Monday, October 11, 2010

Mental health resources, not new laws, best way to respond to bullying deaths

Several Democrats think bullies at Texas schools can be deterred, reports the Houston Chronicle, by new state laws requiring expanded training and incident reporting. To me, the idea that more legislation will limit school bullying amounts to hubris intermixed with folly.

Already, reports the Chronicle, "Texas law mandates that schools prohibit bullying and harassment in their student code of conduct. It also allows victims of bullying to transfer to other schools." The statutes suggested by Democrats confuse activity with achievement. Until we can do something that actually helps the problem - like improving youth access to mental health services with expanded resources - I see little benefit from passing a raft of do-nothing legislation named after dead youth or prosecuting other kids or parents when a young person takes their own life.

IMO we've gone way too far toward criminalizing juvenile misbehavior and I seriously doubt more laws can fix what's going on in the schoolyard. To the extent the criminal justice system (as opposed to parents) can do anything about the problem, there are already more than enough tools. Just about any violent behavior, threats, etc., can already be treated as a crime.

Unfortunately, the subject of bullying has become politicized. As evidence, witness Murray Newman over at the blog Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center (a diary which perhaps should be renamed "Why I Hate Pat Lykos," after Murray's favored District Attorney candidate lost and he began to devote his efforts nearly exclusively to that subject). After bullying allegedly resulted in a recent teen suicide in the Houston area, Murray declared in an October 1st post that "As lawyers, we have the opportunity to combat bullying more so than most. Prosecutors have the ability to stop some bullies by putting them in prison." However, when his nemesis Pat Lykos announced the DA's office would launch an investigation into the incident, Murray went ballistic, offering up a post called "The Shamelessness of Pat Lykos" and insisting that there is nothing prosecutors can do. (In the comments, I accused him of flip flopping.)

The truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle, but adults can't solve children's problems by making them pawns in our own personal political feuds. Mark Bennett points out that, if anything, the DA could prosecute the parents for making a loaded gun available to the 13-year old, though I don't see how that would help anything. Personally, I don't believe it's true that prosecuting such cases "sends a message," except to the extent they're campaign messages delivered through paid advertising during election season. Certainly I don't believe it would prevent future teen suicides. This isn't a situation where I think the DA can help much one way or the other.

The problem isn't necessarily bullying - which every child (including your correspondent, as a lad) endures to some extent growing up - but teen suicide. The hard truth is that bullies didn't kill the youth in question, he pulled the trigger himself. We generally ignore mental health issues because they're difficult and uncomfortable, which is why, for example, so much attention is paid to police officer deaths in the line of duty when far more of them take their own lives. Indeed, suicide rates overall in Texas double the murder rate, but it's not nearly as politically popular to advocate for more mental health services compared to going after killers.

Not every problem can be solved with more cops, more laws, and more incarceration, and this is a subject where those tools won't solve the problem. Similarly, requiring schools to report bullying matters little when students generally don't report it themselves. ("Nearly two-thirds of students in a 2007 national survey said they didn't tell an adult at school about being bullied," reports the Chron.)

Beefing up counseling and mental health services might actually help matters, but the state is facing a $21 billion budget shortfall and for the moment that seems unlikely. Until then, youthful bullying, as Christ said of the poor, will always be with us, and the problem won't be mitigated by treating the issue as a political football.

RELATED: From Newsweek, "The reality may be that while the incidence of bullying has remained relatively the same, it’s our reaction to it that’s changed: the helicopter parents who want to protect their kids from every stick and stone, the cable-news commentators who whip them into a frenzy, the insta-vigilantism of the Internet. When it comes down to it, bullying is not just a social ill; it’s a 'cottage industry,' says Suffolk Law School’s David Yamada—complete with commentators and prevention experts and a new breed of legal scholars, all preparing to take on an enemy that’s always been there. None of this is to say that bullying is not a serious problem (it is), or that tackling it is not important. But like a stereo with the volume turned too high, all the noise distorts the facts, making it nearly impossible to judge when a case is somehow criminal, or merely cruel."

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

What happened to the notion of parents being parents and making sure that they behave and ar responsible for their actions?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your insightful view on this age old problem.

Anonymous said...

Come on, Grits! You liberals need to get on the same page! It's fashionable now among the left to criminalize thought, hate, intolerance, racism, homophobia, etc.. If you keep opposing your party's establishment on these issues of "political correctness," you might have to become a Republican! LOL!

Anonymous said...

How about cleaning up the media? The Fox News lineup features 24x7 bullying. When its sanctioned by the media why is anyone surprised when people normalize it?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, 12:43, I voted in the GOP primary this spring and tend to split tickets in November. I don't know where you got your impression about my partisan allegiances, but it wasn't from me. There are Republicans I respect and Democrats I don't. As a practical matter, certainly on criminal justice issues, those labels don't mean much

Anonymous said...

Everything starts at home and i have a child that is constantly bullied that has mental health issues and as long a sparents will be parents and rear their children towards the good of everything it will somehow work out as long a smore services become available for help and support

Pirate Rothbard said...
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Pirate Rothbard said...
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Prison Doc said...

FWIW I think you keep your politics pretty quiet and as a conservative I appreciate that; normally I assume most criminal justice folks are left-of-center except for me.

But back to bullying...what is the big deal nowdays? Bullies have been around for centuries if not millenia and we didn't have pediatric suicides. As a fat candy-ass kid I was bullied not infrequently myself and you could either ignore/avoid the situation or find a tougher or more senior friend to beat the shit out of the bully and that took care of it.

What's wrong today?

In closing, as a public sector healthcare professional, I dont believe the mental health community has ANYTHING to offer in this situation though they are welcome to try. There's enough shoddy psychiatry out there already.

DEWEY said...

"Not every problem can be solved with more cops, more laws, and more incarceration, and this is a subject where those tools won't solve the problem."
We have been saying this for years on THE PRISON SHOW (radio station KPFT 90,1 FM Friday night 9-11 PM) but the polititions don't listen. They want to be reelected for being "tough on crime".

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Prison Doc, whatever their success rate, and you may be right it's quite low, IMO treating suicide as a mental-health issue has more to commend it than prosecuting youth or parents.

Anonymous said...

The internet allows for obscene and/or complete b.s. messages to be posted to a social network site or forum or a blog and the target would not have the ability to remove the message without submiting a request to some moderator to review and decide if it is remove-worthy and that can take days. The existence of gangs as we know them today either did not exist or were not as tangible when most of us readers were in junior high/high schools and the violence these gang members are capable of is no myth and it is even perpetuated by most rap music which is grotesquely popular among todays youth. Ultimately I feel that blame goes to the b.s. that parents have taught their kids ... hate the fags and sissy's, hate blacks, whites and so forth. Here is where I will lighten up on the parents a little by recognizing the fact that having a decent lifestyle and living in a safe neighborhood often requires both parents to work full time which leaves alot of time for a kid to get into or create alot of trouble but the cost of it all leaves no other choice?

Also noteworthy is that across the board, the conservatives need to learn how to think without scripture and just unclench their minds and the liberals need to un-whine so that both sides will listen to what the other side has to say

-Peter

Anonymous said...

The internet allows for obscene and/or complete b.s. messages to be posted to a social network site or forum or a blog and the target would not have the ability to remove the message without submiting a request to some moderator to review and decide if it is remove-worthy and that can take days. The existence of gangs as we know them today either did not exist or were not as tangible when most of us readers were in junior high/high schools and the violence these gang members are capable of is no myth and it is even perpetuated by most rap music which is grotesquely popular among todays youth. Ultimately I feel that blame goes to the b.s. that parents have taught their kids ... hate the fags and sissy's, hate blacks, whites and so forth. Here is where I will lighten up on the parents a little by recognizing the fact that having a decent lifestyle and living in a safe neighborhood often requires both parents to work full time which leaves alot of time for a kid to get into or create alot of trouble but the cost of it all leaves no other choice?

Also noteworthy is that across the board, the conservatives need to learn how to think without scripture and just unclench their minds and the liberals need to un-whine so that both sides will listen to what the other side has to say

-Peter