Rethinking Bullying

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No one is in favor of bullying, but is criminalizing children’s behavior the answer?

That’s what a new law just signed by Governor Brown – known as the cyber-bullying bill – does. It gives schools authority to discipline children as young as fourth grade for phone calls, texting and social media posts that occur apart from school activities, off-campus and not during the school day

That’s right, AB 256 makes a text message from one 10-year-old to another, over the weekend, grounds for expulsion.

Not surprisingly, the ACLU is opposed, as is the Association of California School Administrators. Principals and superintendents are concerned that they will be responsible for monitoring students’ activity on social media and making the call about whether it constitutes bullying.

Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm, is also opposed, noting that research is clear that punitive disciplinary approaches are ineffective at reducing student misbehavior [and] do not make schools safer.


The truth is children are no more aggressive now than they used to be. There is no research to support the belief that today’s children are any worse than we were. But you wouldn’t know it from how we are treating them. True, electronic media amplifies their behavior, but the behavior itself hasn’t changed.

Our culture is in a frenzy to legislate against children, and now that AB 256 is law, schools have sweeping authority to expel kids for making the same mistakes we did.

It’s time we took a different approach. We can start by eliminating the labels bully and victim and instead look at what children need to learn. For some it is compassion and impulse control; for others it is resilience. For many, it’s all of the above.

Our children need our support and guidance. They don’t need us to criminalize their behavior. Children will learn nothing from this law, but we will feel more frustrated than ever. 

With a Perspective, this is Susan Eva Porter

Susan Eva Porter is dean of students at the Branson School in Marin and author of a book about bullying and childhood aggression.