In his article for MSNBC, “Rules to curb online bullying raise concerns,” Alex Johnson discusses the need for laws to prevent cyberbullying and also details situations in which schools can overreact in the enforcement of those rules. The case of teenager Avery Doninger is particularly glaring. The underlying thrust of the article is the need to create exactly the right laws that will give the right result in every situation. Situations like the cyberbullying suicide case last year make good laws critical.
The real problem is not necessarily the law; it’s the hidden assumption that cyberbullying laws can ever be made “just right” for all situations – never too lax, never too harsh. That assumption overlooks history and human nature. The letter of the law can never cover all situations with “just right” justice. We always depend on human wisdom in the law’s application to specific situations. That’s just the way it is – for better or for worse.
Our society is in the stage of figuring out where we want to draw the lines about a new method, cyberbullying, that bullies and perpetrators use to harass, abuse and attack adults and children. That’s our normal trial and error process. There’s no easy answer for protecting kids online. Actually, we make laws in hopes that they’ll yield justice in, say, 95% of the cases that come up. No matter what laws we make in any area of life, there will be specific situations in which a literal or dumb interpretation leads to an under or over-reaction. That’s where we hope the individuals involved use good sense and good judgment.
In the case of Avery Doninger, the real question is: Is the law bad or did the school principal get defensive and over-react by not giving a second chance to a good and contrite student who learned an important lesson or is there more we don’t know about Avery?
We’re stuck with the fact that laws, by themselves, will never cover every situation, no matter where we draw the lines; whether it’s about cyberbullies, verbal bullies or physical bullies. I look carefully at the application of any law in a specific situation before rushing in to change the law. Often the problem is in the application, not in the law itself. That’s why we have Appeals Courts.
Separate from the general laws are the specific situations involving my kids and your kids (and adults). My job is to monitor my children:
- Do they look like they’re having a hard time and may be being attacked by a cyberbully? Are they having difficulty dealing with it? How can I help them deal with it by themselves or do I need to intervene?
- Are they witnessing cyberbullying and are they struggling to know whether or how to intervene?
- Are they creating a hard time for someone else (are they cyberbullies)? How do I stop them and help them develop the character to make amends and do better next time?
- Should they even be using MySpace or FaceBook or any social networking sites? What else would be a better use of their time and energy?
I’m going to get my answers to those questions by observing them, talking to them and, maybe, using good software like PC Pandora to monitor what they’re doing (http://blog.pcpandora.com/2009/01/29/do-new-cyberbullying-laws-go-to-far/).
Cyberbullies and cyberbullying will be with us no matter what laws we make. We hope the laws will help us deal effectively with most of them.
As I show in my books and CDs of case studies, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” bullies are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same. That’s why we can find methods to stop most of them. If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
When children and teens learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, they develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. They’ll need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies they’ll face as adults. Coaching designed for the specific situations faced by individual parents and teenagers is critical.