Is it illegal to punch someone in the face? Is stalking illegal? What about extreme cases of harassment? The problem isn’t really whether or not bullies exhibit criminal behavior. The issue, instead, is whether or not children have a capacity to understand the consequences of their actions. Some might say no. Kids are kids, how could they possibly possess enough foresight to know that what they do or say to another kid has serious repercussions?
Don’t they? Can you honestly say that a thirteen year old who enters a store and steals a pack of gum doesn’t know that he or she is, in fact, breaking the law? Let’s be real here. If we are going to debate bullying as a criminal offense, the question should not be is it or isn’t it. The questions should be more concerned with what age a bully could be tried and sent to juvenile criminal facilities, the intent of the bully, and how severe the results of said bullying were.
We have a moral responsibility as adults in a new age of social media to lay these rules out in as clear a fashion as possible. Kids might be mean, as a rule, but they are far from incapable of knowing the difference between right and wrong. Sure, the parents hold an enormous amount of sway over how a child grows up and how they view the world. Yes, it’s true that this influence could be the sole causes of so many bullying cases in America. Does that mean you give the kid a pass and a pat on the back? No! You cannot teach a bully to not be a bully be allowing him or her to lay the blame at the feet of another. You cannot rehabilitate a criminal by showing them that their actions have little social and legal consequences.
Send them to juvenile hall. Let them see, first hand, what their future holds should they continue down such destructive paths. Better yet, enroll them in in an under-age boot camp and let some drill sergeants scream at them for months. Let them learn the value of discipline. If they did not know about consequences before, they most assuredly would after landing themselves in legal trouble.
Only do these things in the more extreme or repetitive cases. An extreme bully landing himself in hot water legally would serve as an example to those would-be hard cases. A repetitive bully, who has been counseled time and again to no avail, should also be arrested. Obviously, if he or she is not learning by way of attempts at behavior modification without legal recourse then the only other real option is to let that person see for his or herself what happens when you break the law.
Do not take this the wrong way, there needs to be some sort of responsibility shared by the parents in these cases. Perhaps in the cases of less extreme bullying, like minor name-calling to a shove into the lockers, an agency like CPS could get involved to determine how healthy the kid’s home environment is and taking action accordingly.
It may not be as clear cut as “Yes” or “No” all the time, but generally speaking bullying needs to be more than just discouraged. It needs to have specific definitions and consequences. Kids know when they are doing something bad. They know to fear the presence of a police officer when they are throwing rocks at a dilapidated or abandoned house. They know to fear getting caught swiping that pack of gum from the convenience store. I would even go so far as to say they know to fear their parents should they get so much as a bad grade. If they don’t, I fail to see how coddling them further would help reform their positions and attitudes.