Debate: Should Schools Punish Cyberbullies?

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In January, Illinois became the latest state to pass a law allowing schools to punish students for cyberbullying that happens off-campus. Supporters say that the psychological effects of cyberbullying bleed over into school time—and impinge on your learning environment. Critics, however, argue that such laws give schools too much power. Where do you stand?


 YES:  Being bullied online makes school unbearable.

Cyberbullying may not always happen while you’re at school, but it always makes school a living nightmare. That’s why we need more serious in-school repercussions! When you are forced to see your cyberbully five days a week, you can feel trapped. I certainly did.

Let me explain: In seventh grade, I was tormented over iMessage. I didn’t feel safe at home or at school, and I was so anxious about encountering my bullies in the hallways that it was impossible to focus in class. My grades severely suffered. So while it might seem like cyberbullying affects someone only after school hours, the truth is, you can never escape it.

For that reason, I applaud the states with these laws, and I wish more states would follow suit. School should be a place where you go to learn, and it should feel like a safe and welcoming environment. If we empower administrators to take cyberbullying more seriously, students will as well!

—Hanna DiMassimo, 15, a high school freshman from Cinnaminson, NJ

 NO:  Schools should model better behavior without getting involved.

Of course I don’t think cyberbullying is permissible, but I do think these laws are dangerous! If we allow schools to punish online bullies who operate after school hours, then where do we draw the disciplinary line?

When a student is bullying another student at school, that behavior falls under the school’s jurisdiction, and administrators should punish the harasser. But it’s a slippery slope to reprimand teens for what they do off-campus. What about other rule-breaking behaviors, like drinking or staying out late? With laws like these, we’re in danger of giving schools way too much power over our personal lives.

A school’s purpose is to educate you. If administrators really want to stop cyberbullying, they should teach students why it’s wrong, how it hurts people, and what they can do to stop it. For lasting change, our culture’s cyberbullying problem needs to be fixed before the bullying happens—not regulated once it does.

—Natalie Eng, 18, a high school senior from Santa Barbara, CA

Three Fast Facts

1. About 1 in 4 teens have been bullied online at some point in their lifetime, and 90% of teens who have seen cyberbullying happen say they have ignored it.

2. Research has shown that cyberbullying impacts academic performance. In one UCLA study, psychologists found that the more a student was bullied, the worse their grades were throughout all three years of middle school.

3. Forty-nine states have laws against bullying (get it together, Montana!), and 20 of them specifically mention "cyberbullying."

Sources: 1. The Cyberbullying Research Center and a 2011 Pew Internet Report; 2. 2010 study published in the Journal of Early Adolesence; 3. The Cyberbullying Research Center.

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