Bullying and what to do about it has been a hot topic for awhile now. There are lots of anti-bullying campaigns, trying to educate kids and parents about why it’s wrong to be a bully. I think in some cases we are getting a little extreme on the anti-bullying front, where in some cases a child can just be doing some playful teasing and be accused of, and punished, for bullying. I think we need to take a step back and properly define what we mean by bullying. Playful teasing is one thing, but when it crosses the border into verbal abuse and threats, or escalates into physical assault, then it has crossed a line and something does need to be done.
I was badly bullied throughout elementary school. It was a combination of verbal and physical abuse from several classmates, and not much was ever really done about it. However, one thing I’ve come to learn as I got older is that all the kids who were bullying me, were themselves victims of abuse. The reason they were bullying smaller, weaker children was their way of acting out and taking *some* control of their otherwise out-of-control lives. I know this isn’t news to most people but it seems like we aren’t addressing the real issue. Sure we can be all lovey-dovey and try to get kids to hold-hands and sing “Kumbaya,” but it won’t solve the problem. We can tell kids that bullying is wrong, but it won’t fix the problem.
I think if an incident of bullying is reported, here are the steps I think that need to take place:
- Bring in a child psychologist and evaluate the child accused of bullying. I would do this without informing the parents because if the bully is in an abusive home, this will just cause further harm.
- If it is determined that the bully is not in an abusive situation at home, then bring in the parents and conduct further evaluation to determine if the bully is experiencing abuse somewhere else (other relative, priest, coach, etc.).
- If the bully isn’t being abused, then evaluate the child to see if he/she may be a sociopath, and determine a course of treatment.
Just punishing a “bully” by suspending them from school could potentially cause more harm than good. Bullies often act out because of an abusive situation they are in, although I’m sure some may just be sociopaths. However, in either case, instead of punishing, why not try to help the bully? I see bullying as a cry for help, and not something that requires punishment. Yes, what bullies do is wrong but if we can help them fix what is causing them to do this behavior, we can reduce or eliminate bullying a lot more effectively.
I’m not sure if anyone is doing something like this, but I think this would be the best approach. I know I have since forgiven all my bullies over the years. I even cried when I heard of one of them being gunned down in a gang fight several years after we graduated. Let’s try stopping the bullying by actually helping the bullies.