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.
In what appears to be a case of first impression, a New Jersey Superior Court Judge held on Friday, January 6th, 2017, that a student has a right to bring a claim under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act when she is non-discriminatorily harassed, intimidated or bullied at school by teachers and administrators.
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.
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.
October is Bullying Prevention month. Now that November is nearly upon us, perhaps we should take a look at efforts to address the problem of bullying. Shining a spotlight on the problem might be effective for a time, but when the spotlight is turned off, what is there to stop the cockroaches from coming out of their hiding places? Bullying prevention isn't an issue for October. It's an issue for children and adults all year long.
According to a 2013 study cited by GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), 55.5 percent of LGBT students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. Another 38.7 percent feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression. While bullying is a potential problem for many young people, LGBT students are frequently targeted for abuse. Today, October 15, 2015, is Spirit Day. Spirit Day was first celebrated in 2010. The purpose of Spirit Day is to show LGBT youth that we support them and to help put a stop to the bullying that they must so often face. Supporters are asked to wear purple, as purple is the color symbolizing 'spirit' on the rainbow flag.
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.
Some people consider bullying to be a problem reserved for young people. While bullying is certainly prevalent among children and young adults, it is not restricted to these groups. Bullying in the workplace is a common problem. A recent survey of workers showed that workplace bullying increases the likelihood of the victim having suicidal thoughts. In fact thoughts of suicide were twice as likely among victims of workplace bullying as among those who have not been targeted.
The experience of being bullied or of parenting a child who is being bullied is not easy. Every situation is unique, but there are things that should always be done when bullying occurs. Schools cannot ignore bullying. Neither can they afford to respond in an uneven, unpredictable or unreliable way. School boards and administrators are accountable for the action or inaction they take to prevent or address bullying behavior. Despite the necessity of an effective bullying and harassment policy, parents and victims of bullying receive a wide range of responses when they report unacceptable conduct.
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.