Just like Sexual Assault, Bullying should be Illegal

Bullying can lead to severe negative consequencesResearch shows that the majority of the Dutch want bullying to be punishable; that is, they want bullying to be illegal, so that bullies risk prosecution. And that seems reasonable – to a certain extent at least. Bullying is after all terrible. Besides the fact that those who are bullied experience a terrible time, the consequences of bullying can continue until many years after the bullying took place. Amanda Todd‘s case shows what bullying might cause people to do. But also the documentary ‘Bully‘, which follows a boy who – while causing harm to absolutely no-one – gets bullied, shows the evil world of bullying.

But in case you want to make bullying illegal, you should answer a couple of difficult questions. For instance: where is the boundary between bullying and teasing? If I would say that someone’s backpack is ‘super gay’, would I then be bullying? And if so, who decides that? The person who gets bullied, or someone else? The person who gets bullied is likely to say that he experiences my remark as an act of bullying. Hence, if we would listen to him, I would be a bully. But I could say that I don’t find it an act of bullying; it was merely teasing. And certainly, if we would listen to my plea, I am not a bully anymore. In other words: who decides whether or not something is bullying? This question requires an answer, for otherwise we would get stuck in useless yes-no-discussions.

After settling on this question, we encounter a next problem. For while some cases of bullying are obvious, others are not. For instance: what if the person who gets ‘bullied’ is just extremely annoying? If I look at my time at high school, then – I believe – I have not bullied anyone. But there was a guy who everyone disliked. Why? Not because we wanted to bully him. Just because he was always unkind to everyone else. And well, if someone is unkind to anyone, then anyone is unkind to that person. And then suddenly it seems like he gets bullied.

But even though it might be difficult to decide what is bullying and what is not, I still believe we should make bullying punishable. For if you look at the consequences of bullying, then you’ll see that these are, sometimes, just as severe as for instance the consequences of sexual assault: victims get insecure, lose all faith in the other people, and get isolated. Sexual assault is illegal, so why not bullying? We managed quite well to decide what is sexual assault, and what is not. It might not always have been very clear, but we managed to do so. And that’s ten times better than just leaving the perpetrators unpunished, right?

So it is possible. Therefore it might be worthwhile to make the effort to make bullying legal; even though it might not be easy.

But what do you think?

Read Teaching Anti-Bully Classes at School for another view on attacking bullying.

Teaching Anti-Bully Classes at School

How to prevent bullying?

How to prevent bullying?

Bullying: an ever repeating and all destructing phenomenon. Every year, millions and millions of lives are irreversible damaged. And it is not like bullying is just a temporary problem; a problem that will resolve itself as time goes by. It is structural, in the sense that it seems to be deeply ingrained in human nature. So the question is: what can – and what should – we do about it? Should parents teach their children about the negative consequences of bullying? And what about schools; should they too make a (more profound) effort to stop bullying?

But before we start, let me ask you something. When you look back at your time at school, what are the first memories that come to mind? Is it the Latin vocabulary you were forced to remember in the first year of high school? Is it the utterly useless, but sometimes amusing, gym classes you had to take? Is it the list of historical facts that you had to recall? I can only speak for myself, but I would respond with a firm ‘No’ to each of these questions.

Looking back at my years in school, I can only remember the social bonding we, the children, had. I remember us kids playing together, trading collector-cards and chasing girls. Those are the experiences that – I believe – anyone is likely to remember about his childhood. Those are the experiences that have made you into the person you are today. It is because of these experiences that you have learned that it is not okay to steal someone’s football, and that it is no fun to kick your little brother. It is because of these experiences that you came to know that you were accepted by society. These are the experiences that proved to be truly important later on in your life.

But what if you would not have learned these lessons? What if you would not have learned what it is like to play with friends, trade cards, play hide and seek, or be in any other way involved in the social interactions that are of such great importance in the formation of any child’s identity? These are the lessons that get down to the core of what it means to be a human being. Of what it means to be wandering around on this earth of ours with your fellow species members. And let’s be honest: if you would have missed these lessons in your childhood, do you truly think that your life would have been any better if you would be able to remember the exact year Columbus reached America? I do not think so.

I believe that schools should, next to the regular classes, include a course about social dynamics, in which children are taught how they could – not should – interact with others. A class that teaches children the pros and cons of treating people in a certain way. A class that teaches children what the consequences of being bullied might be in what might very well be the most important years in a person’s self-development. A class that might make use of acting and little role-playing games in which the bully and the person being bullied repeatedly switch roles. Make it realistic. Make it tangible. Make it painful.

Because let me ask you the following: is it fair to put the blame on those that are being being bullied? To urge them to stand up for themselves and promise them that, if they don’t do so, things will only get worse? Is that how you truly help a child? And, on the other hand, can you blame the bullies for bullying if they have never been taught why it is wrong to bully? If they think they are just fooling around and that their behavior is simply the way you should behave among classmates?

Shouldn’t the responsibility lay with the adults? The ones who are supposed to know how to behave? And with the schools, the place at which children are present most of their time? And sure: schools might say that is not their responsibility to teach children how to behave. That it is the parents’s duty. But note that I am not saying that schools should teach children how to behave. I am only saying that schools might teach children what it feels like to be bullied, and what the consequences of this behavior might be. After taking these classes, children are totally free to decide for themselves how they want to behave. And if that doesn’t stop them from bullying, maybe more drastic measures, as in lowering bullies’s grades, might be necessary.

But what do you think? Should schools be more proactive in preventing bullying from happening? Or is it fully the parents’s responsibility to do so? And why?