Instances of cyber-bullying and workplace harassment are becoming more and more commonplace.
It seems a week doesn’t go by without a news report of someone being bullied.
And bullying isn’t just between kids. As we saw earlier this year with New York school bus monitor Karen Klein, bullying can be done by younger people to older people. Two of the 13-year old boys who were verbally abusing Ms. Klein on the school bus issued statements apologizing for their behavior. Was that enough? No, I don’t think so. I would have liked to see their apology delivered in person.
How can we prevent this from happening again?
Bullying has reached a crisis point in America and according to the recent film Bully, more than 13 million children are bullied each year. And last November, the Washington Post reported that nine of 10 teenagers have witnessed bullying on social networks. These numbers are alarming!
Are new laws the answer?
So far, there are only state laws concerning bullying, but many people have suggested there needs to be a national law. The bullying laws on the books most often focus on schools, which are the site for a large percentage of bullying behavior, with bullying being the most problematic during the middle school years (grades 6-8).
In March, South Dakota became the 49th state to pass an anti-bullying law; the one state without anti-bullying legislation is Montana. In September 2011, New Jersey became the state with the toughest bullying law in the country. Each school in the state is graded on bullying standards, policies, and incidents and is required to report each case of bullying at the state level.
A study by the Anti-Defamation League, which runs a bullying prevention program called No Place for Hate, showed that while traditional bullying tapers off after middle school, cyber bullying continues throughout high school and beyond.
In my home state of California, the anti-bullying laws and policies include harassment online as well as in schools. A San Jose, CA school suspended three eighth grade students in May for threatening a classmate on Facebook. The students were sending messages threatening physical harm to another student and fortunately new legislation allowed the school to suspend the girls even though they posted the material while off campus.
Unfortunately, while the majority of states have law governing bullying in schools, less than half provide any guidance on cyber or mobile phone bullying which is on the rise – and often with dire consequences.
Take the case of 15-year old Amanda Cummings of Staten Island, NY. She had been bullied on Facebook and eventually took her own life. Even after her death, bullies continued to post hateful comments about her online.
Watch what your kids do online.
As parents, we have to understand that what happens on sites like Facebook is tremendously powerful to our children. Words can kill. It’s incumbent upon every parent to go online and to monitor what our kids are doing. Insist on the username and password to every site your child visits. If he won’t give them up, take away his computer. It’s that important. Whether your child is the bully or being bullied, parents need to act swiftly and impose the proper discipline.
Know the laws in your state.
Visit your state attorney general website or trusted online legal resource like Avvo.com, which I recently joined as a legal analyst, where licensed attorneys will answer your legal question for free. A quick search of the site reveals hundreds of questions from people asking for legal advice on bullying. In fact, the growth in the number of questions being asked about bullying has increased two-fold in the last six months. My hope is that the increase in questions isn’t necessarily due to an increase in incidents but rather that people are more engaged in the issue and more comfortable seeking guidance in how to deal with their situation.
Join the conversation.
Candy maker WONKA is calling on NERDS everywhere to unite and celebrate their individuality and stand up against bullying. This summer, WONKA asked teenagers to join the “NERDS Unite!” movement by logging onto Facebook.com/Wonka. There, Facebook users could join the NERDS Unite! Movement, share that they are “a NERD for,” and watch the movement grow. Various celebrities, such as Wilmer Valderrama from That 70s Show, have joined the movement to encourage as many teenagers as possible to declare themselves as “nerds.” This is a great example of a company taking a positive, fun stand against bullying.
So I urge you, whether it’s for your child, in your workplace or online, don’t sit there passively but take a stand against bullying. As the outpouring of love for Karen Klein proves – over $600,000 raised to send her on a vacation! – more people are good than bad. We just need those good people to speak up more often against meanness and cruelty.
Lisa Bloom is a legal analyst for Avvo.com, bestselling author of Think and Swagger and the founder and managing partner of The Bloom Firm, a prominent general practice law firm based in Los Angeles that handles family, civil and criminal matters.