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October is National Bullying Prevention month. It is a time when, as a community, we should be educating our children on what bullying is and its potential consequences. This is not merely a complicated topic for our children. Our legal system is struggling to find the line between preventing tragedy while still holding those responsible who are at fault when the repercussions from bullying become tangible, and not overstepping the bounds of how we treat our children regarding privacy, free speech, and parents rights.
An arrest was made Tuesday in Florida of two young girls linked to the suicide death of a classmate. As reported by ABC news:
Authorities in central Florida said Rebecca was tormented online and at school by as many as 15 girls before she climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and hurled herself to her death Sept. 9. But the two girls arrested were primarily the ones who bullied Rebecca, the sheriff said. They have been charged with stalking and released to their parents.
Rebecca is one of at least a dozen or so suicides in the past three years that were attributed at least in part to cyberbullying.
Legal questions remain related to whether or not the parents will be charged and the extent of any punishment if in fact the girls are found guilty of the charges.
None of this, however, brings Rebecca back to her family. Punitive action, which has typically had little influence on this age group anyway, is on the wrong side of the timeline. This is less a legal question and more one of education policy, parental and student education, and resources for teens experiencing bullying. There are curriculums out there for awareness and prevention. There are support groups, hotlines, and trained professionals who are available. And there are, of course, repercussions for when it goes too far. We can’t always stop children from being awful to each other, but it is our duty to prevent these tragedies from occurring with whatever resources or strategies we have available. Find a way you can help this month and beyond with your local school, through PACER (who spearheads Bullying Prevention Month), or just with your children at home.