Criminalisation of cyber bullying not the answer

Published: Thu 7 Nov 2013 04:38 PM
Criminalisation of cyber bullying not the answer according to counsellors
A government proposal to jail cyber bullies over the age of 17 is not the answer, and is hitting the problem at the wrong end, according to New Zealand Association of Counsellors spokesperson Sarah Maindonald.
She says the criminalisation of young people won’t necessarily stop the problem of cyber bullying.
“It is a sledgehammer approach that won’t actually have much impact as the proposed punishment can only be used for youths 17 and up. In my experience as a school counsellor, cyber bullying starts at a much younger age and that it is especially prevalent amongst 13 and 14 year olds.”
Ms Maindonald says research has shown that punitive measures don’t often modify behaviour.
“Criminalising cyber bullying will give negative reinforcement to teens that are already rebelling against authority. And in some cases it could even be seen by rebellious teens as giving them more kudos.”
Ms Maindonald says it would be much better to spend money providing preventative programmes.
“Teenagers need to be taught how to handle relationships and how to relate positively with each other. We have appalling statistics in this country around relating positively to others in intimate, peer and family settings. Teenagers need to learn how to handle conflict and this should have greater emphasis in the curriculum.”
Ms Maindonald says Teenage Relationship Communications Programmes need to be introduced into all secondary schools, so teens can learn how to relate positively with one another and to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
And she says there should be more counsellors in schools.
“The kids that are being bullied need help just as much as those that are doing the bullying. We need more counsellors to cope with the growing number of teens needing our help. If we spent as much time empowering the victims and less time punishing and trying to modify the bullies’ behaviour, then we might get a better outcome.”

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