Suddenly politicians are getting tough with school bullies. But can they win this schoolyard fight?
This Monday Massachusetts legislators passed an anti-bullying bill that’s arguably the toughest in the nation. Among other provisions, the bill requires principals to report to the police any incidents that might require criminal charges. And this week Mississippi passed a bill making it mandatory that all school districts put in place an anti-bullying policy.
No doubt, the proposed legislation aims to prevent another tragedy like Phoebe Prince's. In January the 15-year-old high school girl committed suicide after months of relentless harassment from schoolmates in South Hadley, Mass. Last year 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover of Springfield, Mass., hanged himself after suffering endless taunts and ostracism. In both cases, the victims’ parents said that although they repeatedly asked the administration to intervene, school staff did little to nothing to stop the bullying.
Certainly, the bills’ creators are well-intentioned. But I had to wonder, can you legislate away bullying? As long as there are children, there will be bullies. Growing up in Denver, my sister and I lived in terror about walking home from elementary school. Yet it would have been inconceivable to tell the principal that older kids were chasing us. And it would have been mortifying if my mother called one of our tormentor's parents. Back then, kids followed an unwritten code of silence and simply toughed it out.
Thankfully, times have changed. As at my 12-year-old son’s elementary, scores of schools nationwide already have a zero-tolerance bullying policy. Kids are encouraged to talk with parents and administrators when they don’t feel safe at school. All these changes are enormously positive.
And yet despite our newfound awareness about this age-old form of childhood misery, school bullying seems worse than ever. With their strict pecking order, bullies find a way — in school and now online — to make life miserable for the kids branded as outcasts.
Politicians won’t stamp out bullying. But at the very least, they are sending a stern message to the grownups who should be doing everything possible to keep our kids safe at school: Take bullying seriously, because we have our eye on you. For once, a schoolyard threat we can applaud.