In an ideal world, bullying wouldn’t be a problem, but the fact is that it is a serious problem affecting many school-aged children. The mantra of, “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me,” only goes so far. Names can and do hurt. The taunts children hear stay with them for the rest of their lives, even if no physical evidence of such damage exists.
Sure, it’s still a good phrase for the little ones who hear they have “cooties” or are “poopy-heads” on the playground, but what about instances when the name calling hits a little harder? What about the girl with short hair who gets called a dyke? Or when the boy who won’t play football starts getting labeled a fag? Surely those names hurt and can have a profound impact on the victim’s life.
Victims of bullying do suffer. Self-confidence is stripped away, grades suffer, the victims isolate themselves and never have the chance to make meaningful relationships, and some victims resort to self-harming or drugs as an escape. The media has made tragic stories of suicide as a consequence of bullying all too familiar. As severe cases of bullying are an increasing problem for today’s children, surely something more than a detention has to be done to ensure that the bullying ends and the victims don’t suffer a lifetime of pain.
So where do we start? Children need to understand the consequences of their actions. Kids need to understand that bullying is wrong in the same way they understand stealing, hitting, and lying is wrong at a very young age. The excuse of childhood innocence for bullying can only last so long. Once a child nears their teen years, they understand what they’re saying. It’s no longer a child innocently repeating an insult heard on a TV show without grasping the definition.
If the intent of the child was to hurt someone, it absolutely needs to be addressed, just as physical assault or bomb threats are addressed. When a child tells another, “go kill yourself,” shouldn’t that have some serious repercussions? Maybe there isn’t a simple answer here because verbal bullying, while always harmful, often isn’t as severe as a physical assault or serious threat, but if the offence in question did have severe consequences and the child is old enough to understand what they are doing, why shouldn’t it be a criminal offence?
It’s true that the world is a cruel place and that everyone is going to encounter mean people until their dying days, and yes, children do need to learn to cope with that. But bullying can go beyond simply being mean. Children and teenagers who create Facebook pages titled “Like this page if you think Jane Doe should kill herself” are going beyond being mean, they are being hateful and the creator was intentionally trying to cause someone pain. If we, as adults, don’t do something to penalize the creator of that page, are we not encouraging hateful behavior? And what if Jane Doe really does kill herself when she sees that page hit 75 likes? Are we not, in some way, responsible by not doing more to prevent it?
So why not send these kids to a detention center? When the verbal or cyber bullying reaches that level, it becomes obvious that neither the schools and the parents aren’t teaching these kids that there are consequences for such behavior, so maybe the legal system will.
For bullying cases that aren’t so severe, there should be more intervention at an earlier stage. Children need to be educated about bullying from a young age and punished for their actions when appropriate. It seems unlikely that the most extreme cases of bullying didn’t escalate from some previous name calling or teasing. As soon as a child starts bullying some sort of counseling should be put into place. Perhaps missing a few recesses or free-periods to take an anti-bullying class could put these kids on the right path before they ever do something that could be viewed as a criminal offence. Of course, having to label kids as criminals isn’t an ideal solution, but it should be an option when all other resources have been exhausted.