Reactive legislation doesn’t stop bullying

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The release of Bully, a documentary following four families dealing with bullying problems in American public school systems, has come with controversy surrounding initial rumors of an R-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

The movie has been the most recent addition to the slew of anti-bullying activism occurring within the United States.

The intimate nature of the film — one of the families in the documentary lost a child to suicide as a result of bullying — lends it startling emotional power, and is something that legislation, news reports, and assemblies lack.

Over 500,000 people signed a petition on  for the MPAA to change the rating from R to PG–13 to allow more school children to have accessibility to the film in theaters. The petition was successful, resulting in the MPAA changing the rating to PG–13.

As a result, there will undoubtedly be some form of legislation proposed to combat the undeniable bullying problem that exists in American school systems. While it’s good that awareness about bullying is being raised, reactive legislation is not the appropriate venue for action.

No matter how well intentioned reactionary legislation is, it is often plagued by the fact that it is an instinctive, rash reaction to an event or incident.

For example, after Casey Anthony was tried for the murder of her daughter, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey passed a piece of legislation known as Caylee’s Law that makes it a felony for a parent or guardian not to report a child missing within 24 hours.

While the intention is to prevent another mess like Anthony’s trial, the legislation is very spotty and was clearly passed rashly. There are no specifications as to when the 24 hour period starts, or how to decide who would be held responsible during instances where there are other parties involved, such as a babysitter.

Another reactionary piece of New Jersey legislation that has been questionably executed is Kyleigh’s Law, which requires any teen driver with a learner’s permit to put small removable decals on their car to identify themselves as teen drivers so that police officers would be able to identify law breakers more easily.

The nature of the law, however, also makes it easy for anyone to identify the age of the driver.

In addition, if a teenager shared a car with his or her parents, the decals would have to be applied every time the teen wanted to drive the car.

In the worst case scenario, this type of legislation can be used to enable bullying.

One California school’s decision to have any student reported for bullying attend a mandatory meeting with the principal saw bullies reporting their own victims as bullies to further dissuade them from seeking help.

Instead of focusing on proposing new legislation to prevent bullying, lawmakers could focus on preventing legislation that actively enables bullying, such as provisions in Tennessee and Michigan that make bullying on faith-based conviction acceptable. Legislation such as this and the intolerant extremist ideologies that fuel it is abhorrent and antithetical to the American ideals of secular government and equality for all.