To start off, I am a SUPPORTER of the anti bullying message.That being said, my views about bullying come from personal experience. I had meningitis at 18m old and as a result of the medication (strong antibiotics), I lost part a significant part of my hearing (enought to warrant wearing aids). I was bullied. One girl held my hand and took me around the playground and said, “She hates you, he hates you, and she hates you and most of all, I hate you.” I ran home and told my Mom. The girl was never punished because it was ‘he said/she said’. In response, the teachers and principles decided that in order for kids to understand me better, that they should understand more my disability. They scheduled an hour long seminar and brought in an expert. It helped the kids to identify “what” a disability was and how it impacted me personally. The problem was, creating awareness about disability didn’t resolve the issue. After a few weeks, the bullying started up again. Since then, I’ve grown up and moved on, but I haven’t forgotten. That being said, what are my specific problems with the Anti Bullying message?
I’m so glad you asked.
1. Zero Tolerance is stupid because of competing ideals: Abuse Prevention Policy meet Anti Bullying Policy
Twenty years ago, in my school, the principle had a paddle hanging from the wall in his office. He never had to use it, but that paddle had mythic legends built around it which effectively kept us kids under control. Now, I’m absolutely NOT saying we need to go back to using physical punishment. What I am saying though, is since the paddle days, the “abuse prevention” agenda has swung so far that it’s impacting the type of discipline that principles and teachers can apply in schools. Kids are well aware of this change, as I’ve been told by my teacher friends, and they know exactly how far they can press. In addition, teacher authority is being further undermined by lawyers, parents, and legislators who want to protect the child at any cost, including the parent’s innocence. Add a few “bad apple” teachers who have abused kids, and you have the perfect storm prevalent in schools today where the majority of teacher authority is severly undermined.
The kids know they rule the roost, they know if enough of them corroborate a story it has to be seen as true, then they can avoid punishment. Many kids also understand that if they so much as whispers the words ‘yell’ or ‘hit’ about a teacher to an authority figure, that teacher will get in serious trouble. The problem with a zero tolerance policy, do you believe the kid or do you further investigate to see if the kid is lying to avoid punishment or create a power play. Policies that protect students from ‘abuse’ are at odds with the expectation that teachers should enforce and protect kids from bullies using discipline. This is not an easy problem to solve, if someone is abused in school or if they get bullied, someone will likely sue. I realize and understand that, but if we ever expect bullying to be reduced to the lowest common denominator, we’ve got to give teachers the ability to dole out appropriate consequences fortified with a like minded administration. Right now in schools, they do the best to identify an issue and then just suspend or expel the kid because that is the safest legal way to do so.
2. Too much ‘vicimization’ of the Bullied is stupid and leads to problems
Once someone gets attention, that individual tends to go back to the scenario that worked. If the image of a ‘bullied victim’ is positively reinforced as a way to get attention, then the ‘victim’ is likely to stay a victim. As I researched websites on “anti bullying” I found this message (of vicimization) to be true on most of the sites. For example, Do Something, promoted the Bully movie, had campaigns such as a scavanger hunt (with nothing to do to help bullying situations), helping students in financial need, or (again) watching the Bully movie. This website felt more like a soft core marketing site for the movie than it did a place to find help about bullying. The other websites I checked, many had a small section (hard to find) on steps that a kid or parent could take to stop bullying, but most of the websites focused on the message “stop bullying” and new school policy to expulse or suspend the kids. While it is a step in the right direction, the new school policies (such as expulsion and suspension) or the popular choice of victimizing the individual has become hyper focused. What we need are serious steps by parents and school systems to teach kids how to stand up for themselves, therapy to heal wounds, and communication skills with parents and adults. Even more desperately, we need to help the bully.
3. Let’s not forget to fix the Bully
Of all the websites I perused, I found only one anti bullying site that addressed helping the “bully” to learn about how to be a nice kid. Time Science, Psychology Today, and CNN all did articles on how teaching empathy reduces bullying. The government website addressed the issue in a tangential way by asking teachers to focus on creating safe environments and educating students about what a bully is. In a society that seems to care more about attention than doing the right thing, by creating a forum (even if negative) will allow more bullies to thrive rather than alleviate the problem. I can tell you from experience, when my 1 year old wants attention, the first thing she does is go for the “No” areas in the house. We do ourselves a great disservice by focusing to heavily on one area of the problem and ignoring the bully. It’s ironic because in all the advice I read about how to handle a bully, the worst thing you can do is ignore him/her. Isn’t that what we are doing as a collective society? Also, is anyone exploring the issues that a bully is experiencing at home? What if the bully is abused at home and has become a bully to cope with a harmful home life? How sad that we would simply punish that kid instead of offering help. It is my belief that by just punishing a bully, you are not giving that kid a chance to undo his/her behavior, you are adding more fuel to the fire. Expelling and Suspending a bully from school doesn’t change behavior, it creates a pissed off kid who doesn’t know how to adjust in society. It’s likely this bully will probably become a worse problem (like an adult bully).
The Anti Bully message for kids is a great start and I am glad that people are taking a stand, but there are issues within the message. While bullying will never completely go away, there is hope if we focus on a balanced approach to help the individual being bullied AND the bully.
What do you think about bullying? Did you ever bully someone and then change your ways? Were you ever bullied, how did you handle it? How can we improve on the “anti bullying” message?