The XX Factor

The Problem with Criminal Charges for Bullies

Ruth Marcus is smart and thoughtful today in her column about the problems with criminalizing bullying, as the district attorney has done who charged nine kids in South Hadley, Mass., after the death of Phoebe Prince. The more time I spend in South Hadley for my series for Slate , the more heartrending I find this case. The nine kids who have been charged-and especially the six whose names are public-surely acted badly. But is what they did so outside the teenage norm that they deserve to become a national symbol for cruelty? I’m not at all sure. It’s easy to understand the distress over what South Hadley High did and didn’t do to help Phoebe Prince, and also in the aftermath of her death, in terms of disciplining students (although this part, too, is, not surprisingly, a lot more complex than much of the quick and dirty coverage allows for). I wonder, though, if the DA anticipated the media frenzy she would unleash, and the way in which these teenagers-who, as Ruth points out, don’t have the best impulse control because the teenage brain is still maturing-are bearing all the brunt of a much larger frustration within and about their community.

Photograph of girls by Photodisc/Getty Images.