Many people have claimed that Ms Mann accused Liam of plagiarism when he did not plagiarize at all. I wrote my latest column to answer those accusations.
Now, the discourse has been broadened, and forgive me if I quote certain passages as they are so ludicrous I want to make sure I get them right:
“Mr Madamba did not die of Plagiarism."
It is very clear from my column that I did not say he ever did. But as people were trying to pretend plagiarism never occurred, I felt it necessary to show that yes, it did occur, and it could have been a precipitating factor in the sequence of events that culminated in Liam's suicide.
However, any one who says that plagiarism does not kill is as disingenuous as the NRA that invented the slogan: "Guns don’t kill people; People kill people.”
Dr David Kyle Johnson writes on his blog, “A Logical Take”: “The first thing to notice is that the argument (that "Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”) has no stated conclusion. (No mention of) what follows…and an argument without an obvious conclusion is hardly an argument at all.”
Another comment was: “The reason regarding suicide is not about plagiarism but bullying and abuse of authority.”
This ploy is as disingenuous as the first, because while each part of the sentence is plausible, it still does not follow that Ms Mann is a bully and abused her authority. It is even possible that Ms Mann’s behavior had nothing to do with Liam’s suicide at all.
Studies of suicide show that in most cases it is due to a number of factors and mental health professionals would be extremely reluctant to attribute it to a single factor in all but the rarest of instances.
Issabella Ver’s statement which she prepared for the 2nd Senate hearing includes the following passages:
“…(Ms Mann) came in and talked to us about what we did….She then separated us into different rooms adjacent to each other, divided by a wall…By the time we were isolated, I felt the humiliation and guilt coming from the punishments...At that point, I was already feeling so down that I thought of killing myself with sleeping pills…(but this was a mere passing thought and something I would never actually do, Issabella clarified when she spoke to me last July 7). I decided to email my father to tell him about what happened. He quickly replied, saying I shouldn’t worry and we’d discuss it later on.”
Notes on suicide
Analyzing contributing factors to suicide, I cannot help asking – why did Liam not reach out to either of his parents? Issabella, who at that point was without doubt treated exactly as Liam was, although feeling humiliated and guilty, was still able to email her father to tell him what happened.
So perhaps the important question is, why did Liam not do the same thing? Why did he not reach out to his parents for comfort and solace if he was so distraught? What were the factors that led to his not texting, emailing or calling either parent? And then just saying he was tired when he got home?
Did Liam not learn how to be resilient? And if he didn’t, why should Natalie Mann and/or Simon Mann be blamed for this? Surely it is not too far fetched to hypothesize that parents contribute more to their child’s resilience, confidence and ability to deal with so-called humiliation than any teacher or school administrator?
Did Liam feel, rightly or wrongly, that if he had to tell his parents he plagiarized, it would be the end of the world? And why would he interpret it as that? Is it because “You have to be #1 or you will be such a disappointment to us” was a message he picked up from either (or both) of his parents?
Could this also be a contributing factor to his suicide? Yes, it could be, but I cannot say it was. What I can say, however, is that in my clinical experience, a teenage boy's relationship with his parents throughout his 18 years would have a much greater impact than anything Ms Mann could have done.
In William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (Paperback) (NY: Simon and Schuster Inc, 2015), he exhorts us to: “Look beneath the façade of affable confidence and seamless well-adjustment that today’s students have learned to project and you often find students' toxic levels of fear, anxiety and depression of emptiness, and aimlessness, and isolation."
“(Students are) haunted their whole lives by a fear of failure – often, in the first instance, by their parents’ fear of failure, (italics mine) the cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential.”
Madeine Lythcott-Haim PhD is the author of The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids (New York: Harper Collins, 2008)
For this book, she interviewed a staff psychologist at a large public university who shared that, based on her clinical experience, “Over-involved parenting is taking a serious toll on the psychological well-being of college students who can’t negotiate a balance between consulting with parents and independent decision-making.”
Lythcott-Haims says that “seemingly healthy but over-parented children may have trouble coping with new situations they might encounter, that they can have real difficulty knowing how to handle the disagreement, the uncertainty, the hurt feelings, or the decision-making process. This inability to cope – to sit with some discomfort, think about options, talk it through with someone, make a decision – can become a problem unto itself." She further states that “They will experience setbacks, which will feel to them like failure. Lurking beneath the problem of whatever thing needs to be handled is the student’s inability to differentiate the self from the parent.”
She adds that “Modest setbacks frequently send them into a tailspin…an academically outstanding sixteen-year old thinks about suicide when her SAT scores come back marginally lower than she had expected.”
Finally, here are two journal articles to think about:
“Black Hawk down? Establishing helicopter parenting as a distinct construct from other forms of parental control during emerging adulthood” states that “the purpose of the current study was to establish a measure of helicopter parenting that was distinct from other forms of parental control, and to examine parental and behavioral correlates of helicopter parenting….Results revealed that helicopter parenting was positively associated with parental involvement and with other positive aspects of the parent-child relationship; but negatively associated with parental autonomy granting and school engagement. Discussion focuses on the implications of helicopter parenting for healthy development during emerging adulthood.”
The abstract of the journal article, “Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being” in the Journal of Child and Family Studies (April 2014, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 548-557) states: “Parental involvement is related to many positive child outcomes, but if not developmentally appropriate, it can be associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression. Few studies have examined the effects of over-controlling parenting, or “helicopter parenting” in college students. Some studies have found that college students of over-controlling parents report feeling less satisfied with family life and have lower levels of psychological well-being.
This study examined self-determination theory as the potential underlying mechanism explaining this relationship. College students (N = 297) completed measures of helicopter parenting, autonomy supportive parenting, depression, anxiety, satisfaction with life, and basic psychological needs satisfaction. Students who reported having over-controlling parents reported significantly higher levels of depression and less satisfaction with life. Furthermore, the negative effects of helicopter parenting on college students’ well-being were largely explained by the perceived violation of students’ basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence.”
Am I accusing Trixie Madamba of helicopter parenting and thus causing Liam’s suicide? Absolutely not.
What I am saying is, in the same way it is cruel, rash and incredibly short sighted to judge Mrs Madamba’s helicopter parenting (if indeed it is helicopter parenting) as the primary cause of Liam’s suicide, it is also cruel, rash and short sighted to say Ms Mann’s bullying behavior (if, indeed it was bullying – I have very strong doubts and will write about it if enough people ask) as the sole cause of his suicide.
The final paragraphs of Ms Ver’s statement include:
“Going back to school was difficult as it was hard to see the places he frequented and the memories surge in. I tried to force myself to go back to the way things were but the school, especially the staff, knew that time was essential. They never rushed us, tried to accommodate us by calling on guidance counselors and made us all know that their support is unwavering. The problems came in as the blame game ensued, some parents immediately wanted to talk to me about what had happened in the discussion between Mrs Mann, Liam and I."
"Some rumors and false allegations came into light, which didn’t help with the mourning. Realizing the fact that he really is gone is still difficult, but once people got to its early stages, most of the time you try to ask why? Why did he do it? Liam had a lot of thoughts or problems that he seemed to keep to himself, he barely confided. I remember that one time, out of nowhere, he asked me (probably rhetorically): why are things the way they are? He then followed on with how difficult things are, when you don’t yearn for the things you want because the things you need will come but still, what you need are still not there. I was dumbfounded during that moment and could barely reply with a shaky: “wait it out” – I couldn’t even tell him I understood what he meant. A lot of factors contributed to his tragic end.”
If a high school graduate like Issabella Ver knows that “A lot of factors contributed to his tragic end,” I do not know why other people cannot also accept that suicide is complex and explanations that point to only one factor as the only cause are simplistic and untrue...unless of course they have an axe to grind, a cause to promote or an interest to obscure the truth. – Rappler.com