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Guest Column

Anti-bullying bullies?

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Cartoon by Fitzsimmons

Anti-bullying measures are getting pretty tough. According to The New York Times, New Jersey has implemented the nation's toughest anti-bullying law.

It "demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive anti-bullying policies (there are 18 pages of 'required components'), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes."

It requires that "each school designate an anti-bullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an anti-bullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its web site."

Educators who fail to comply could lose their licenses.

I endured my share of bullying when I was little. One bully rubbed my head in dog droppings once.

In eighth grade, another bully -- I'll call him Frankie -- busted up my go-cart. A big, fat kid, he laughed out loud as he kicked my handcrafted vehicle into pieces.

Of course, kids had it better back then. With so many big families around, we always had older siblings to protect us -- in my case, my sister Kris.

She tackled Frankie from behind. As he lay on his belly, Kris pounded his back with abandon. He blubbered like a baby, forever humiliated in front of the other kids.

Kids who are bullied now are so much more isolated. They don't have other kids to turn to.

What's worse is that bullying is a 24-hour activity now, thanks to the Internet and smart phones. Kids can be taunted online by other kids, even when they are locked in their homes.

A lot of kids aren't handling the trend well.

"According to various studies, one in three kids is either bullied or a bully," says Carleton Kendrick, a family therapist and author of "Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We're Going to Grandma's."

"On any given day 160,000 kids are so traumatized by fear and intimidation they're afraid to go to school."

It's no wonder, then, that numerous government and private organizations are promoting anti-bullying campaigns and some 30 states have anti-bullying laws.

But then again, as the New Jersey law shows, aren't we overdoing the anti-bullying some? Aren't adults getting a wee bit too involved?

The unfortunate fact is there is pain in life and no amount of legislation or anti-bullying training will eradicate it.

Some kids are more popular than others. Some are bigger. Some are dumber. Some are bullies and others are bullied.

Regardless, all kids have to learn their own strengths and weaknesses and how to fend for themselves.

New Jersey is encouraging reporting bullying episodes to the Crimestoppers hotline. Consultants are counseling kids on the fine line between "telling and tattling." And educators are under pressure to respond to every bullying episode, real or perceived.

"The law requires districts to appoint a safety team at each school, made up of teachers, staff members and parents, to review complaints," says The Times. "It orders principals to begin an investigation within one school day of a bullying episode, and superintendents to provide reports to state government twice a year detailing all episodes."

Sheesh!

It's a heck of a thing for a kid to be bullied, no doubt. But isn't it a little nutty for over-zealous adults to attempt to use government to eradicate all unpleasantness from kids' lives?

What's next, a law to ensure every kid gets a prom date?

Besides, aren't New Jersey's anti-bullying politicians rather ironic? Aren't they carrying on like, well, bullies?

- Tom Purcell is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. His columns are distributed by Cagle Cartoons Inc. (Purcell@caglecartoons.com).

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