There is a good chance that you welcomed the passage of school “anti-bullying” laws, believing they would empower you to finally eliminate bullying from your school. There’s also a good chance you’ve discovered that bullying hasn’t been eliminated, but that you are now spending a lot of time trying to comply with the law.
You may have discovered that bullying is a much broader term than you thought. You may have grown up thinking it means a big kid shaking down a smaller kid for their lunch money, or beating them up just for fun. Today, “bullying” has loosely come to mean any behavior that can make anyone upset. This includes insults, gestures (such as eye-rolling), leaving kids out of your group, gossiping and any form of hitting or shoving, even if the action does not result in pain or injury. And the law makes it your responsibility to make sure these things don’t happen to any child. While we may struggle to get our own family members to be nice to each other, we are now supposed to make that happens in our schools. Parents are now suing schools for failing to stop alleged bullying.
Anti-bullying activists have successfully passed anti-bullying laws in all 50 states and insist that these new laws are the way to stop bullying. However, a growing community of professionals disagree.
Consider the following quotes:
School Psychologist Izzy Kalman:
“Anti-bullying laws do not make bullying magically disappear. What they really do is make schools legally responsible for making the bullying disappear.”
Suicide Researcher Dr. Eric Caine:
“Anti-bullying laws cannot stop suicides.”
NYCLU Attorney Corey Stoughton:
“[Bullying] is a serious concern that all communities must confront, but there are better and more constructive ways to address the problem than giving children criminal records. Communities across New York and the nation should take note that criminalizing First Amendment activity is unlawful and does nothing to address the causes of bullying or prevent it from taking place.”
Child Psychologist Dr. Helene Guldberg:
“The term ‘bullying’ has become so expansive that it’s become meaningless. Children must learn to deal with conflict, aggression, embarrassment, negative relationships and rejection. It is a crucial part of growing up – and legal interventions are doing kids no favors. We are cultivating a culture of victimhood.”
No matter how you feel about these laws, you are required to comply with them.
Each state has its own anti-bullying law. There are differences are in the details, but all are fairly similar. These laws define bullying as any negative behavior that is 1) repetitive, 2) intended to hurt someone else, and 3: involves an imbalance of power.
The school is required to inform all members of the school community how to recognize bullying behaviors that will not be tolerated, to educate everyone how to intervene, and to require everyone to report to the administration when they observe an act of bullying. The school staff is required to monitor all areas of the campus to make sure children aren’t mean to each other, to intervene whenever they are, and to inform parents that their child was involved in a bullying incident. The school is required to conduct thorough investigations into each complaint of bullying, to punish the guilty party, and to counsel and comfort the targeted student. The school is to report to the school district the results of their investigations and show evidence that they handled the incident according to regulations. And the parents can bring the schools to court if the school and district failed to stop the negative behaviors affecting their children.
One of the great problems with these laws is that when you try to comply with them, hostilities are likely to escalate. Each child and their parents are likely to argue that their child is innocent and the other child is guilty. This causes all parties to be angry with each other. And if you can’t make both sides happy, they become angry with you, too. You may also end up facing a lawsuit and being ridiculed in your local newspaper for failing to protect your student.
You have no choice but to follow the law or you can get in trouble. So, what should you do?
The best thing is to create an environment in which it is rarely necessary to invoke mandated procedures. The way to do that is by teaching both students and staff to be resilient and to follow the Golden Rule. They will stop getting upset by many of the behaviors that used to bother them and will learn to be nice to people even when others aren’t nice to them. Most social aggression will quickly disappear, so there will be far fewer situations which you need to investigate, punish and report. Your job becomes easier, the school social environment improves, and parents become happier.
Lastly, we suggest that you retire the words bully and victim. Bully is vague, demonizing, alarming, unnecessary and unhelpful. Rather than calling a behavior “bullying,” define it for what it is: verbal insults, social exclusion, assault and battery, theft, vandalism, etc. It will be easier to understand what happened and to know how to address it. And you will stop upsetting parents by labeling their children with the pejorative term “bully.”
Labeling a student as a victim is also unhelpful. This only serves to instill in them a victim mentality, an acquired personality trait in which they perpetually see themselves as a victim of others, severely limiting their social and emotional development.