Verbal Bullying and What the UK Royal Prank Call Teaches Us About It

By Greg Howard – December 10, 2012

Photo of teenage girl being verbally bullied by classmates.

The CyberBully Hotline Resource Center gives school administrators tools to prevent bullying. Click the image to visit the Resource Center.

“You just couldn’t foresee something like that happening from a prank call.”

“You know, it was never meant to go that far; it was meant to be a silly little prank that so many people have done before. This wasn’t meant to happen.”

“If we had any idea that something like this could…happen, you know…we couldn’t see this happening. It was meant to be a prank call.”

Those quotes come from one of the Australian radio show deejays behind the now famous UK royal prank call.  In the call, the deejays impersonated the King and Queen of England and requested information on the hospitalized Duchess of Cambridge; the unwitting nurse actually provided information and was subsequently held up for public scorn in the media.  Days after, the nurse apparently committed suicide, and criticism of the deejays’ actions quickly followed. In a recent interview with Australia’s “Today Tonight,” which is where the above quotes were taken from, the deejays candidly expressed how sorry they were about what happened.

You wouldn’t call the deejays’ actions verbal bullying; the deejays made the prank call with the expectation that they would be hung up on and embarrassed themselves. However, this story gives us an opportunity to think about verbal bullying because of how it dramatically illustrates the consequences of one’s actions. Incidents like this may help our young people see that verbal bullying, whether excessive or casual, can destroy a person’s life.

There are three things that should be noted about the interview with the deejays.

First, notice how they express their shock at what happened. Over and over, they essentially say, “We couldn’t have predicted this.” The fact that they “couldn’t foresee” the consequences underlines how important it is to be careful with words and actions. Young people need to know that all forms of verbal bullying, including teasing, insults, and the like are always inappropriate. They should also know that failing to report bullying behavior by others may contribute to the problem.

Second, notice the second quote listed above: the deejay says, “…it was a silly little prank that so many people have done before.” This is a good reminder to adults that young people with limited life experience need help in assessing the consequences of their actions. An undeveloped mind may think that a casual prank or a joke at someone else’s expense is harmless, especially if it is one that has been done before. After all, most of the time, a person isn’t going to literally die of embarrassment after a prank. But the inability to predict how words will influence others, and the possibility that they can drive a person to emotional or physical harm, should make young people think twice about teasing or unkind words.

Finally, note that the two deejays are young people themselves—one is 25 years old, and the other is 30. You could argue that they should be old enough to understand the consequences of their actions, but they obviously didn’t have the life and career experience necessary to understand the risks. If the deejays didn’t have the life experience necessary, can we really expect mature thinking from our tweens and teens? School administrators should ponder that question as they look to educate their students on the consequences of bullying.

Bullying prevention resources are available in the CyberBully Hotline Resource Center.

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