GHS senior Courtney Oarr put it succinctly. "Kids are just cruel."
"Bullying can be physical, verbal or invisible," said Courtney. "It can be excluding people. It's cliques. It's where you're allowed to sit in the student center. The corner table is the popular section."
Denise Oarr (Courtney's mother) described parents as oblivious to their kids' use of social media, bullying and risky behavior and referred to a white-picket-fence-syndrome.
"Parents are in denial," said Denise. "Families just want to look perfect. The parents need to be responsible for their children."
A parent of a GHS freshman, Tori Aiello said, "I have always thought that the middle schools should have a box – like a suggestion box – in each rest room for notes about bullying or teen suicide concerns, depression, etc.," said Aiello in an email. "The administrators can check the box and look for trends and keep an eye on certain situations....if one message helps one kid at some point, then it is worth it."
Courtney Oarr said, "All the kids know exactly who is being bullied. It's usually the kid whose social skills aren't that good. There's one boy who tries to sit randomly at tables in the student center. He's a target because he's shy and socially awkward."
Social Media and Texting: Kids Don't Know How to Talk to People
In Courtney Oarr's opinion, so much communication is done through Facebook and texting that young people don't develop social skills.
"People say things on social media there's no way they would say to someone's face. And emotions don't come across, especially in a text. Social media is like a mask that allows you to say what you'd never say in person."
"We don't use the phone any more," said Courtney. "There's only texting because it's just less awkward to text than talk on the phone. The result is teenagers just don't know how to communicate. We are losing face-to-face social skills."
Cat Fish Syndrome
In the television program Cat Fish the host, who started out as a victim himself, documents the face-to-face introductions of people who believe they have found love via social media, a la Manti Te'o, only to learn the object of their affection doesn't exist. That cruel hoaxes abound goes to show how easy it is for a bully to misuse social media, and the corollary: Young people make themselves vulnerable online.
Don't Feed the Trolls, Predators and Pedophiles
It's hard to reconcile the fact that young people reveal themselves to strangers online with the lack of awareness of parents about their children's social media use and their belief that children are entitled to privacy.
The result is young people are vulnerable to bullies and even trolls – internet slang for someone who intentionally starts arguments or posts inflammatory messages. Young people are also vulnerable to predators and pedophiles.
"If a kid has 1,000 Facebook friends, do they really even know them?" asked Denise Oarr. "Frankly what's worse is parents are completely out of ouch with their kids. They don't know who their kids are 'talking' to on social media," she said using air quotes around talking.
Local child therapist, Glenn Wolff, who has a private psychotherapy practice said he had a patient a few years ago, a boy about 10 or 11 at the time, who was targeted by a predator in an online game chat room.
"The boy was texting back and forth with someone he thought was his age. It was a man and he was grooming the boy to gain his trust," said Wolff. "The parents did get wind of it and went to the police who conducted a sting operation. They traced the person and caught him as the boy was about to meet him in person."
Wolff, who has also written about cyber-bullying in his Greenwich Patch blog has some advice for parents.
"Keep the conversation going and create an environment at home so that the child feels it's okay to talk. Follow their lead and don't be intrusive or they may not want to share," said Wolff, adding, "There are parents have no clue about their child's social media use. Children are not entitled to privacy when it comes to social media." He suggests making it a condition of using Facebook to "friend" the parent.
"Talking" to Millions Right Under their Parents' Noses
In her Patch blog entitled "Am I Ugly YouTube Fad Thrives on Low Self Esteem," GHS senior, Alleyha Dannett wrote about how young people, mostly girls, posted public YouTube videos asking for feedback on their appearance. Videos of girls as young as 8 have thousands if not millions of views.
Bullying Culture in Greenwich Schools? Creating a Culture of Caring
Interviewed separately, two GHS seniors interviewed for this article –Courtney Oarr and Alleyha Dannett – both used the word optimism. Dannett said, "It's just not cool to be optimistic."
Courtney said that during her years at GHS she'd thought about starting a club, "with a goal of being optimistic, of being friendly," she said. "Then I thought you shouldn't have to make a club to tell people to be friendly."
Then Bart Palosz took his life on the first day of school.
In a matter of days, GHS senior Elias Frank created an open group on Facebook with a friendliness theme called "GHS Connections." The group already has hundreds of members.
Over the weekend, Frank posted a message indicating GHS administration sanctioned Connections' status as an official club, which will have its first meeting on Tuesday.
Frank posted this message on the GHS Connections Facebook group:"There are two purposes to creating this group. One to make an environment were everyone can feel accepted and have somebody to talk to. This will be a safe haven group were there will be no judgments and new connections and friendships will be made. The other part of this is to raise the issue of bullying in our school and the harmful effects of it. We would like to also to try to stop bullying in our school and promote a better sense of community. Please feel free to join even if you can't come to the meetings. By joining you are becoming aware that there is a problem and you are becoming part of the solution to at least try and make new connections in school be that small or little."
Check back with Greenwich Patch on Wednesday our interview with Elias Frank on the topic of the new GHS Connections Club.
Other stories by Leslie Yager on the topic of bullying:
What Kids Wish Their Parents Knew: Preventing Bullying
Greenwich High's Names Day, 12 Years Strong