vivian Vosburg—the stepmother of Rebecca’s alleged tormenter—on two counts of child abuse with bodily harm and four counts of child neglect. The Central Florida sheriff’s office took Vosburg into custody after viewing a Facebook video showing Vosburg pummeling a young boy in her care with her fists, while teenage girls looked on and laughed, said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. Both the girls and Vosburg yelled expletives and another boy lay on the ground, apparently inert, Judd said.

"They were all laughing, cussing and throwing F-bombs everywhere," Judd said, "which clearly indicates to us that this is a normal way of life."

It should not be news that children learn what their parents teach them. Good manners, proper study habits, how to share toys, how to set a dinner table, the difference between right and wrong: these are all lessons that begin at home. But what if a parent teaches bullying?

It is time we remember that everyone’s a child here

Bullies often come from families where there is conflict, according to a 2010 study. If that holds true in the case of Rebecca’s alleged bully, then what we see here is a double tragedy: one young life ended by suicide, and another at the very least radically altered by arrest and imprisonment.

It is not enough, then, to care for potential or actual victims of bullying, and punish those who mete out the psychological and physical torture. It is time we remember that everyone’s a child here, and that the best way to prevent escalation may be to find out why the bully feels so angry in the first place. It may have nothing to do with the victim, after all.

Vosburg’s stepdaughter is 14 years old and one of two girls (the other is 12) charged earlier last week with felony aggravated stalking. Their arrest came out of the 14-year-old’s own Facebook comment, Judd said. At a news conference last week, Judd repeated the post from memory: “’Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don’t give a …’ and you can add the last word in yourself.”

RELATED: I Was Bullied as a Teenager

How could someone learn she is linked to a suicide, and not care? Maybe no one taught her how to care. Maybe, in fact, someone taught her the opposite.

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