Anti-Bullying: The State of the Art
To slow the rising rate of physical, verbal and cyberbullying among students of all ages, educators are employing new strategies that range from anti-bullying rules posted at school to awareness campaigns and teacher trainings about both victim empowerment and bystander responsibility. Numerous other programs––films, school plays, children’s books and websites––ask bullies in a straightforward way not to be bullies, and victims to speak up. However, by their very nature, as long as they are safe within their cliques (whether they are boys or girls), many hyper-dominant children who bully other children simply do not care, and either wink at these pleas or ignore them out of hand. Combine anonymous social media, video games that extol violence and the natural tendency toward pecking orders that are part of human nature in the first place, and even ordinarily kind-hearted kids are eyeing the bullying bandwagon in ever greater numbers.
Recently, this has led to teachers and administrators who find themselves facing parents on the front lines forced to turn to the law. For instance, according to the Anti-bullying Act enacted on an emergency basis by Massachusetts on May 3, 2010, the Commonwealth directs schools to “develop procedures for immediate notification by the principal or person who holds a comparable role to the local law enforcement agency when criminal charges may be pursued against the perpetrator.”
After the Phoebe Prince tragedy, with the stroke of a governor’s pen ,young bullies became perpetrators. This is a completely understandable reaction, of course, after a long litany of national tragedies from Columbine to Matthew Shepard to 11-year old Carl Hoover’s suicide in 2009. Still, as a new class of criminals, young bullies are now subject to fines and imprisonment up to five years if convicted of stalking or making a death threat. Nowadays, if a child says to another child, “I’m gonna kill you,” the child who threatens has stepped over a new, potentially life-changing line in the sand, whether or not he or she actually intends a serious harm.
Although the drafters of the Massachusetts Act took great pains to define bullying, upon examination, the definition is unnervingly broad:
“the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim that: (i) causes physical or emotional harm to the victim or damage to the victim’s property; (ii) places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property; (iii) creates a hostile environment at school for the victim; (iv) infringes on the rights of the victim at school; or (v) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school. For the purposes of this section, bullying shall include cyber-bullying.”
At first glance the Act may seem fair in a time of increased bullying among children. However, even if such a law is necessary, superimposed as it is on the hurly burly of growing up in today’s world, it is far-reaching. “Repeated” is very important qualifier, of course. A one-time school yard tussle where a victim’s notebook (his property) falls in a puddle and the victim emerges with a black eye (harm) would not rise to the level of bullying. However, does that mean that when a second incident happens between the same two kids, according to the Act, bullying has occurred? “Repeated” remains undefined in the Act. The aggressive child can swiftly be classed as a perpetrator and made the immediate subject of legal action.
Almost every adult who has grown up anywhere in America has, at one point or another, suffered emotional harm. It can easily be argued that exclusion from a popular clique of boys or girls causes emotional harm to an excluded child. As potty-mouthed as many children are today, as they roam hallways where expletives fly back and forth (as they have done, frankly, for generations), is emotional harm done by repeated verbal insults? Yes and no. Among some groups of children, insults are part of the endearment and bonding process. Words that in one situation, if repeated, are actionable acts of bullying may well build camaraderie and team cohesion in another. What high school sports team does not use expletives routinely? What group of girls doesn’t trade four letter words on occasion? “Gay” is a term used by middle schoolers for just about anything they don’t like, unfortunate as that is.
Mentioning these gulfs of interpretability within one hastily drafted statute is not meant to criticize the intention to put an end to the sort of bullying that so devastates a young girl that she takes her own life, or the callousness that drives boys to assault strangers with the goal of recording the assault for video-sharing fun. Indeed, categorizing hardened bullies as criminals and locking them away is, in certain cases, the only solution. However, when used across the board as a tool to control children’s behavior, especially fairly well adjusted kids jockeying to find identity in groups and who may carelessly say the wrong thing to the wrong child, the criminalization process appears wide open to misuse.
Whether or not we like what they do, bullies are kids, too. And it is with them in mind, both the genuine bullies and the bystanders who follow these often-popular children down the path of repeated cruelty, that a new solution to the problem is offered here, one that addresses the psychology of the bullies themselves. It is designed not so much to reach sociopaths––theirs is either a physical brain deficit or the result of early trauma ––but rather to reach the teachable, natural leaders and the normal kids who are eyeing the bullying bandwagon. Of course, many kids in their formative years are already jaded by movies, chat rooms, video games, smart phone apps, books and lectures. What remains, you might ask? What other learning avenues can we tap?
Enter a rugged adventure myth with unexpected elements that kids imagine, rather than watch. Stir in probing questions about it that are answered aloud, face to face with other kids––bullies, victims and bystanders. Cook under peer pressure. Let simmer. Don’t test them on it and see what happens. See if conscience grows, as naturally it should.
Young Hercules: The Legendary Bully, A Program for Learning Empathy, a learning process available online, may well provide that new learning avenue.
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- Child Development Theories
- Social Cognitive Theory
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- The Homework Debate
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- Problems With Standardized Testing