Two schoolkids – one 12 years old, the other 15 – have been shamelessly used by the national media this week as ratings fodder, after a schoolyard fight was filmed and uploaded to the internet. In the video, the younger one punches the older one, and in return the older one “body-slams” the younger one to the ground. The younger one has been declared – by name, openly, repeatedly throughout the commercial media – as a “bully” and damned by talkback callers, newspaper letter writers, blog commenters, and facebook vigilantes around the country.
At twelve years old.
The matter reached a ridiculous nadir last night, with two genuine bullies – the “current affairs” shows Today Tonight and A Current Affair – now about to sue each other over ripping off each others’ footage.
But it looks like very few have bothered to consider the welfare of the children involved, and the impact of smearing a child around the country.
There are special laws regarding kids under 14 who commit crimes, and the main reason for that is that they are not as responsible for their actions as someone who is older. They do not have the same capacity to make rational adult decisions. Their understanding is not fully developed and they should not be judged as if they had the maturity to be fully responsible for what they do. They are also particularly vulnerable.
So where’s the responsibility in the adults who are turning this twelve year old boy into the villain-du-jour? By name? Have they considered the serious damage they could be doing to him?
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Bullying is a real problem, and deserves to be – and should be – taken very seriously. Schools should not tolerate it, and should ensure that kids who are bullying others learn that it is not acceptable, and are reformed. But that’s a very different thing from demonising a young boy, turning him into tabloid fodder and condemning him around the country by name.
Even if it is ratings gold.
UPDATE: A Herald Sun typist laments the media piling onto the boy:
How many people—let alone year 7 boys—have had so much hatred heaped on them this week, whether it’s through vilification on national television here and in the United States, or the most vicious emails and postings to internet sites?
Here are some very typical examples among thousands, taken from postings to YouTube: “7 people thought [Boy 2] should have curb-stomped the f…er after he slammed him … if every bully like him died the world would be a better place”.
No wonder that when Channel 7 decided for some cruelly selfish reason to interview [Boy 1] on Today Tonight—and I repeat, he’s just 12—he finally started to cry.
His father Peter also cried, from fear and the pain of humiliation more public and more personal than he could ever have believed possible.
“All I’m going to say is ‘Stop’,” he wept. “We’ve had enough.”
But nothing is so merciless as righteous indignation, and the bullying of [Boy 2] has in turn licensed the inner bully in so many adults, who now do to a 12-year-old what they claim to deplore when he did it to [Boy 2].
Have you ever before seen a mere boy stuck on a chair on national television to be told he’s a bully with an “anger problem” who should say sorry?
It’s scandalous. Who is looking after his interests? What money changed hands to buy his public scolding?
Considerably undermined by what follows:
It is perfectly true [Boy 1] acted like a thug, even if we were to accept as true his claim that [Boy 2] had been “calling me an idiot and stuff”.
But that ‘t’ in his name—a semi-literate protest against the sheer ordinariness of the underclass—already hinted at what seeing him and his father confirmed.
[Boy 1] has a rat’s-tail haircut and a stud in his eyebrow—more cries of assertion through store-bought rebellion…
And then we see [Boy 1]’s father, with missing teeth, exhausted eyes and wild hair, as if dragged through life backwards by his ankles.
As we may have guessed, he’s separated from [Boy 1]’s mother, also missing teeth and defiant.
HOW DARE THEY BULLY THIS BOY/HERE ARE SOME ASPECTS TO MOCK ABOUT HIM AND HIS FAMILY.