Childrearing

Will New Jersey’s Aggressive New Law Take Care Of Bullying?

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My brother and my sister and I were all victims of bullies. I probably had it the least bad and my brother definitely had it the worst. For one thing, male bullying tends to be highly physical. For another, he’d skipped a grade in school and had a very late birthday, was still smarter than everyone, and — while athletic — much smaller in size. He was picked on by a group of tyrants and the administrators did nothing. My mom and dad were livid and had gone to the school to no avail. My mother is a public school teacher in the same district and even that didn’t matter. So my dad counseled my brother, in light of the administration doing nothing, to fight back.

I don’t know if it’s that the gang didn’t expect this normally quite peaceful young man to fight their attacks or what, but he surprised the daylights out of them. You won’t be surprised which student was suspended: my brother. You can imagine how much more upset my parents were.

The only upside to the whole thing, I guess, was that my brother got the nickname Rocky and became one of the more respected guys in school. He also learned a lot about navigating social relationships and the like.

I’ve always found female bullying to be more confusing and complex and insidious, though. I never quite figured out how to navigate female relationships of the junior high school variety (not that I’m complaining, actually) and am so thankful that my many awesome female friends are, well, nice.

Either way, I worry about bullying for my children and I’m already thinking both about how to ensure they’re not bullies and how to help them if they’re bullied.

Even if bullying is as old as dirt, the issue has gotten a ton of attention in recent years after some tragic deaths and incidents that shocked the public.

New Jersey has responded by cracking down in an unbelievably strict manner. Here’s what the New York Times reports:

Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.

In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.

But while many parents and educators welcome the efforts to curb bullying both on campus and online, some superintendents and school board members across New Jersey say the new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, reaches much too far, and complain that they have been given no additional resources to meet its mandates.

The law is considered the toughest in the nation and requires all public schools to adopt 18 pages of required components in their antibullying policies.

School administrators are confused as to how they’d even implement such guidelines. Others worry that said inability to implement the law will lead to lawsuits.

I have my own questions. For one, did anybody think of any possible problems with this anonymous reporting of bullying? I mean, I can’t even imagine how much that lends itself to exploitation. I mean, if I were a bully, the first thing I’d do is call in a complaint on my victim. Nevermind just the normal pranks that kids engage in.

And how is bullying defined? Like, really. How broadly defined is it? Is it physical? Is it gossip? Is it hurting someone’s feelings? I can’t believe the story didn’t explain how, precisely, it’s defined.

And most of all, I wonder if this is the best way to handle the scourge of bullying? I suspect that even with 18 pages of requirements, bullying policies will fail to address the underlying problems. What are those problems? I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect that parental rudeness or unrest in the home is a major key. That can’t be fixed by a school policy. And I also worry that school administrators will want to cover their asses more than actually monitor and resolve problems.

I’ve spoken with many victims of bullying and one of the things that infuriated them the most was the way the administrators, faculty and teachers either ignored or condoned the bullying.

Anyway, do you have any thoughts on good ways to address bullying? Even if you haven’t been bullied, many people can tell you that it is a very serious problem that has never been handled well. How do you tell your kids how to handle bullying? And what do you do to raise children who don’t bully?