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October 2011 Column - Cyber-bullying must not be ignored any longer


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oneilj - Posted on 26 October 2011

Bullying, in some form, has been something almost every young person has endured. Sometimes a bully taunts verbally with childish names. Or maybe they would trip or push someone into a locker. Sometimes, they even physically attacked a student after school.

There is a difference, however, to how many of us define and understand bullying years ago to what happens to our children today. When we went to high school, any bullying stopped at 3 p.m. We all left school and went home to the safety of our rooms and our parents. There was no Facebook, Twitter, video blogs or other social media.

But now, our children face bullying 24/7. When they wake up, they can read threatening and harassing texts or instant messages. Then when they get home from school, whatever problem wasn’t resolved continues online for hours at a time. It can make a teen, already feeling awkward and alienated; think about finding a way out.

As in one case we all know of in Williamsville, one student found the ultimate way out, with tragic results. While bullying has always been an issue for our education system, it has never reached the level of more than “kids will be kids.” That old adage may have worked in the ’70s and ’80s, but in our current society, it is more than that, and we as legislators must find a way to properly deal with this growing epidemic.

Along with my colleague, Legislator Ray Walter, I have come up with legislation that will properly address cyber-bullying at the county level. Unfortunately, the state hasn’t come up with a plan, so counties like Albany, Rensselaer and Suffolk have stepped in and made their own laws. Now, it’s Erie County’s turn. As public servants, we must do everything to protect the health and welfare of the residents of Erie County.

While some in Albany want to imprison those found to be cyber-bullying, we are taking a more measured approach. Our proposed law would define cyber-bullying, with a focus on minors, and not criminalize this behavior. The act of cyber-bullying would be considered a misdemeanor, and would be adjudicated in Family Court. Once a federal or state law is enacted, our county version would become null and void.

For those who think that laws like this create a “nanny state,” I understand your concerns. However, this isn’t like when we were younger. These cyber-bullies can be more vicious and cruel than in past generations. Research has shown that constant cyber-bullying can cause students to lose interest in school and extra-curricular activities, and in some cases, consider suicide.

The stakes are too high for our children to just ignore this problem. No one should have to endure the kind of malicious, hateful taunting that comes through our children’s computer screens and phones.

If you would like to have your say on our proposed law, I invite you to a public hearing the Erie County Legislature will hold at 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 10. For more information, call 858-8897 or email edward.rath@erie.gov.