Bullying is Sanitized Harassment

Bullying is a crime. It is abusive behavior and should stop being looked at as a childhood phase. It is not a rite of passage, and it does not build character and inner strength.

Per the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) bullying is defined as: any repeated unwanted behavior(s) perpetuated by a youth or group of youths directed at another individual. Types of abuse include, physical, psychological, social or educational harm.

The New York State Penal Law defines the crimes of Harassment and Aggravated Harassment (a misdemeanor) as: He or she engages in a course of conduct, or repeated acts, which serve no legitimate purpose and alarm or seriously annoy another person.

The commonality in definitions makes it glaringly clear that bullying is a crime and should be addressed as such. The term “bullying” insinuates a temporary phase or part of the “growing-up” process. It isn’t.

What bullying does is introduce young people to criminal victimization. Like those who are physically and emotionally compromised by domestic, dating and relationship violence, victims of “bullying” carry the wounds caused by criminal behavior.

If someone was to ask most middle school, high school and college students to rob someone, the majority would decline because of the criminality involved. However, if someone, say a teammate or friend, were to ask them to mock, frighten or intimidate someone, more than enough would not hesitate.

The cruel treatment of young people, which commonly includes exclusion, mocking on social media and threat of physical harm, doesn’t make for tough adults. It makes young people feel diminished and often prevents them from succeeding not only at the time of the incident, but also later in life. Most adults who have experienced abuse in school can’t remember the room number to their favorite class, but they will always remember the incidence that left them feeling, diminished and afraid.

For many not being able to succeed in something (getting cut from cheerleading, or not selected to a team or group) presents enough “natural” challenges to someone’s self-esteem. Being a victim of criminal behavior should not be accepted.

Students should feel safe at school physically as well as emotionally. The school experience, presents enough challenges and pressures to developing people. Being a victim of harassment should not be one of them.

Schools should be safe havens for young people. Students should be allowed to grow physically and emotionally without fear of victimization. This can be accomplished by administrators, teachers and parents working together to create a culture of inclusion, respect and tolerance.

If this was done in middle schools and high schools, colleges and universities would not be under siege with Title IX complaints that include sexual harassment, misconduct and rape.

Giving young people the knowledge and tools to be protectors, advocates for safety and proactive bystanders when they are young, will assist them in being safe, and will encourage healthy behavior.

Training for the entire school community (students, teachers, administrators and parents) should be conducted frequently. Sessions should be targeted at specific groups/grade levels and provide appropriate information and evaluation.

We need to change the culture. It is time to stop trivializing behavior that causes physical and emotional harm by referring to it as bullying. It’s time to treat the behavior(s) as criminal conduct. After all, it is what it is.

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