A Detroit councilwoman who sponsored a recently enacted city law against bullying said this morning that the apparent suicide of a 7-year-old Detroit boy shows the need for a stronger response to bullying.
“For a 7-year-old to lose his life in any form is heartbreaking, but to imagine a child that young who is so sad that believes his only option is to do this? Heartbreaking is not a strong enough word,” City Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said today. “I can’t imagine what his family’s going through.”
Jenkins spearheaded Detroit’s anti-bullying law that went into effect last fall.
The city ordinance, one of many anti-bullying policies enacted in metro Detroit, particularly in local school districts, makes it a misdemeanor offense to bully children in person or online. The Detroit law extended the reach of enforcement beyond the city’s public schools, which already had a policy prohibiting bullying.
Under the city law, violators could face up to 90 days in jail, $500 in fines and community service requirements.
But Jenkins said the goal was not to be punitive; instead, the aim was to intervene and try to rehabilitate kids who bully their peers.
First-time offenders, for example, might get counseling and community service to help them learn the consequences of bullying. More egregious or multiple offenses might trigger the tougher penalties, she said.
Parents also can be held responsible for their children’s misbehavior under the ordinance, Jenkins said.
Jenkins said she’s going to work to make sure there’s broader awareness of the city’s law and the fight against bullying.
“This is a big issue for our city,” she said. “One of the most important things we can do is to make a safe, livable city for our children. If we can’t do that, it doesn’t matter what kind of budget we pass.
“We have to teach children that bullying is not OK.”
A Pew Research Center study conducted in 2011 found 88% of young people who use social media reported seeing others being “mean or cruel” on social networking sites. Still, a majority said their peers are “mostly kind” to each other on the sites.
One in five reported having been bullied during the previous 12 months in person, online, by phone or by text — bullying in person was the most common occurrence.
The study surveyed 799 children and teens nationwide, ages 12-17, and a parent or guardian.
Contact Matt Helms: firstname.lastname@example.org, @matthelms or 313-222-1450