Imagine this scenario: Your 14-year-old daughter is being bullied on Facebook. She posts a photo of herself and is taunted by one of her classmates, who starts saying cruel, foul things about her—things like, “You’re a fat f****** whale who doesn’t even deserve to live because you’re so nasty” and “I wouldn’t even rape you.” You go to school officials to report the bullying but don’t get much help. Next you go to the police, and this time you don’t get any help. Your child is distraught and talks about hurting herself. Then the two of you run into the bully in public. What would you do?
This is the story that 46-year-old Debbie Piscitella told recently when interviewed on Good Morning America, after her arrest for trying to choke her daughter’s bully at the St. Petersburg Mall. “I said, ‘Stop saying things about my daughter on Facebook,' and I did use some expletives, and I was told that he wasn't going to stop and he didn't have to stop. So I lost it. I really, really did.”
Piscitella went on to say that she snapped and that parents should go through the proper channels when their child is being bullied—although she says she did in fact do that, to no avail. “They have all these anti-bully laws but, when it comes down to it, it falls on deaf ears,” she said.
“What really, really did it was when she [McKenna] was so upset about it. She wanted to hurt herself. That, to me, as a parent, seeing my daughter like that really angered me.” Piscitella was arrested on child abuse charges after the boy’s mother saw red marks on his neck and decided to press charges.
What would Piscitella advise other parents to do? “I want you to monitor your children and what your children are doing on Facebook…. as a parent, I would shut it down immediately [if cyberbullying is occurring].”
I am not condoning what this mother did—assaulting a child is obviously not the best way to handle the situation, as Piscitella said herself. But do I understand the anger, frustration, heart ache and fury she felt, especially when the bully thumbed his nose at her? You bet I do. While there are bullying laws in place, they don’t seem to be acted upon by law enforcement very often. And what would the answer be here? Do you think the bully should have gone to a juvenile detention center, been made to serve community service, or been expelled from school? (I would not rule out any of those options, depending upon the bullying that was done.)
While I don’t agree with what Piscitella did, I do understand her motives, if everything she says here is true. What I do believe is that we need to find a way to make kids who bully accountable for their actions across the board with consistent policies in schools and in our communities. I also believe that, at the same time, we need to change the climate of our schools, the bullying prevention expert Peggy Moss said in her recent blog post on Empowering Parents, Bullying: We’re Talking about the Problem, But Is It Going Away? “As we try to stomp out bullying case by case, we’re missing the big picture: the breeding grounds. Hunting bullies one by one after an incident occurs isn't a feasible solution. We need to direct our attention to the climate of our schools, and give educators and students the tools they need to turn schools into safe places for learning.
Elisabeth Wilkins is the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of one son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.