Monday, January 18, 2010

Mental Health Mondays- The Power of Words Pt 2

The Power of Words Part 2: Jeff's Law

Hey Athenites,

My apologies for the late post. I saw a documentary on TV a couple of weeks ago and have only been able to dig up its name a few moments ago.

The show is called This Emotional Life. It is a documentary that traces different emotions accompanying aspects of being human. I saw the first episode, Family, Friends & Lovers. In this program, the filmmakers followed a couple, a group of friends, or a family facing adversity. Whether it was navigating a marriage in rough times, or learning how to support a son who has Autism, the documentary provided fascinating insight into the intricacies of the mind and human relationships. I would highly recommend it.

One story in particular struck a chord with me. It was a story about a boy named Jeff, who committed suicide as a freshman in Florida, after he had been bullied for two years. It was unclear as to why Jeff may have been singled out by his bully- the reflections his friends provided painted Jeff as a fun person, the life of the party, who made High School more bearable.

Both Debbie (Jeff's mother) and his friends said that Jeff never returned his bully's violence.
Jeff's mother brought the case of her son's suicide to the courts and got a law passed called Jeffrey Johnston's Law that gives schools more power to intervene in bullying.

Something that really struck me was Debbie saying that one step of intervention taken was to sit Jeff down with his bully, something she likened to "having a rapist sit down with his victim to justify why she deserved it." I can't even imagine having to do this.

"Kids can be so mean."

It's true. I've been a bully, half-unconsciously, half-knowingly, when I was younger. A strange sense of power came along with that. I've been bullied. Results: a sense of sinking, hopelessness, helplessness.

Jeff's bully spread rumours about him, and hacked into an internet game he had been working on for months to replace its content with hurtful words.

I'm not sure which comes first, but from what I've seen hatred breeds hatred, and I admire Jeff for not attempting to retaliate against his bully. Some people may see this as weakness, but I would argue that Jeff displayed a remarkable amount of strength. Much respect to Jeffrey and Debbie for sharing their story.


Debbie's Story

This Emotional Life Website

Hotline for Youth


  1. This is a tragic thing to happen to any family and it is something that happens far too much in my country of New Zealand and needs to be addressed but I do disagree with you on one point in your post, the part about sitting down with the bully. If this is done probably, under the guise of restorative justice, it can be a powerful tool in stopping bullying and rebuilding relationships and most importantly repairing the harm done. This system is becoming more and more common in secondary schools in New Zealand. I have seen it work and been involved in running restorative justice conferences as a secondary school teacher. Check out this link to show you what I mean.

  2. Thanks for your comment Crumble, I'll check out that link. I'm sure that there's something to be said for sitting down with bullies. I'm a staunch believer in "working through things," but I just can't imagine being 14 and sitting down with someone who is trying as hard as they can to make my life horrible.