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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Anti-Bullying Law Advances

New Jersey students are going to be driven to the internet to socialize much more. That will be one unintended consequence of an anti-bullying law that would require teachers to act to prevent bullying and other forms of intimidation, which has advanced through the New Jersey State Senate on the rocket fuel provided by the exploitation of the Tyler Clementi suicide (or murder?). Tearful testimony from parents of bullied children preceded a Monday vote.

As with most legislation, be wary of how vague the definitions are for certain terms. It is very tough to draw the line between regular interaction and sanctionable bullying, particularly when the standard may arise from the subjective feelings of the victim.

One unintended consequence is that teachers will need to monitor and discipline students much more, not so much to control students as to avoid liability for "negligence" in "not doing their job."

Another unintended consequence will be much more student interaction on the internet. In-school and near-school socializing, subject to regulation, will decrease. Teenagers will go to Facebook to avoid the prying eyes of teachers and school administrators, just like they do with parents now. Another example of how attempts to modify behavior too often backfire.

Bullying is a problem. Has been a problem. But the solution isn't regulation or more laws. Or even jail time for bullies. We need an attitudinal shift, an intolerance of bad behavior. Social pressure and the pressure to conform can sometimes be the best deterrent.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer.  The comments in this article are opinions and are meant for informative purposes only.  Mr. Dixon provides legal analysis and strategic analysis on a fee-for-service basis, and also will make comments for reputable news media sources.  He can be reached at and by phone at 917-696-2442

Eric Dixon
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