Bullying is not what it used to be.
The days of school-yard insults heard by a handful of people said once and done are no more.
In today’s age of smart phones, computers, Instagram and other social media sharing, the bullying voices can and are amplified, repeated and often anonymous.
Just ask your kid.
And the results, unfortunately, can be tragic.
We don’t have to look far for examples. Just this month a 14-year-old Glendale boy with ties to relatives in Union Grove committed suicide after being mocked and taunted by fellow students repeatedly at his Glendale-River Hills school.
Parents said they were unaware of the cyberbullying; so did school officials. But the evidence was there on the teen’s cell phone that showed Instagram posts from a group of mostly girls. One post before his death said, “I hope you die.” Another, after his death, said, “I’m glad you’re gone because I don’t have to look at your ugly face anymore,” according to news reports.
That tragic and ugly episode squares with other news reports this month that shows an increase in suicide rates among U.S. teens between 2010 and 2015 — after they had declined for two decades, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study doesn’t answer the question why they went up, but it suggests that one factor could be the rise of social media use and cyberbullying.
“We need to stop thinking of smartphones as harmless,” said study author Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, according to an Associated Press report. “There’s a tendency to say, ‘Oh, teens are just communicating with their friends.’ Monitoring kids’ use of smartphones and social media is important and so is setting reasonable limits.”
Another researcher said the immediacy, anonymity and potential for bullying gives social media a unique potential for causing harm. “Parents don’t really get that.”
Against that backdrop, we welcome the City of Racine’s initiative to create an anti-bullying ordinance that targets “an intentional course of conduct which is reasonably likely to intimidate, emotionally abuse, slander (or) threaten” someone.
The proposal, which is modeled after similar ordinances in other Wisconsin cities and incorporates language on cyberbullying from state statutes, was sent to the City Attorney’s office for drafting.
It would apply to young and old, not just teens — and it would carry potential fines of $1 to $1,000. If a teen under the age of 17 violates the ordinance, he or she could be fined, lose their driver’s license, ordered to do community service or pay restitution. Under the proposed ordinance, if a parent is notified that their child has bullied someone and they don’t stop their child from bullying — they could also face the same level of fines.
That has raised some eyebrows, because failing to pay a municipal forfeiture could result in a warrant for contempt — which could result in jail time. City attorneys, however, say that the courts typically allow adults to work off forfeitures by performing community service as well.
There are some issues that the City Council and its committees need to work through before final passage. But they should not underestimate the destructive nature of bullying and particularly cyberbullying on young people and the real danger that it can cost lives of youths who think their whole lives are ruined because of some transient peer nastiness. They deserve a chance to live their lives outside some insults on Instagram, Twitter or other social media.