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Author Topic: Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray
philnotfil
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nytimes.com

quote:
The girl’s parents, wild with outrage and fear, showed the principal the text messages: a dozen shocking, sexually explicit threats, sent to their daughter the previous Saturday night from the cellphone of a 12-year-old boy. Both children were sixth graders at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J.

Punish him, insisted the parents.

“I said, ‘This occurred out of school, on a weekend,’ ” recalled the principal, Tony Orsini. “We can’t discipline him.”

Had they contacted the boy’s family, he asked.

Too awkward, they replied. The fathers coach sports together.

What about the police, Mr. Orsini asked.

A criminal investigation would be protracted, the parents had decided, its outcome uncertain. They wanted immediate action.

They pleaded: “Help us.”

Schools these days are confronted with complex questions on whether and how to deal with cyberbullying, an imprecise label for online activities ranging from barrages of teasing texts to sexually harassing group sites. The extent of the phenomenon is hard to quantify. But one 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization founded by two criminologists who defined bullying as "willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers, said one in five middle-school students had been affected.

The whole article is worth reading.

In that situation the school tried to stay out of the issue and eventually got pulled in. They found that the kid had lost his phone and the messages had been sent by another student.

It's hard for the schools. They don't want to get involved with things that are happening off campus, but they don't stay off campus. Students start missing school, there are more fights in the hallways (usually just screaming and pushing, but a distraction to the learning environment), and it is persistent and long-lasting. It used to be two kids would have a spat and be over it by the end of the day, now everyone at the school not just knows about it, but has become involved in it, and it lingers for days, or weeks, or months.

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Stevarooni
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Ugh. Personally, I think that the schools only ought to get involved within their territory. When the outside bullying affects students' actions on campus...it's their problem. Threatening another student (even if it is just "wait 'til I tell you what I'm going to do to you, on Facebook") fits.
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msquared
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How do you solve this? Don't let kids not in high schools use the computer as a social network.

The school should have stayed out of this. Just becuase it would "embarass" the parents, was no reason not to go to the kids parents. If it did not happen on school grounds or during school time, the school stays out of it.

msquared

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jasonr
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Maybe I'm naive, but when your kid is literally at the point of breakdown due to "cyberbullying" isn't it time to just pull the plug on social networking? How about throwing the cellphone in the garbage? What does a teen need a cellphone for anyway?

I mean really, what does the kid have to lose if he's already losing sleep, skipping school and contemplating suicide?

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Pete at Home
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quote:
In that situation the school tried to stay out of the issue and eventually got pulled in. They found that the kid had lost his phone and the messages had been sent by another student.

Sounds like a very good thing that the school got involved here. If the matter had waited for the legal process, there would have been more harm done, possibly violence. In this case, the school's immediate involvement made life better both for the victim and for the accused.

A school can determine who can and who cannot carry a cell phone. Create a system where cell phones are generally banned, but kids can get a permission slip to carry one. Bullying acts, or other innapropriate and disruptive use of cell phones cause suspension or permenant revocation of this license. Unlicensed cell phones are confiscated and sold to generate revenue for the overhead that this system requires.

Carrying a cell phone is a perk which I suspect kids would appreciate, and this might modify behavior more than remote chance of suspension.

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Dave at Work
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Wouldn't selling the phone constitute an unlawful taking of private property without due process? Why not confiscation with return after a well defined period of time which grows rapidly as repeat offenses occur. The first time you get it back at the end of the day after talking with the principal, vice principal, or a counselor. The second time you get it back after one week and a similar discussion. The third time after one month, and the fourth time, you get it back at the end of the semester.
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Dave at Work:
Wouldn't selling the phone constitute an unlawful taking of private property without due process? Why not confiscation with return after a well defined period of time which grows rapidly as repeat offenses occur. The first time you get it back at the end of the day after talking with the principal, vice principal, or a counselor. The second time you get it back after one week and a similar discussion. The third time after one month, and the fourth time, you get it back at the end of the semester.

Making sexual threats via text from a stolen cell phone IMO deserves a more serious response than texting during class.
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edgmatt
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Why is talking to the other parent out of the question? Just because they coach the same team? Too awkward? That seems ridiculous to me. Grow some marbles and have it out with the parents and the kid themselves. In this particular case, it would have been realized quicker that the boy lost his phone.
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philnotfil
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I thought the example they led with was fairly weak, particularly because the parents knew each other and the offended parents were unwilling to talk to the parents of the presumed offender.

You really should read the entire article.

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Stevarooni
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quote:
Originally posted by Pete at Home:
A school can determine who can and who cannot carry a cell phone. Create a system where cell phones are generally banned, but kids can get a permission slip to carry one. Bullying acts, or other innapropriate and disruptive use of cell phones cause suspension or permenant revocation of this license. Unlicensed cell phones are confiscated and sold to generate revenue for the overhead that this system requires.

That sounds very reasonable and rational. It'll never fly. [Wink]
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DonaldD
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Many schools already have a 'no mobile phones' policy - at least around here.
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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by edgmatt:
Why is talking to the other parent out of the question? Just because they coach the same team? Too awkward? That seems ridiculous to me. Grow some marbles and have it out with the parents and the kid themselves. In this particular case, it would have been realized quicker that the boy lost his phone.

I've read the entire article and I'm still inclined to agree with edgmatt. There is no reason the father could not have gone talk to the other father, unless he was scared. Both being coaches should have made it easier, not harder.
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Pete at Home
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Fear, distrust, desire for objectivity, family pressures ... the article suggests that both parties wanted the school to resolve it. The school could have recommended an external mediator, and agreed to be bound by recommendations within certain parameters.
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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by Pete at Home:
Fear, distrust, desire for objectivity, family pressures ... the article suggests that both parties wanted the school to resolve it. The school could have recommended an external mediator, and agreed to be bound by recommendations within certain parameters.

Were things always this way? Have I built some pseudo-fantasy in my mind, that back in some golden age, in a galaxy far far away, such intervention by outside parties was unnecessary? And I mean, without violence or blood feuds or anything medieval/Kentuckian.

Don't people and nations have a responsibility to work things out? I'm beginning to think that I am some sort of deranged last padawan of Don Quixote, insisting on using the force to defeat windmills while onlookers laugh at me. "Try calling an engineer", they jeer. "Oh no, I got this, watch me reach out with my mind and handle childhood squabbles with patience, reason, and judgement." The laughter is deafening.

I probably have another 50 years to live, maybe more. I don't know if I can handle the way things are going to be by then. This is how deranged conservatives are created, I know, I've seen them, met them.

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Pete at Home
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"Were things always this way?"

Cell phones and internet didn't always exist. They have solved some problems, aggraveted others, and created whole new problems.

"Don't people and nations have a responsibility to work things out?"

Yes, and they've often used mediators to do so.

Engineers fix windmills. If you want to defeat them, you're simply playing a different game. Like the difference between solving problems and making them go away.

Involving a private mediator seems a nicer solution than running all kids through metal detectors, searching their lockers, etc.... stuff that's gone on in some schools since the 1970s.

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philnotfil
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If you both read the article, why are you only talking about the anecdote that I quoted. As I said, that was the weakest of the bunch, it just happened to be the one they used as the intro.

Focusing on the lack of parenting in that anecdote leaves out the whole point of the article, that these things are happening off campus, but leaking onto campus and school officials are stuck dealing with things which they aren't equipped to handle.

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Grant
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Because if the parents had solved the problem there would not be any article discussing how the schools are ill-equipped to handle the situation that is taking place off campus but is leaking unto campus. The problem actually EXISTS BECAUSE two fathers could not speak to one another without "mediation", because if they had spoken, and sat down with their children, then then the problem could possibly have been solved. If the fathers could not work it out, then you are left with a school in a sticky situation, and judges in sticky situations. They probably would be better off going on Oprah or Sally-Jessie Raphael.

School bullying is nothing new. The only thing new is that it has passed on to a new medium that the schools and the judges haven't got a handle on yet. The problem created by the new medium, in this situation, could have been completely eliminated if two coaches actually talked to each other, then talked to their kids, then all talked together.

And that's why I'm focused on the "antecdote". Cause the thing that strikes me the most, other then the cruelty of children, nothing new, is the chicken@#$% attitude of the girl's father.

But in all fairness, I'm completely deranged. You'll just have to spare me my feelings on this subject.

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Cause the thing that strikes me the most, other then the cruelty of children, nothing new, is the chicken@#$% attitude of the girl's father.
I think that's an undereducated response to a delicate and complex situation. I suggest that you read up on the debate underlying the following invasion of privacy torts: False Light, Public disclosure of private facts. The capacity for instant mass dissemination of opinions and rumors, combined with the ability to digitally distort pictures, has created a whole new means of harm.

There's nothing new or wrong about two individuals who wish to preserve a civil relationship, seeking a neutral mediator to resolve their differences. Since you've issued several posts without ever clarifying what exactly your issue is here, I'd guess that it's not the use of mediation, but the use of such resolution issues to solve problems between children. Well there are pressures on children today, and children have a capacity for doing damage today, that they haven't historically had. There's a difference between tilting at windmills and burying one's head in the sand.

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Grant
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You're probably completely right, Pete. I won't debate on the topic.

My final word is that it seems to me to be such a small thing, so easily solved by reasonable adults, that mediation in this case, seems unnecessary to me. I will teach my children that adults try and work things out, person to person, first, before relying on outside assistance. The best way I can do that is by example.

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Pete at Home
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Kid A, credibly impersonating Boy B, makes threats of sexual violence against Girl C. Parents are going to be pretty upset. I suspect that Don Quixote would have gotten choked up by those facts since there's a magician of mirrors oppressing a damsel in distress. Going to the school to request prompt mediation sounds to me like a fairly mature response, given those facts.

Now if it were a matter of simple namecalling, I'd tend to agree with you.

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philnotfil
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quote:
Originally posted by Grant:
Because if the parents had solved the problem there would not be any article discussing how the schools are ill-equipped to handle the situation that is taking place off campus but is leaking unto campus. The problem actually EXISTS BECAUSE two fathers could not speak to one another without "mediation", because if they had spoken, and sat down with their children, then then the problem could possibly have been solved. If the fathers could not work it out, then you are left with a school in a sticky situation, and judges in sticky situations. They probably would be better off going on Oprah or Sally-Jessie Raphael.

School bullying is nothing new. The only thing new is that it has passed on to a new medium that the schools and the judges haven't got a handle on yet. The problem created by the new medium, in this situation, could have been completely eliminated if two coaches actually talked to each other, then talked to their kids, then all talked together.

And that's why I'm focused on the "antecdote". Cause the thing that strikes me the most, other then the cruelty of children, nothing new, is the chicken@#$% attitude of the girl's father.

But in all fairness, I'm completely deranged. You'll just have to spare me my feelings on this subject.

What about the other five or six anecdotes in the article?


In general, not directed specifically at Grant, I find it interesting that people are so willing to dismiss this problem because of the actions of the parent in the first story. The online world creeping into schools is a huge issue, and they aren't prepared to deal with it. A year or two ago there was an assistant principal whose life and career were ruined because he was asked to investigate an instance of "sexting" that was causing disruptions on his campus. He ended up with a copy of the picture being sent around on his computer, to use as evidence, and was arrested on child porn charges. Law enforcement and schools work under different sets of rules. The actions of students don't always fit under one set of responses or the other. Some things that are legal aren't appropriate in schools. Some things that happen in schools have laws against them, but shouldn't be prosecuted. How do schools deal with those issues, how do students deal with those issues, and how do parents deal with those issues? Those are the important questions.

I would have thought the actions of Mr. Cohen (a little later in the article) would have resulted in much more discussion.

[ June 29, 2010, 07:41 AM: Message edited by: philnotfil ]

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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by philnotfil:

In general, not directed specifically at Grant, I find it interesting that people are so willing to dismiss this problem because of the actions of the parent in the first story.

Forgive me. I never meant to dismiss the entire issue. The father in question was the outstanding point, for me at least, in the article. Young children using electronic devices for sexting and bullying is nothing new to me. I have four nephews and once niece, and I think some children are receiving these devices too young in life and are being unsupervised. Because the subject was old hat to me, it did not interest me to comment on it. If not for the bit about the father not wanting to talk to the other father, I would probably not have commented on the thread at all.

The response by Mr. Cohen did grab me. For some reason it didn't grab me hard enough to write about it. I thought his actions were also reprehensible, but he's brought the law into it now, and I think there are others around who can better comment on the law. My way would have been different.

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Dave at Work
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quote:
Originally posted by Pete at Home:
quote:
Originally posted by Dave at Work:
Wouldn't selling the phone constitute an unlawful taking of private property without due process? Why not confiscation with return after a well defined period of time which grows rapidly as repeat offenses occur. The first time you get it back at the end of the day after talking with the principal, vice principal, or a counselor. The second time you get it back after one week and a similar discussion. The third time after one month, and the fourth time, you get it back at the end of the semester.

Making sexual threats via text from a stolen cell phone IMO deserves a more serious response than texting during class.
True, but I was not talking about the texting of sexual threats situation, I was responding to your statement that "A school can determine who can and who cannot carry a cellphone." I took that whole paragraph to be about the schools right and responsibility to control cell phone usage and availability. While I agree that they can and should exert positive control on cellphone usage on school property, I disagree with the suggestion that "Unlicensed cell phones are confiscated and sold to generate revenue for the overhead that this system requires." That sentence right there is what I was commenting on. I do not think that the school has the right to sell a cellphone that belongs to a student just because he has run afoul of the rules. If a private school did such a thing I would call it theft, and if a public one did so I would call it an unlawful taking of private property without due process, or theft with government backing.

For clarity, here is the paragraph that I was responding to in whole with the portion in question emphasized.

quote:
A school can determine who can and who cannot carry a cell phone. Create a system where cell phones are generally banned, but kids can get a permission slip to carry one. Bullying acts, or other innapropriate and disruptive use of cell phones cause suspension or permenant revocation of this license. Unlicensed cell phones are confiscated and sold to generate revenue for the overhead that this system requires.

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Pete at Home
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Thanks. That's the enforcer on the licensed phones only rule. With that in place, you can determine whether to suspend a cell phone license for a week (for texting in class) or indefinitely (for sexual threats).
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Dave at Work
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I think my suggestion of a confiscate and hold to be returned later would be more legal and just than a confiscate and sell.

In any case I would think that most of these student cell phones are bought and paid for by the parents or grandparents rather than the students themselves. I know that is the case with my niece. How is selling property that probably belongs to the parent or grandparent of a student going to enforce behavior on the student? Is stealing from a student or his parents supposed to set some sort of positive example for how the student should act? I think that saying look you knew the rules and you broke them so now your cellphone will remain locked in this filing cabinet for 7 days will get the message across just fine to most students. For the remainder of them the cellphone may have to remain locked up a bit longer, but it should always be returned.

Actually, as I write this I notice that I am wrong about one thing. In my mind I have been equating your confiscate and sell enforcement as eminent domain, but with eminent domain at least the government has to reimburse the property owner, allegedly at fair market value. Here the proceeds of the sale are to "generate revenue for the overhead". This is more akin to selling the confiscated property of a criminal, but without the trial.

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Pete at Home
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The right to confiscated can be worked in via contract. Or there could be a legal fine for the offense, and the phone held as evidence until trial or until the fine is paid.
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G2
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quote:
Had they contacted the boy’s family, he asked.

Too awkward, they replied. The fathers coach sports together.

You gotta be freaking kidding me. The parents are "wild with outrage and fear" and it's too awkward to go the the parents of the boy sending out a dozen shocking, sexually explicit threats? There was a day when a father protected his daughter from kids like this and a conversation with the little ****'s parents would have been the least of it.

They claim they wanted immediate action but they're too cowardly to do it. Disgraceful. Her father should be ashamed.

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philnotfil
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quote:
Originally posted by G2:
quote:
Had they contacted the boy’s family, he asked.

Too awkward, they replied. The fathers coach sports together.

You gotta be freaking kidding me. The parents are "wild with outrage and fear" and it's too awkward to go the the parents of the boy sending out a dozen shocking, sexually explicit threats? There was a day when a father protected his daughter from kids like this and a conversation with the little ****'s parents would have been the least of it.

They claim they wanted immediate action but they're too cowardly to do it. Disgraceful. Her father should be ashamed.

They found out later that the boy wasn't the one who sent the texts.
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Pete at Home
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G2, do you have kids? Think it might be awkward to call someone you coach little league with, and ask, "what shall we do about your son threatening to rape my daughter?"

Good hell, man, we're talking about a serious crime here. Seeking a school arbitration was DE-escalation, not escalation.

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edgmatt
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It's the underlying message that is bothering me; only an objective third party can solve a problem between two parties.

When I'm teaching, and Johnny (for example) hits Bob a little too hard, Bob's reaction is usually to come right to me and get me to fix it. I usually tell Bob to go back and explain to Johnny that he's hitting to hard. Almost every time, Johnny says he's sorry, and it never happens again.

I don't like that the knee-jerk reaction is always to go to an authority before attempting to handle the situation one on one.

On a completly seperarte concern, I don't agree that the school is the authority they should have gone to. It didn't happen on school grounds, it is completely out of the jurisdiction of the school. If I were the parent of the kid who was accused, guilty or not, I wouldn't accept any form of discipline handed out. It's not within their jurisdiction to handle this sort of situation.

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edgmatt
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Pete - I would bring the cell phone over to the kids house, ask to see the parents, show the Dad (or mom) the messages, and go from there. I really don't believe, at the age of 11 or 12 that the kids would be so far outside the control of their parents that handling it this way would prove to be unfruitful. Especially considering the fathers are friends. (In this particular case, the fact that the kid had lost the phone would have come to light much faster and without getting the school involved. It might have also saved the story from going outside those two families, and prevented further embarressment and stress for the girl within her own social groups.)

However, if the parents were unresponsive, or if the kid was just completely out of control, then I might go to the police. Why get the school involved at all at this point?

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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by Pete at Home:
G2, do you have kids? Think it might be awkward to call someone you coach little league with, and ask, "what shall we do about your son threatening to rape my daughter?"

Good hell, man, we're talking about a serious crime here. Seeking a school arbitration was DE-escalation, not escalation.

Pete, I wouldn't find it awkward at all to call up a colleague with this information. I know he would much much prefer me to call him up first, then bring it to a principal or to the police. I wouldn't be rude or angry, but concerned. I know that 12 year old boys typically aren't rapists, just bullies. That's how I was taught to handle problems initially, person to person, man to man. If my son had been framed like this, and the other father had not tried to talk to me first, I would look down on the other father. We could have figured things out together, without bringing in third parties. I extend that same courtesy to all other fathers. I treat others the way I would like to be treated.

Of course the guy is allowed to seek a third party to help. I'm not debating that. Of course mediation may be necessary if both parties are not being reasonable. If my daughter was raped, then no, I would not try to solve things mano e mano. Nor would I expect anyone else to.

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Pete at Home
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Here, a serious crime is involved. One would expect a parent to lie to protect a child. Some investigation and hard questions are required, and it's reasonable for the parent to want an intermediary.

quote:
Of course the guy is allowed to seek a third party to help. I'm not debating that. Of course mediation may be necessary if both parties are not being reasonable. If my daughter was raped, then no, I would not try to solve things mano e mano. Nor would I expect anyone else to.
Sounds like we agree in principle, them, and simply differ in application because I take the threat of rape more seriously.

When you have threats, it's particularly important to get that to the authorities, because if there's a repeat of the threats, or an attempt to carry them out, you will lose credibility if you mention the threats and did not fill out a report on them. And when I say lose credibility I don't mean just embarassment; I mean that they will think you a liar.

[ June 30, 2010, 11:00 AM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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quote:
Originally posted by edgmatt:
Pete - I would bring the cell phone over to the kids house, ask to see the parents, show the Dad (or mom) the messages, and go from there. I really don't believe, at the age of 11 or 12 that the kids would be so far outside the control of their parents that handling it this way would prove to be unfruitful. Especially considering the fathers are friends. (In this particular case, the fact that the kid had lost the phone would have come to light much faster and without getting the school involved. It might have also saved the story from going outside those two families, and prevented further embarressment and stress for the girl within her own social groups.)

However, if the parents were unresponsive, or if the kid was just completely out of control, then I might go to the police. Why get the school involved at all at this point?

Exactly.
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Pete at Home
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Dandy in principle. The problem I have with applying such principles here is, like I said, these are serious charges. Giving someone a heads up, under these circumstances, likely means giving them time to fabricate, confabulate, and manufacture alibis.

Parents, even those who are otherwise decent people, will often lie in order to protect their minor child from the consequence of his/her actions.

"I wouldn't find it awkward at all to call up a colleague with this information"

It's not necessarily about awkwardness, although that's how a polite parent would frame it to be delicate, and to avoid saying, I don't trust the other parent with this information unless an arbitrator is there.

"Why get the school involved at all at this point?"
What the article said. For speed, for an expedited process.

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edgmatt
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If it's too serious that the parents can't handle it themselves, call the police.

If it's not serious enough that the police have to be called, then the parents can handle it.

In either case, the school doesn't need to be contacted and forced to handle something that doesn't fall under their jurisdiction.

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edgmatt
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As far as serious charges go, this is on the lower end of that scale. I don't take it very serious when a child says "I'm gonna kill you!" to another child when he's enraged. I don't take the threat of rape from a 6th grader AS serious as I would an adult making the same threat.

Yea it's a big deal, but it's not worth going to the police over right off the bat.

Which brings me to my first concern, the idea that only someone else can handle my problems. I just would rather handle it myself if it's within reason. I understand, Pete, you think this is not within reason, and that's cool, it's just not how I see it.

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If you can settle it personally, great. I think it's good in this case that the school arb option was there.
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Well I don't understand why you think the school should be the arbitrator here. My tone here is inquisitive not impatient...can you explain how this incident falls into the jurisdiction of the school?
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quote:
Originally posted by edgmatt:
Well I don't understand why you think the school should be the arbitrator here.

How many links to school shootings would you like to see?

quote:
My tone here is inquisitive not impatient...can you explain how this incident falls into the jurisdiction of the school?
There is no issue of jurisdiction with a mutually appointed arbitrator. If you and I quarrel, we could agree to appoint Kim Jong Il as our arbitrator, if he's agreeable and schedules permitting.
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