An article in the NY Times today titled “Bullying Law Puts New Jersey Schools on the Spot” tells of a new law under which “lunch line bullies…can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.”
This development is the result of fallout from a severe case of bullying which resulted in the suicide of a student at Rutgers University. Of course bullying is unpleasant at best and despicable at worst; and in the Rutgers case it may well have been a criminal act. But if we think the best way to deal with a behavioral problem is by passing more legislation, we are sorely mistaken. Are we going to treat a kid who routinely plays ‘keep away’ with a smaller kids’ glasses the same way we treat someone who videotapes their roommate without the roommate’s knowledge and then streams the intimate results on the web? Why do we believe that the only way to stop a bad behavior is by threatening incarceration – even to 6 year olds?
In the case of this particular ill-advised legislation, the onus is on the schools. If they fall short in policing bullying, educators could lose their license.
But what about bullying outside of school? Could this law cause parents to be held accountable and sent to jail if their underage child bullies someone? What if a child goes home, says they were bullied when really they just got into an argument, resulting in a lawsuit against the ‘offending’ child’s parents? What about parents who lose their cool at little league games and harangue a coach? Could they now be brought up on charges?
I don’t know why kids become bullies. I suspect it may be a defense mechanism of some sort; the result of being the victim of bullying by someone in their family. I do know that simply passing a law against it is not the answer. Legislation like this is the equivalent to always treating the symptoms of an illness and never the cause. It is costly, cumbersome and in the end, unsuccessful.
At some point we need to realize that not every problem can be solved by throwing legislation at it.