On May 3, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick signed the state’s first anti-bullying law, four months after the suicide death of Phoebe Prince, 15, of South Hadley, Massachusetts. Prince committed suicide after alleged months of torment by her fellow high school students.
Prince’s death in January—followed by media reports detailing the relentless bullying she endured before ending her own life—thrust the age-old problem of bullying back into the national spotlight, prompting the questions, “Why didn’t anyone stop the bullying? Could this child’s suicide have been prevented?”
“In severe cases, we need to treat bullying as a crime,” says EDC Senior Scientist Ron Slaby, an educator and researcher, who helps school districts, communities, and youth organizations develop effective bullying prevention programs. “But simply expelling and punishing the children who bully others will certainly not eliminate the problem.”
The case of Phoebe Prince—along with last year’s suicide of Springfield sixth-grader Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who also endured repeated bullying—spurred Massachusetts lawmakers to become the 42nd state to pass anti-bullying legislation. The new law requires school personnel to report suspected incidents of bullying, principals to investigate them, and bullying prevention programs to be taught in schools.
“The criminalization of bullying doesn’t get to the heart of the matter,” says Slaby. “The more important question is, will we educate and empower our children to prevent bullying from happening in the first place? Bullying is learned, and it can be prevented.”
Slaby says that effective bullying prevention programs, such as those he and his research team have developed at EDC, provide tools for those who need it most: parents, teachers, caregivers, and youth. The focus is on learning how and when to take steps to report bullying, rather than passively allowing it to continue.
EDC’s resources include these innovative programs:
Eyes on Bullying: The free Eyes on Bullying program focuses on stopping bullying in its earliest phases. Funded by the IBM Global Work/Life Fund, the Eyes on Bullying toolkit may be downloaded at www.eyesonbullying.org/pdfs/toolkit.pdf (PDF, 751 KB).
Aggressors, Victims, and Bystanders: Thinking and Acting to Prevent Violence (AVB): A program for students in grades 6 through 9, AVB builds the skills and strengthens the beliefs students need to change their own behavior and become nonviolent problem solvers.
Slaby, along with other bullying prevention and school safety advocates, is closely following this new legislation and the continuing developments in the bullying cases in Massachusetts.
“Mandating bullying prevention programs and policies in schools is a good start,” Slaby says. “Children’s safety must be the first requirement of any school, and there will certainly be major changes in the level of our attention to bullying. Our challenge is to prepare ourselves and our children to stand up, speak out, and unite to stop bullying in its earliest stages.”
Originally published on May 10, 2010