The many forms of bullying affect one-third of our youth today. Bullying and harassment is a continuing problem for school districts, parents, students and communities across the nation. The impact of bullying has been well documented – studies have shown that difficulty making friends, loneliness, low self-esteem, depression, poor academic achievement, truancy and even suicide are all associated with being bullied.
In addition to face-to-face bullying, cyberbullying has become another means for some youth to bully and harass others. An increasing number of youth are misusing online technology to bully, harass and even incite violence against others. As opposed to traditional bullying, cyberbullying through modern communication technology can be more pervasive and invasive in nature: electronic messages can be circulated far and wide in an instant, and are usually irrevocable. Despite the prevalence and impact of cyberbullying, many adults are unaware of the problem due to a lack of fluency in new technologies, limited involvement in and oversight of youth online activity, and strong social norms among youth against disclosure of online behavior. Bullying youth creates an environment which can foster anti-social behavior.
Further, bullying can sometimes reflect anti-Semitism, making it a special concern to the Jewish community. Experience indicates that bullying is often motivated by hate and can escalate into more destructive behavior. Bullying may also lead to an unsafe and intimidating atmosphere where other students feel less inhibited from acting on feelings of prejudice and those who find the behavior disturbing feel less comfortable taking a stand on behalf of victims of prejudice. Jewish history and experience make it a special concern of the Jewish community. Inspired by Hillel’s words in Pirke Avot (2:5), “In a place where there are no human beings, try to be one.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes that:
- Bullying is an endemic problem for our youth, and demands a comprehensive and staunch approach from all community members.
- Any effective response must include education strategies and training programs. We must promote civil discourse on- and offline and must teach youth how to identify risks and engage in critical thinking rather than impulsive action. It is vital that students be trained on how to use electronic communications in a responsible manner, on how to develop empathy for others, and how to intervene safely and not be a bystander when others bully.
- Such strategies and programs should also be directed at adult family members, given the critical role of parents in counseling, educating and guiding their children in understanding what constitutes bullying, the inappropriateness of bullying and the harm that it does.
- Laws and policies must, consistent with the First Amendment, set a standard for addressing bullying, so that students, faculty, administrators, parents and others in the school community know that bullying will not be tolerated in schools. Policies should include disciplinary measures, in addition to proactive measures to combat future incidents and to create an environment of safety, equality, civility and respect.
The community relations field should:
- Support training programs for educators, administrators and school personnel, adult family members, community members and youth on how to recognize and respond to bullying and cyberbullying.
- Support education campaigns for youth to develop empathy for others, to be an ally when others are bullied, to think critically about Internet communication and to build the conflict resolution skills which are important not only face-to-face but also online.
- Empower individual Internet users to engage in the global dialogue about cyberbullying and work together to create an environment where civil discourse conquers hate. Individuals should know how to “flag” offensive content for review, challenge hate content by posting positive messages, and look for a site’s Terms of Service to see if offensive content is prohibited.
- Encourage Internet Service Providers and social networking platforms to adopt Terms of Service that define prohibited cyberbullying and cyberhate, provision of a readily identifiable and monitored address for reporting this improper activity, and a commitment that they will review complaints in a timely manner, while remaining sensitive to First Amendment concerns.
- Support state legislation which requires school districts and schools receiving state funds to adopt comprehensive bullying prevention policies that are proactive and responsive. The following are provisions that districts might consider for such policies, consistent with evolving constitutional limitations on regulation of student speech:
- Include a clear definition of “bullying”– specifically including bullying through electronic communication.
- Promptly address cyberbullying initiated off-campus that creates a substantial disruption to the school’s mission.
- Explicitly prohibit bullying with enumerated categories — race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability or another identifiable characteristic.
- Require clear procedures for safe reporting and investigation of incidents.
- Mandate counseling for the perpetrator and make available counseling services for the targets.
- Mandate data collection on incidents of bullying and regular training for teachers and students about how to recognize and respond to bullying and cyberbullying.
- Applaud federal and state efforts to inclusively address bullying under existing anti-discrimination education law, including the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights guidance issued in October 2010 on discriminatory bullying, which specifically included anti-Semitic intimidation and harassment on campus. Urge the field to promote comprehensive training and education on these efforts.
- Mount public awareness campaigns about the issues and avenues for response. Work to change the culture so that bullying is no longer shrugged off or a part of “growing up.”
- Advocate for continued research into the nature and magnitude of the bullying problem.
- Promote resources to educators, administrators and school personnel, adult family members, community members and youth that help each learn about the issue and develop effective responses.