Bullying is an age-old problem. Anytime you gather a group of young people together, there is bound to be some level of abuse. Children are not known for demonstrating an overabundance of empathy, though it's not clear that adults do much better. But the bullying of the past may be a mere shade of what kids face today. Social media and the Internet have given rise to countless new opportunities for people to spew hatred without having to do anything more than pick up their phones. Cyberbullying laws are still developing, and many victims are unsure what, if any, protection is available to them.
Reports of bullying in schools, particularly race-based bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students, are widespread in the wake of the recent Presidential election. While there is merit to discussing why these incidents are occurring, it is important not to lose focus on how to protect the victims and put a stop to the behavior.
With age comes wisdom. That's the theory, anyway. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of adults who seem to have avoided the maturation process. Bullying is often considered a problem among school-aged children. It is also a problem in countless workplaces, as adults who should have progressed beyond the juvenile behavior continue to harass, humiliate and accost the people around them. The law is evolving quickly to protect students from bullying behavior, but the progress has not been the same for adult victims. There may be options, however, to ensure that you are not bullied in the workplace.
For decades, school bullying was largely ignored. The issue was often considered just part of growing up. Even in situations where the bullying was obvious and easily identified, the penalties were often nonexistent. Kids were left to fend for themselves. Just recently, the nation seems to have turned a corner. The issue of bullying has drawn more attention in the past few years than it has for decades. Unfortunately, just as efforts to combat bullying have grown, the tools of bullying have diversified and grown more difficult to control. While parents were often the last to know of bullying either by or against their children, a relatively new cell phone app is making it even harder for parents to keep up.
Laws specifically targeting bullying behavior are a relatively recent phenomenon. Bullying was long tolerated, if not accepted, as a part of growing up. Fortunately, our society finally began to appreciate just how harmful bullying can be and took action. Anti-bullying legislation of one form or another has now been passed in all 50 states. The laws vary significantly in how they address the problem. Recent research suggests that the most effective approaches to anti-bullying legislation have had the intended effect. The research may help states with less effective laws make necessary changes to protect the victims of bullying.
Movies and media reports tend to favor dramatic events over real problems. Everything must be depicted at the extreme ends of possibility (usually far beyond) to keep the audience's attention. It's not enough for the movies that global warming will cause draughts and heat waves, leaving millions struggling for access to adequate clean water. Global warming needs to be a dramatic, instantaneous world-killer. When it comes to cyberbullying, it is not enough that teenagers suffer depression, see their grades suffer, turn to drugs or alcohol, and experience long-term mental health issues when they are made victims of online bullying. Depictions of cyberbullying must result in suicide or murder to gain the public's attention.
The U.S. Department of Education released the results of a 2013 survey on bullying. The results represent an improvement from 2011, but show that bullying is still a significant problem. In 2013, 22 percent of students aged 12-18 reported that they were bullied. In 2011, the number was 28 percent. The survey is conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics and has been taken periodically since 2005. The percentage reporting bullying in 2013 was the lowest yet recorded
Sad news recently came out of Folsom, California, where it has been reported that a 12 year old boy name Ronin Shimizu committed suicide. While any such news would be upsetting, Ronin's fact pattern is one that we are all too familiar with as we regularly litigate school bullying cases. Apparently, Ronin's greatest crime was that he wanted to be and loved performing as a cheerleader for his middle school. As the only male cheerleader on the team, Ronin was relentlessly teased, bullied and harassed. Other students called him "gay" and hurled other slurs in his direction. Harassment at the school became so overwhelming that Ronin withdrew and went on homebound instruction prior to his suicide.
Cyber-bullying has continued to grow as social media takes on a greater role in many people's day to day lives. Freed from even the tenuous accountability of bullying a person to his or her face, cyber-bullies have become a massive problem for children and in some cases for adults, too. A school or workplace can become a nightmare when bullies have access and seemingly a free rein to spew vile abuse and hatred online. Unsurprisingly, the victims of cyber-bullying are all too frequently members of the groups that have been targeted in America for generations: females, members of ethnic and racial minorities, LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.