Government Involvement in School Bullying

Dean Astrarita and Meredith Robbins, Journalism Staff Writers

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On paper, anti-bullying laws seem like a beneficial and effective way to lower bullying rates within schools. Though not federally mandated yet, the vast majority of states in the United States have put in place anti-bullying laws to accomplish those goals. However, these laws aren’t exactly what they’ve been meant to be. Anti-bullying laws give schools power they shouldn’t have by setting vague and ambiguous standards for bullying itself, and shelter kids from reality.
The definition of bullying itself provided by StopBullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, does not provide clear standards for what is considered bullying. It states that bullying involves a “real or perceived imbalance of power”. The term “real or perceived” creates a question of what exactly a perceived imbalance of power is. It also says that bullying is repeated, or has “the potential to be repeated.”. This description only adds to the ambiguity of the definition itself.
The problem with phrases like these is that they could have a multitude of different meanings, depending on the person who is analyzing them. Who decides that certain behavior has the potential or ability to be repeated? What can be considered a one-time offense rather than something that could potentially be repeated? This also begs the question of whether or not an occurrence is considered bullying even if it only happens once. Could this lack of distinctness cause false reports of bullying, simply because a child misperceived a situation they were in?
One other problem with anti-bullying laws includes the power they give to schools. They require schools to try to control a part of a student’s life that simply can only be controlled by those who are close to the student themselves.
And this closeness can sometimes only be present in familial relationships, specifically parental relationships. Children who are bullies have been shown to come from homes that use physical punishment, meaning the problem with bullying often lies within the child’s home. Therefore, the matter should be taken up with the student’s parents or guardians rather than school personnel.
The last problem with anti-bullying laws is the censorship they promote. With these laws in place, due to how unclear they are, a one-time instance of something like name calling could be considered bullying, and falsely name a child as a bully when they are not. Clearly, actual accounts of bullying can be detrimental, especially for the victim, as research has shown. But a single instance of teasing or name calling cannot do significant harm. Almost everybody has had to deal with being referred to as an unflattering or undesired name at one point in their lives, but not experienced it habitually. And from that one instance of teasing, somebody can learn how to deal with not being liked by everyone around them, or how to move on from someone showing signs of dislike towards. This is an important lesson to learn— it can help a child build a ‘thick skin’ and help them understand that being liked by others isn’t what is important; that someone not liking you is not the end of the world.
Learning how to deal with unwanted comments when young could be helpful for a child when they grow up. BullyingStatistics.org explains that adult bullying does indeed take place, and even includes how the five different types of adult bullies operate. It also reports that the best method of dealing with adult bullies in workplaces is “ignore and try to avoid” after a supervisor is notified of the behavior. If a student does not learn how to move on from non-habitual teasing as a child, they will not know how to handle those situations as adults.
In the ‘real’ world, conflict is inevitable. Constructive criticism is a necessity in improving job performance, or in learning how to better oneself in a situation that may arise in adult life. It is natural to be prideful in your own work, but commentary can help just as much as it can hurt. If children grow up thinking that anything they say could be thought of as only meaning to hurt someone else’s feelings, they will learn to not speak their minds. It can be hard for kids to learn how to criticize respectfully, but it is better for them to learn than to not at all express their opinions due to fear of coming off as rude. Conflict and criticism go hand in hand in a world where kids should not be afraid to speak their minds or be afraid of what people might say because they haven’t learned how to handle any sort of potentially negative comment.
Bullying—while not ideal—is a necessary evil that prepares students for the reality. Schools are being forced to follow overbearing oversight with new anti-bullying and Harassment, Intimidation, Bullying legislation. This pivots schools’ focus away from educating their students and toward policing and reprimanding their students. But we can fight this. Action is a prerequisite to change. You can raise your voice and email, call, or write to your congressman, senator, governor, president. Anti-bullying legislation has been increasingly created and increasingly enforced for years, and it’s finally time to be put to a stop. Concerned citizens need to fight to take back the American classroom for the sake of our schools, for the sake of our teachers, for the sake of our children.

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