On January 6, 2011, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law one of the toughest anti-bullying civil rights laws in the United States. As with most laws, the creation of the law was the easy part. The difficult part is the enforcement. Most states have anti-bullying laws (some, like New Jersey apply to cyberbullying) but the training and implementation of those laws has been sporadic at best; ineffective at worst.
There continue to be events in which kids are committing suicide or having emotional problems because they are being bullied. The old schoolyard bully who openly picks on a fellow student has gone by the wayside, primarily because such bullies have gotten smarter. Now they have resorted to anonymous (or what they believe is anonymous) cyberbullying – texting or posting on social media – to intimidate other kids.
– There is the 12 year old Rebecca Sedwick who jumped off a building to her death because of incessant text bullying by her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend and a group of girls that Rebecca thought were her friends. Thankfully the Sheriff arrested two of the girls responsible after they boldly and stupidly remarked about their involvement in the bullying and death of Rebecca. http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/10/16/rebecca-sedwick-cyber-bullying-arrests
– Joel Morales, a 12 year old boy from Harlem committed suicide after relentless bullying. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2012/05/harlem-boy-commits-suicide-after-harsh-bullying.html
– In Buffalo, NY, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide after being consistently bullied at school. http://cartersville.patch.com/groups/schools/p/bullying-in-america-reaches-home
There are so many of these incidents that this blog post could go on for pages. It is disgraceful.
But there are plenty of laws on the books supposedly to prevent this. Here is a great page (PDF file) that summarizes the various state laws on bullying: http://cyberbullying.org/Bullying-and-Cyberbullying-Laws.pdf
In my opinion, however, it is not laws that will stop bullying. It is parenting. Parents of both bullies and victims need to pay attention to their children and their activities and spot the signs of bullying. In many of these cases, the parents saw some of the signs, but chose to ignore them with the age-old response of “kids will be kids.” No! Bullying is not kids being kids. Bullying is a crime and it is hurtful.
So, parents and school personnel need to learn the signs of bullying, spot them, and do something about it. Proactive. I keep seeing commercials that tell kids to speak up about bullying. Why are we putting the onus on kids who are in the most precarious of positions in the bullying scheme? Why are we taking the pressure off of parents from being parents? Parents of victims need to protect their children and, if need be, report it to the authorities and consider removing their child from the school environment if the school will not take action.
But my strongest admonition is for the parents of bullies. YOU need to take responsibility and parent your kids. This means discipline; this means controlling your child’s actions; this means teaching your children that bad actions, such as bullying, have bad consequences. It is not an excuse to say you can’t control your children. You are the adult; you are the parent. You accepted that role the second you knew that you were going to have a child. So you must examine your own actions, because bullies often beget bullies. And, trust me, if I learn that one of my clients was bullied, I’m not just coming after the child who bullied my client – I’m coming after you, the parents too.
Let’s wake up and stop this bullying madness. Please. TODAY!
Robert C. Thurston, Esq.