Suicides committed by adolescent victims of bullying have made national headlines; currently in the news is the suicide of Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl who was bullied by two female classmates (12 and 14 years old) in Florida. The bullying behavior appears to have started because of a dispute that Rebecca had with the 14-year-old classmate over a boy they both dated. The 14-year-old took to Facebook after learning of the suicide, posting a message admitting that she bullied Rebecca with no indication of remorse or sadness about the tragedy. Subsequently, the two girls accused of bullying were arrested and charged with felony stalking. Is charging these two juveniles with felonies the right response to their bullying? Author Emily Bazelon argues against the criminalization of bullying behavior in her book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. Instead, Bazelon supports sanctions that do not shame, particularly in light of what reviewer Michael Greene points out, that "the attribution of bullying as the exclusive or primary cause of suicide is simply wrong and dangerous."
Bazelon also tackles cyberbulling, with particular focus on Facebook. She discusses some of the key dangers of cyberbullying compared to in-person bullying, including that it is harder to escape than in-person bullying and that it can have a much farther reach, maximizing the humiliation felt by the victim. In his review, Greene adds that inhibitory responses for those engaging in cyberbullying are even more limited than in the case of in-person bullying.
What are your views on the criminalization of adolescent bullying? What is the appropriate response to this behavior by law enforcement, schools, and parents? What is the responsibility of social media websites like Facebook in terms of both preventing cyberbullying and intervening when it occurs?
By Michael B. Greene
PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(43)