Punishing Cyber Bullying

Not too long ago, a child could find refuge at home. Despite being made fun of at school for one reason or another, or not having anyone to play with at recess, a kid could go home at the end of the day to a family who accepted and loved him. Home was a safe place free from the other children who made fun of him. The bullies in the class would have to make an extra effort to bully outside of school. They had to pick up the phone, without their own parents being aware, and dial their target’s house for a prank call, or find a way to physically travel to their target’s home to ding-dong-ditch, or play some other prank without being seen in the neighborhood.

Social media has slowly crept into younger and younger generations’ lives in the past decade. Teens joined MySpace and instant messaged with friends, which allowed them to connect with friends virtually and outside of school. While this gave the opportunity to develop friendships without having to physically be in the same room as a friend, it also opened the door to advanced bullying. When Facebook became available to the general public and not just those in university, it took off. High scholars and middle scholars created accounts and added their classmates to their friend lists. Bullies were given the ticket to anonymity and invisibility.

In the virtual world, it is often difficult to judge a person’s reaction and tone. The comment could be intended to be sarcastic, but when just reading it off the screen, could be interpreted as serious. Feelings are easily hurt and arguments take off because of minor misunderstanding. In grade-school children, it is far too easy to post about a classmate and never fully understand how the post made them feel. Reactions are made and things are typed and sent before thinking of what they typed emotionally means. Kids will say things they would never say to someone’s face because they don’t see the tears, anger, or upset facial expressions of their peers when the interaction is online.

School administrations have to decide how to address this new type of bullying. In Massachusetts, schools have given police the reigns for how bullying should be punished all together. (See: ) Criminalizing bullying makes a huge impact in the lives of children. It is far too easy, especially with kids who are still learning about human relations, to make hurtful comments online. This could go on for a long time before a parent or teacher finds out. By then, it is too late. Someone has gotten hurt or the bullying has gone too far, requiring police involvement. What used to be punishable with a week of detention or suspension from school now has legal consequences.

When we think of children convicted of crimes, we imagine a juvenile detention center full of uncontrollable young adults who are at their last resort of restraint. Do we really want to group a child, who is perhaps the victim of bullying himself, who has bullied a classmate in the same category as a child who killed another? Massachusetts says yes, make them criminals. Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt anymore by allowing school authorities to handle the situation, send them straight to the police.

While the victims of bullies are often traumatized by the taunts they face, the bully will be equally traumatized in being accused of a crime. An attorney must be hired putting financial strain on the family, court appearances require missing work and school, gossip in the school about the case will leave the child will be stigmatized. All of these are things anyone accused of a crime will go through. The difference is an adult accused of a crime has developed emotionally and is supposed to know what is acceptable to society and they are able to cope more than a child in the same situation would. So why does Massachusetts suddenly think it is ok to treat a mistake as a crime? One student committed suicide and the legislature responded, dramatically. While these students certainly did take their bulling too far, should they really be the ones responsible for the death of their classmate?

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