Michigan can lead way in addressing cyberbullying

Guest Editorial
Back in the 1990s and through the 2000s, lawmakers across the country were slow to grasp just how serious an issue bullying really was.

That was particularly true here. The Michigan Legislature was among the last in the nation to put anti-bullying legislation on the books and was, shamefully, the 48th state to do so. The 2011 law requires Michigan school districts to have anti-bullying policies on the books and included electronic communications in the definition of bullying.

Now Kevin Epling, who spent six years successfully campaigning for the law — named in honor of his late son — is pushing a follow-up effort to combat bullying done through social media, texting and instant messaging. He’s hoping — as should state voters — that it won’t take more than half a decade this time.

In fact, state lawmakers have already taken an initial step with a bill that would make districts and charter schools define “cyberbullying,” include it in their anti-bullying policies, report incidents to the state and come up with procedures to protect the confidentiality of those who report it.

Epling wants the legislation revised to go beyond bullying with school-owned devices to also target bullying with personal cell phones and computers, which is the way most young people communicate in 2013. He also wants Michigan to give more guidance to schools about drafting cyberbullying policies.

Despite claims from a handful of extremists who say anti-bullying laws are actually a plot by homosexuals to make being gay more acceptable — which, if you follow the alleged logic, means gay kids should, indeed, be fair game for bullies — bullying is a real and devastating problem for untold numbers of kids.

Every adult, if they are honest about it, can recall some kid being bullied by someone bigger, taller, cooler or richer. And it could be anything from actual physical abuse to a kid being shamed for being too skinny, too fat, wearing glasses or braces or having a goofy haircut.

For young people, these are real hurts and have real consequences. A recent Associated Press review of news articles found about a dozen suicides in the U.S. since October 2010 that were attributed at least in part to cyberbullying. A cyberbullying expert has said the real number is at least twice that.

Michigan was one of the last states to enact anti-bullying legislation. Being one of the first to address cyberbullying won’t heal those old wounds, but it will at least be a sign of how far the adults have come.