Five days ago, a ten year old fifth grader named Ashawnty Davis from Colorado committed suicide after a fight she was in was posted to a social media website. Her parents are understandably devastated and distraught, and they and a cadre of sympathizers are calling for accountability. As I read post after post about this situation, I begin to worry about how the word accountability is being used and what holding involved parties ‘accountable’ looks like.
When accountability equals punishment, I believe it becomes an ineffective solution.Consequences can be part of a solution to the problem, no doubt about it. But if we equate these behaviors with criminal behavior that deserves punishment, if we look to the model of prison as punishment, is it an effective model at changing behavior? Does the death penalty deter murders? No. Do social programs and safety nets help mitigate crimes? Yes. But there is so much more to alleviating a problem like young children committing suicide because they are bullied. People lead busy but shallow lives. A little girl killing herself is a big story that pulls at people’s heartstrings and now people want “accountability” for all the other 10 year olds that bullied her, the school, the parents. The things that would really make a dent in this problem can’t be solved by taking to social media and demanding justice. We can point it out, continue anti bullying initiatives, improve them, provide services and maybe mandatory parenting classes (I would LOVE that!) But that would cost money and time and emotional investment that people don’t want to do because they have a lot on their plates as it is. So then it becomes, we’ll assign blame to this set of people and feel like we did something about it.
I’m not saying parents shouldn’t teach their children that there are consequences for their actions, nor am I saying schools don’t have a responsibility to be proactive in making sure that students are physically and mentally safe. I’m saying zero tolerance and harsh punishments (especially for young children) don’t work and that the solutions lie in a collective, proactive response that begins with all members of our society.
How many of us sign up to be Big Brothers/Big Sisters http://www.bbbs.org/ ? How many of us have started a parenting class for young mothers in our spare time? Done outreach in the shelter system other than doling out food on Thanksgiving day for a photo op. Do you know anyone who has? Who has/is fostering children? Not many because we have our own kids to raise and our bills to pay and our problems to worry about. So the problems continue. Calling for justice from our couches and keyboards, calling for accountability instead of examining the series of tiny failures that lead up to a child’s suicide and coming up with concrete solutions and then helping to implement them isn’t the answer. Come up with some ideas that will make a difference in your community, rally friends and do something.
Publicize a hotline for parents and students to call for advice or help regarding bullying. Staff the phones at one of those hotlines. Research how to bring anti bullying initiatives to your local public school. Be available to other parents who may not have anyone to talk to or to advise them on parenting issues. (I would normally link to the federal government’s website for their anti-bullying initiative, but not with this administration.) Here’s one I like: Don’t Snooze on Clues:http://www.dontsnoozeonclues.com/ . We need to be more than keyboard warriors in order to combat bullying. Kinder people make kinder children make a kinder community make a kinder society. That’s where bullying ends.