This game best left to the experts
A middle school in Marinette Wisconsin asked its students to participate in a game called “Cross The Line.” The basic concept of the game is to ask children to respond to questions by stepping forward across the line if their answer is yes. The game is sometimes used at camps and churches as a team building exercise. It is meant to help participants understand that they are not alone in their life experiences. However, at this school, it was used as part of an anti-bullying program and parents, who were not told in advance that their children would be playing this game, felt the school officials crossed the line with the questions they asked. “Do your parents drink?” “Has anyone in your family been to jail?” “Have you ever wanted to commit suicide?” “Have you ever experienced or wanted to cut [yourself]?”
There is disagreement about the circumstances surrounding the game. One student reported that she was threatened with an in school suspension if she did not participate. The school says that students were given the option not to participate. Some students corroborated the school’s statement while others say they were pressured to participate.
Parents argued that students that age are not capable of providing informed consent to this type of activity. Informed consent is based upon a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and future consequences of an action. Eleven, twelve and thirteen year olds cannot adequately judge what future consequences they might face by revealing personal information to their peers. The intent of the school may have been innocent, to build a sense of community by showing children that they are not alone in their struggles, but their choice of questions revealed their incompetence in considering possible future consequence of asking children to share their personal thoughts and feelings in a large group.
Consider the youth ministry version of this game. Their questions include things like, “If you: consider yourself a happy person, have your drivers license, have a lot of doubts about Christianity, prefer being by yourself, have an idea what you want to do after high school, need a hug…. cross the line.” Parents have a lot fewer concerns about their children responding to those questions. By its very nature, youth ministry programs are designed to help children explore difficult and deeply personal questions about themselves and their faith so, it would not be surprising for them to participate in this game in such programs.
In contrast, most parents do not feel public school is a place for their children to explore deep personal questions or insecurities, especially with untrained teachers and in the presence of other children. Such exercises are usually reserved for professionals like licensed psychologists, in an appropriate private setting with a specific diagnostic goal. Such professionals would not condone the sharing, let alone forced sharing of such details by untrained personnel with a group.
The school has said that they will not play this game in the future without parental notification. I wonder how low their consent numbers have to go before the school drops the “game.” The parents should ask them if the staff would be willing to play the game, with the same questions, in front of an audience of parents. How many teachers and secretaries do you think would be out on the gym floor if it was not required to keep their job?
It is unfortunate that Marinette Middle School administrators are unfamiliar with the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232h. This federal law requires school districts or schools to notify parents and obtain consent or allow them to opt their child out of participating in certain school activities. These activities include a student survey, analysis, or evaluation that concerns one or more of the following eight areas:
1. Political affiliations or beliefs of the student or student’s parent;
2. Mental or psychological problems of the student or student’s family;
3. Sex behavior or attitudes;
4. Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior;
5. Critical appraisals of others with whom respondents have close family relationships; 6. Legally recognized privileged relationships, such as with lawyers, doctors, or ministers;
7. Religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or parents; or
8. Income, other than as required by law to determine program eligibility.
Wait, is that the question list from Cross the Line?!
The game is a survey of sorts even though the answers may not be officially recorded. You can bet that they are mentally recorded by the bullies in the group, to be pulled out at a later convenient date. Today’s new mean bullies, as described by the Anderson Cooper anti-bullying initiative known as “Bullying: It Stops Here,” are not the traditional bullies of old who suffer from bullying themselves at home or a desperate need to hide their own insecurities. They are typically highly, well-liked popular kids who are engaging in these behaviors, the ones standing firmly in place in the Cross The Line Game, and Marinette Middle School just gave them more ammunition.
Check out the bullying info graphic from Anderson Cooper 360 here.