When Bullying Becomes Criminal

barsI have to admit that I struggle with using the words bully, bullying, and bullied.  These words have become loaded with meaning.  While there are definitions out there in the education, parenting, and “bullying” realms, for the most part any unwanted behavior toward someone by another is now bullying.  If you have been reading my week long series of bullying posts, you will have come to realize that I think this concept is riddled with issues and that I think a more positive way to approach it is possible through the developmental assets from the Search Institute’s research, curriculum development, and programming.

I also realize that some readers may think that I take the concept of bullying too lightly.  Although I do think that we have blown up the definition and made this too big of a deal, I also think that sometimes we take the actions of young people too lightly and do not hold them accountable – at all or not enough – for their actions.

When I worked at Wolf Creek Online High School, a student transferred to us from her “in person” high school because some girls were “picking on her.”  They had discovered somehow that she was terrified of snakes.  A few days after this discovery, they placed snakes in her locker.  When she opened her locker and saw the snakes (notice – plural snakes!), she lost it.

This is not picking on someone. This is not bullying. This is not a prank. This is criminal.

In my opinion, charges of some kind should have been filed with the police.  Students in Minnesota can only be expelled from school for very specific reasons.  One of those reasons is for bringing a weapon to school.  The way I see it, a snake in the locker of another student who is terrified of snakes is a weapon.  If criminal charges are not filed, then an expulsion should be in order.  If not an expulsion, then a suspension.  If not a suspension, something should be done.

Nothing, absolutely nothing ,was done.  The student was seen as overreacting, dramatic, and trying to make trouble.  Her mother was told that she was meddling in school business by demanding that the school do something to punish these very mean, criminal girls.  The family’s only recourse – at least as they saw it – was for their daughter to leave the school, and then we met her at our online school.

 

One of my readers commented on Monday’s blog post with the following brief story: Growing up there were 2 boys that used to knock us younger kids off our bikes and then lock us up in a shed pretending they were guards of a prison. It was so scary.

I think that scary may be an understatement. I would say that it was criminal – kidnapping, false imprisonment, and possibly assault.

 

I recently spoke to a social worker in one of our Minnesota counties who told me that cyber-bullying is the current cause of 50% of his truancy cases.  Students who find pictures of themselves on Facebook that have been altered with Photoshop to have them appear to be in compromising situations have become very upset – some to the point of severe depression.  I would be upset too, and I am an adult.  I can really only imagine what I would have felt like when I was 13 years old had that happened to me.  I really do not blame them for wanting to stay out of school – especially when nothing is done.

In my opinion, this is also criminal.  What makes me the most upset about these situations is that nearly nothing is done about it. Even though we have the technology to detect what is real or what has been altered, most police departments would not give parents the time of day if they requested help with this. This should be on someone’s legislative platform!  Imagine the number of mothers and formerly bullied young people would vote for a candidate who said that one of his top five main concerns was cyber-bullying legislation!

I want parents held responsible as well as students for action related to internet and cell phones when bullying occurs.  Parents own the internet plans and the cell phone plans; no one under 18 years of age can enter into these kind of contracts (except for pay-as-you-go phones, but most of those do not have the technology required to be involved in cyber-bullying), so the parents are the ones responsible for the activity on the internet and the cell phones.  I think that parents would suddenly be a bit more aware of their children’s internet and cell phone use if they knew that they could be held criminally responsible for their children’s actions on the cell phones or home internet networks.  Products like NetNanny would suddenly be in such high demand!

I realize that this has been a long week in the world of my blog.  I knew when I decided to do a series on bullying that this would be a hard series.  In one of the comments on Sunday post, some readers thought I was a bit wishy-washy or almost poo-pooing the concept of bullying.  I hope that this post has alleviated those thoughts. 

It is not that I do not believe that it happens or that I want to minimize it. 

What I want to do is make sure that we know what bullying is and deal with those situations that are true bullying rather than making every wrongly taken remark a bullying situation.  In addition, I want to see anti-bullying education focus less on teaching kids about the concept of bullying and more on helping all students to build the assets that will help them in every situation – bullying included – in their lives today as well as in their futures.

Like every issue known to humanity, short-term solutions are not the most effective ways to deal with bullying.  Long-term solutions that are good for all children should be our focus.

Thank you for reading this week; it has been truly great to hear from readers!   I think that tomorrow’s post will be something light and almost boring…unless something really sets me off between now and when the fingers hit the keyboard.

Happy Friday!

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