BY COUNCILMAN MARK WEPRIN
This year, a girl who attends middle school in the district that I represent in Eastern Queens tragically took her own life; a friend of hers attempted suicide a few weeks later and was saved only by a classmate’s timely intervention. What could cause two twelve-year-old girls such intense pain that they no longer wanted to live? Persistent, mean-spirited, merciless taunting by their peers.
Most adults have developed the skills needed to defuse potentially serious interpersonal conflicts. Children, on the other hand, often lack the experience and emotional maturity necessary to cope with mistreatment by their peers. As a result, young people can be especially vulnerable, and today’s youth are facing a radically transformed environment thanks to modern communication technology, which can become a powerful tool for a schoolyard bully.
When I was a child, playground teasing and taunting certainly existed, but the bully had to be in close proximity to torment his or her victim. Confrontations might sometimes escalate, but they were mostly confined to school property. Even the child whose school life was made miserable by a classmate could count on going home to a sanctuary to which the bully had no access. Today, even a child’s own home provides no haven from virulent electronic communications, because cyber bullying knows no boundaries. Yesterday’s face-to-face mocking and name calling have given way to harassment via email, text messaging, social networking sites and a variety of online forums that allow bullies to reach their victims anytime and anywhere.
Hearing directly from middle school and high school students in Queens about pervasive cyber bullying led me to introduce legislation, approved by the City Council and signed into law that requires the Commission on Human Rights to work with the Dept. of Education to address cyber bullying through anti-harassment programs. While my bill was a positive step, the heart-wrenching recent incidents compel me as a leader to take further action. As the father of three children, this issue is personal to me as well. I am therefore calling for a comprehensive citywide initiative to institute training on bullying prevention for every student, teacher and administrator in the City of New York. The message that bullying is never acceptable and will not be tolerated must ring out loudly and clearly until every single child feels safe.