The State of New Jersey Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly passed the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” today — a bi-partisan piece of legislation supporters say would make up for an inadequate anti-bullying law that’s existed since 2002. New Jersey’s first anti bullying legislative measures were taken then but encouraged anti-bullying awareness, rather than mandating it as the new bill does. The bill passed 71-1 with 5 abstentions. The new bill requires training for all public school employees to recognize bullying, form “school safety teams” to review complaints, reporting of all incidents whether inside or outside of schools, and administrators who do not investigate incidences of bullying could be disciplined, while bullies themselves may be suspended or expelled.
Legislative actions have tremendous implications for making schools and communities safer for kids. While this is an important first step in addressing the seriousness of bullying, we must focus on a multifaceted approach to ending bullying. We need to create a comprehensive, community driven approach to teach children about self esteem. Here are some ways that we think this could happen:
- Teachers and school administrators from elementary to high school can start teaching children early about positive ways to gain self esteem that don’t come at the expense of putting others down. Schools that implement zero tolerance, anti-bullying policies demonstrate that they are taking the issue seriously. It isn’t enough to say that putting down others is bad.
- Outside agencies like ours can lend their expertise with primary prevention program like our Start Strong program. SS encourages kids to stand up to bullies and to act as active bystanders and allies to kids who are being bullied. Teaching kids non-violent tools to solve conflict will have long-lasting positive results for their development.
- While the bill above gained momentum after the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a college student at Rutgers University, it only has one provision for upper level education which includes a bullying policy in codes of conduct. Ideally, to see instances of bullying decrease, colleges should mandate both anti-bullying education. Prevention education coupled with severe consequences for both those caught bullying others and administrators, faculty who ignore complaints of bullying would not only increase awareness but also decrease episodes overall. At Carolina, we have the ONE ACT program designed to teach students how to be active bystanders when witnessing incidents of violence on campus. The safety committees of student governments on university campus’s could also create tasks forces focused on preventing bullying and providing students with resources about what to do if they are a victim or witness to bullying.
- As informed adults we can also take steps to make sure our own actions and language line up with what we are teaching children. Parents can make sure that they don’t tease or put down others around their kids and that they solve conflict through respectful dialogue and open communication. This new NJ bill functions as an excellent example of adults following through on their promises to take bullying seriously and be allies for bullying victims.
What can you do? By an active bystander! If you see someone getting bullied or picked on step in (whether you are an adult or a kid) and say something. Encourage others not to use racist, sexist or homophobic slurs! Sign up for our community education volunteer training here to teach kids about bullying prevention.