Proposed bullying laws-do they go far enough?

by Boston Children's Hospital staff on April 1, 2010

ban bullying

by Peter Raffalli, MD, pediatric neurologist and Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) pediatric associate.

Recently, a few  high-profile bullying cases have made the news because of the tragic outcomes–victims have committed suicide. In response, legislators have stepped up efforts to pass new anti-bullying legislation, which will likely become law in Massachusetts. You can read a PDF copy of the proposed legislation here.

So what will the proposed bill accomplish?

The Massachusetts anti-bullying bill doesn’t go so far as to criminalize bullying. Instead, it aims to heighten vigilance to bullying situations at the school level, and mandates that schools have a protocol in place to detect and intervene in bullying situations.

The legislation also stipulates that if the school principal feels that the bullying situation in question involves possible criminal behavior, the principal must file a report with appropriate law enforcement agencies. Presently, schools vary considerably in their approach to bullying. By requiring schools to have a detailed protocol in place, a standard will hopefully be maintained across the state. The bill will also require teachers to report incidents they witness, and require schools to notify parents.

Since cyberbullying is such a rapidly growing problem which can have a serious impact on the well-being of a child, the new bill also gives school officials power to intervene in cyberbullying situations if it’s causing a substantial disruption in the school.

Some critics of the new bill argue that it doesn’t go far enough and that the law should criminalize bullying. However, there are many bullying situations that can be remedied at the school level and where criminal charges may not be appropriate.

Given that studies show that both the bully and the victim are at increased risk for problems later in life, our interventions need to remain more therapeutic than punitive. However, in cases where criminal behavior has occurred, or when the perpetrator is defiant and showing no remorse, the principal or school official in charge should notify the appropriate law enforcement officials so that the victim is protected.

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