Author and teacher, Jennifer Fraser has a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto. Her written work ranges from academic studies to plays and novels and she has taught for over twenty years at the university, college and high-school levels.

A passionate educator, her new book Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance on the Court or in the Classroom explores what happens when the bully is a teacher or coach.

Anti-bullying author and advocate, Barbara Coloroso has said “Fraser’s focus on teachers and coaches is a new and important contribution to the field.”

 

Friday
Dec182015

Why does the law protect children’s bodies, but not their minds?

By Jennifer Fraser, PhD

Author of Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance on the Court or in the Classroom

September 7, 2015

 

What happens to a young athlete when the coach calls him a “pussy”? The Weapon of Choice project that made this photograph works tirelessly in the US to teach us that an abuser can choose the weapon of physicality, sexuality or emotion to wound children. In the case of this boy, the abuser chose a word and Weapon of Choice makes it brutally clear just how much that word hurt. The outer bruise, that is taken so seriously by the law so that it would be considered criminal, is not as devastating as what has happened in the non-visible world of the brain. The bruise heals, but according to the experts, the scar it leaves on the brain is quite possibly permanent. We do not tolerate

adults who beat or sexually harm children, why in the 21st century do we still allow them to emotionally wound children?

In June 2014, the BBC announced that the British government was moving towards including emotional abuse in the criminal code along with physical and sexual abuse. The Queen’s speech suggested that a new law prohibiting emotional abuse, referred to as the “Cinderella Law,” was moving forward. According to Action for Children’s chief executive, Sir Tony Hawkhead, “Children who are made to feel worthless, powerless and unloved by their families will now have the law on their side” [1]. Earlier, in April 2014, in The Independent, Frank Furedi criticized the new law as “emotional correctness gone mad.” [2] Furedi argues that the government is interfering in child rearing and that exchanges between parents and children, that at times may be cruel, would result in criminal charges if the Cinderella Law was passed. However, the proposed law does not have cruel interactions between parents and children as its purview. According to the BBC, the “bill will extend the definition of child cruelty to ensure it covers extreme cases of psychological harm.” [3] Losing one’s temper, or saying something unkind, are parental failures, but they are not what the Cinderella Law is meant to deter or enforce. In The Daily Mail, Matt Chorley and Sian Boyle clarify that the “new law would make it a crime to deliberately harm a child’s ‘intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development’” and so it would sit “alongside the physical or sexual abuse of children.” [4] Think about it: emotional abuse marks and changes the brain in harmful ways; the brain is part of the body; therefore, emotional abuse actually is physical abuse and should be treated as criminal.

A parent or caregiver losing their temper or saying something careless or cruel is very unlikely to cause a child to become depressed or have suicidal thoughts. However, according to the experts—-and there are far too many reputable studies to cite from at least forty years of research—-an adult who demeans, humiliates, swears, yells, ignores, shuns, threatens, blocks a child from opportunities may result in emotionally or psychologically harming the child in serious ways. Britain’s Cinderella Law recognizes that harm does not only happen to a child’s body, it also can happen to a child’s mind. Extensive studies by psychiatrists and psychologists have compiled data that reveals emotional abuse is as harmful, if not more harmful, than physical and sexual. These findings are now being corroborated by the work of neuroscientists who can see scars and other changes in the brain from emotional abuse on MRI machines. [5]

The Cinderella Law should cover caregivers in classrooms, on sports fields, and in administrators’ offices. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, the Cinderella Law should protect children in boarding schools who have teachers or other adults in loco parentis (acting as caregivers or legal guardians in a parental position). Children are not taught their rights and neither are their parents. Teachers and coaches are oftentimes not even taught courses on emotional abuse and the damage it does even though they are considered legally responsible to report emotional abuse to educational authorities if they even suspect it is occurring at school or in the home.

When a father in New Jersey, Stuart Chaifetz, went on Youtube to tell the story about the emotional abuse of his autistic son by the child’s teacher and aide, there was a great outcry and over five million people watched, but there was no change in the law to better protect children from teachers who bully. The only way Stuart Chaifetz could even find out what was being said to his child was by putting a wiretap on him. [6] The teacher bullying captured on the wiretap is as terrible as Mike Rice bullying his players which was captured on practice tapes and made public by ESPN. [7] What we learn is that whether the student is a ten year old boy with autism or a Division One player at college, students struggle to speak about the emotionally abusive regime under which they suffer. They are either silenced by having a condition like autism, or believing the teacher knows best, or they’ve normalized the abuse and think they deserve it, or they fear losing playing time, or worse their scholarship. Students are a vulnerable population; children in homes are far more vulnerable and conflicted. If they speak up, they might get their parent in trouble, break up their family, lose their home.

At present, in Canada, the UK, and the USA, if you murder a child, you are held responsible by the law, but if you emotionally harm a child to the point that they commit suicide, the child is held accountable for his or her own death. Thus, the Cinderella Law indicates a significant shift in our legal thinking so that an adult who causes a child to feel so worthless that he wants to kill himself may now be held accountable. Considering suicide is one of the leading causes of death in adolescent populations and college age students, it would appear this law cannot come quickly enough. We live at a time when a

new word, “bullycide”, has entered the lexicon and one of the motivators for this condition is listed as “Being the victim of bullying by an authority figure like a parent, teacher, coach or other adult.” [8]

As Sir Tony Hawkhead explains the need for the Cinderella Law: “Emotional abuse can create permanent scars, leading to mental health problems and, in extreme cases, to suicide. This legislation will change lives.” [9] It would appear that there are a lot of extreme cases considering that according to bullying statistics in the US, suicide has increased by fifty percent in the last thirty years [10]. Clearly all of our directives to children about not bullying are failing and perhaps the reason is: adults who model bullying are not being held accountable by the law for their bullying or emotional cruelty. The Cinderella Law has the power to act as a significant deterrent. It would result in all adults in caregiver positions becoming well-educated in emotional abuse and thereby taught how to avoid it or self-report and get help if it is a struggle. Our society needs rehab not just for bodies, but for minds. All children have the right to grow up and learn in a fair, safe, healthy environment.

The story of Cinderella foregrounds the suffering of the targeted child and it also recounts the way in which the other children receive privileges from the abusive adult. The “evil stepsisters” are rewarded for mimicking the adult’s behavior thereby learning how to bully, being unlikely to report, and in fact, being more likely to cover up the adult’s abuse and their own bystander status. Adults who emotionally abuse, teach children to bully. The stepsisters are not really “evil”; they are children who have been raised to believe that bullying is acceptable and will be rewarded. In fact, you might argue it’s a survival strategy: it’s vital for the stepsisters to appease the emotionally abusive adult so that they never become the target themselves. And yet we are writing laws to hold these children accountable, when we lack such laws for adults. It’s backwards thinking. Let’s protect children’s minds; they are as vulnerable and valuable as children’s bodies.

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-27693587

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/the-cinderella-law-emotional-correctness-gone-mad-9231233.html

 

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-27693587

 

[4] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2593042/Cinderella-Law-stop-emotional-abuse-children-Parents-fail-love-face-prison.html#ixzz3n9aFBQhD 

 

[5] http://www.edutopia.org/blog/what-neuroscience-reveals-bullying-by-educators-jennifer-fraser

 

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfkscHt96R0

 

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mtf6eWtGWh0

 

[8] http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullycide.html

 

[9] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-27693587

 

[10] http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-statistics-2010.html