Cyber Bullying

A Tragic Turn

Debbie says her 15-year-old son, Jeffrey, was well-liked and a straight-A student. She wasn't aware of how tormented her child was until tragedy struck.

"When we opened the door, we saw him hanging in the doorway of the closet," she says, recalling the day of her son's suicide. She reads messages that were sent to her child by a bully. "Jeff is a faggot. He needs to die."

Before taking his life, Jeff left his loved ones a letter. Debbie reads: "I'm just writing to tell you all I won't be in school anymore. I decided to commit suicide because my life is too hard to live with."

In the wake of this tragedy, the grieving mom became an activist. She was successful in getting an anti-bullying law passed entitled Jeffrey's Law. "It says in a clear, no-nonsense way that bullying is wrong, in all of its shapes and forms, and we, as a people, are not going to tolerate it," she says proudly.

Dr. Phil offers his condolences to Debbie. "You didn't know this was happening until this was too late," he says.

"Actually, I knew from the very beginning. I was a teacher in Jeff's school. From the very beginning, he came to me and told me," she replies. "As a school, and later as a school district, we did everything within our power to change it. What we found is that the schools didn't have the authority to do what the research says works."

Dr. Phil turns to State Representative Nick Thompson, who is seated next to Debbie. "You drafted a cyber-bullying bill. This is called the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act," he says. "Tell me what this does."

"It was in the legislature for the past three years. I met Debbie after it had gone to legislature and didn't pass the first year. I made a promise that I would carry the bill, and I did for the past two years," Mr. Thompson says. "What it does is sets up a model policy in the state of Florida that's made by the Department of Education and requires each school district to make up their own policies, but those must substantially conform to the model policy. It also makes those school districts have to report all incidences of bullying. If they don't do what they're supposed to do under the law, the state will withhold their state school's funding, which in the state of Florida was over $76 million dollars last year."

Dr. Phil adds Jan Harp Domene, president of the national PTA, to the conversation. "What needs to happen to protect these children?" he asks.

"We need to come together and protect our children nationwide. Parents need to realize that they can get information and resources through their local PTAs," she replies. "What we need to do is we need to create a climate at our schools of non-tolerance, that this is not acceptable."

Dennis Shaw is the Chief Operating Officer of iSafe, a nonprofit foundation endorsed by Congress that is dedicated to protecting the online experiences of children. "What's the main focus?" Dr. Phil asks.

"I think our main focus should be on prevention. I think Jay got it right," Dennis replies. "We need to get into the schools, start early, teach the teachers how to deal with this and teach this to the kids on what responsible behavior is on this wonderful Internet that they've got, and how to deal with these situations and understand that there are enormous risks involved to their conduct, if it's bad conduct."

"Does this need to become part of the curriculum?" Dr. Phil asks Jan.

"There are a lot of school districts that have in place, wonderful programs on respecting differences and dealing with students," Jan replies. "I'm sorry to say that most of our school districts in the country don't have them."