I am afraid I have been dilatory over the past couple of weeks – with people asking me, encouraging me, no telling me to write a blog on Ayden’s law www.aydenslaw.org . But I have held back – not because I didn’t have anything to say – but that what I want to say needs to be measured as I think some people, especially the supporters of this law, will find it problematic to hear what a campaigner for the rights of bullied children is about to write. The problem is I think they want me to write in absolute favour of it – and I am afraid I am a bit wary of doing that.
Laws made in the heat of the moment by angry, sad, traumatised people, mothers, fathers, grandparents, or friends of victims are not, usually, the most comprehensive, well-founded or clear. Laws need to be unemotional, unequivocal, without sentiment and above all fair.
And to make a law which criminalises children who bully makes me shudder.
The fourth of their proposals (and by the way I thoroughly agree with the first three which may well help to reduce the incidence of bullying) aims to provide “Justice for Victims”. According to their literature this will be done “by introducing for the first time into criminal law a new summary offence of bullying and intimidation which would prohibit behaviour that causes physical and mental harm to another child, teacher, professional or member of the public”.
Under that law, if a child was found to be acting in a way that could cause physical or mental harm to another person, they could be charged and prosecuted. No, surely this is not the way to go!
My contention is that children are not born knowing how to bully, intimidate, humiliate and ostracise. They learn it. They learn it from the television, advertisements and the media and at the hands of their parents, siblings, other children in nursery and primary school and may I say teachers – many of whom use these methods as a way of getting what they want be that toys, bedtimes, TV programmes, clean plates, control in classrooms or homework handed in. Perhaps they don’t know what else to do.
So if children are to unlearn how to bully a range of unlearning and re-learning has to happen; they need to learn that this behaviour is wrong, become aware of the hurt it causes, find other ways of getting what they want (people off their backs, the item they want, the position in the queue, in the game, or in the team) and we as adults, teachers, parents, social workers, police officers must employ better strategies for helping them learn different and effective ways of behaving.
But please let us not criminalise children for using bullying behaviour!
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