There was a time when bullying was reduced to physical and verbal attacks only, kept only to the hours one was in school. After a certain age, bullies and victims alike were expected to grow up, put away the school taunts or trauma and move on into adulthood almost as if nothing had happened.
But now, thanks to the advancement of technology and internet, bullying has equally advanced. Rather than keep it at school, students can harass each other 24/7 through texting and social media.
Some say it’s necessary for students to experience bullying to some extent, that it builds character or better prepares someone for “the real world.” Yet, when reading about some of the bullying today’s children and adults face — from classic taunts about clothing, skin or weight to threats of rape, murder or ruining one’s reputation — what does it say about us that we have become so accepting that we want children to believe they should expect nothing less from the rest of their lives?
Several organizations are working to combat bullying by going beyond an annual morning assembly at a school and setting up weekly meetings for parents, making families aware of how to report instances of bullying, changing community guidelines on a website and even writing anti-bullying into law.
These are all great tactics — if we can follow through.
We need to go beyond good ideas and words to action. We are not advocating for schools or the public to destroy a child’s future because they called someone stupid online. We are also not saying a child of any age should be allowed to skate by because they have the potential to be decent later in life.
What we are saying is anyone who reports bullying or harassment should expect their case to be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. People should be made aware there are consequences for their actions. Those consequences should be appropriate to the crime and implemented.
Students need to know what they say and do online is a crime. Harassment is defined as simply as physically contacting a person with the intent to annoy or alarm them or directing obscene language or gestures at a person. Harassing communications, a separate crime, involves using any form of written or electronic communication — a phone call, text, social media comment or direct message — in a manner likely to harass or cause alarm, or addressing a person with lewd or obscene language.
As Class C misdemeanors, an adult found guilty of either crime can face up to three months in jail — the better part of a college semester and definitely enough time to get you fired from a job — and up to $500 in fines.
If the convicted works a part-time job of only 20 hours a week at minimum wage, they’re looking at almost a month’s worth of paychecks to cover those fines. Those arrested in Limestone County get their names and ages posted in the newspaper and online, and try as we might to believe otherwise, the internet doesn’t forget.
That’s a worst-case scenario, but maybe it’s time to make worst-case scenarios for bullies the focus. Stop putting it on victims to stand up for themselves or ignore it and put it on bullies to stop their destructive behaviors before they succeed in destruction. To check themselves before they wreck themselves, as the kids used to say.
Put it on the bystanders, too. The culture of “kids will be kids” and “it’s part of growing up” needs to end, especially when we have seen time and again there are kids that are choosing not to grow up at all.
Adults should step in. Even those without children have the opportunity to do something about bullying and harassment. Set the necessary examples, end it when you can and report it when you can’t.
Students, particularly those in a position of leadership or who consider themselves friends to the bully, do the same. Let’s show younger children that “the real world” is not a world in which one should feel routinely attacked or threatened and is instead a world worth sticking around to see.
Bullying is unacceptable.
Harassment is unacceptable.
We are better than this.