Because Bullying is a LEARNED SKILL
Bullying behaviors are an adult privilege in our culture.
I doubt many children see themselves as bullies, just as many parents, teachers, bus drivers and kid sitcom writers don’t see themselves as bullies. Subjecting people to a constant evaluation of their actions (while ignoring other aspects of their development, namely their preferences, dreams and skills you can’t see them making a living with) is just plain rude, including the labeling of certain behaviors as “bullying.” Call it what it is, rude. When we stop tolerating and teaching rudeness- on all fronts- and stop dividing the different flavors of rudeness into “parenting” and “bullying,” recognizing that being mean to other people SUCKS, then maybe it won’t be such a problem.
As long as we’re a nation with compulsory schooling, bullying will never end.
Yes- you read me correctly, I attribute a lot of bullying ENTIRELY to forced schooling. The rest of the blame is with parents, parents of both the bullies AND their victims
But in order to proceed with this diatribe, I need to try to stop using the word bullying. Yes, it’s convenient to lump every form of rudeness into one nasty word. Intolerance, homophobia, domination by force, physical violence, coercion, ridiculing… these are specific types of rudeness that are often lumped together as bullying. Or discipline, if you’re a grown-up.
Let’s take a look at the dictionary definitions of Bullying:
1. the act of intimidating a weaker person to make them do something
2. repeated acts over time that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful. The power imbalance may be social power and/or physical power.
3. includes behaviors and actions that are verbal, physical and/or anti-social, such as exclusion, gossip and non-verbal body language.
How can anyone expect children to be strong in the face of behaviors like this when popular parenting practices encourage adults to be BULLIES.
Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s look at popular parenting advice:
Sara Chana at Parenting-Advice.net gives parents this advice for teaching toddlers how to share:
Be a referee. When kids play together, always expect fights. Be observant. As soon as a situation comes up, get in between the kids and play referee. Use presence of an adult could stop a scene, but if not, then it’s time to negotiate a little. Use the opportunity to teach the value of sharing. If the kids do not want to play together, then divide the toys equally.
WebMD gives this advice for parents when dealing with the grocery store tantrum:
“I call it the “Stepford Wife” approach,” Lerner says. As your child screams, say, ‘I know, I know,’ but stay completely calm as you pick him up. Don’t show any emotion.
Sometimes the best tactic is to ignore the behavior entirely. “You just literally act like they’re not doing what they’re doing. You ignore the behavior you want to stop,” Lerner says. When your child realizes that his screaming fit is not going to get him a second lollipop or your attention, eventually he’ll get tired of yelling.
Supernanny advises parents struggling with tantrums:
(OK- more than half of the article WAS quoted below, I had to choose just one, but to be honest, it was a hard decision. PLEASE avoid the insanity that is Supernanny. Her techniques are not to be used on humans, EVER)
Sometimes young children need it spelled out so they can see how their behaviour relates back to Mum and Dad pulling them up all the time. Your child reacts aggressively when you try to enforce rules and limits – so he gets told off. Explain to him in simple terms the connection between those two events: “Jack, being told off makes you cranky. But if you keep hitting and biting, I’m going to keep telling you off. If you stop doing it then I won’t tell you off.”
So a quick rundown of those expert parenting resources tells us that parents should, at times,
1. Expect kids to fight and micromanage the child’s social life so that children can’t have an honest interaction with their peers. Keep your eyes open for the slightest sign of conflict and intervene right away. Show them (by example) how to take-toys-away, then arbitrarily re-assign them. This is a good way to be sure that they don’t get emotionally attached to anything they like because that’s an adult privilege. The goal is to teach them that they’re not in control of their social life or their possessions.
Does this sound like a practice that will help kids learn how to share with one another? These kids never had much of a chance to communicate with one another and the domineering intervention was completely insensitive.
Hmmm… this kinda reminds me of bullying definition #2, where parents use the imbalance of power to “force” toddlers to share, instead of respecting that the 1st toddler isn’t done with the toy yet. Nature doesn’t often put two toddlers in the same family, naturally occurring multiple births are quite rare and toddlers should not be expected to share, nor should they be forced. Luckily, adults are creative and resourceful and there’s ALWAYS a win-win option.
Sharing is an act of love, you want your friend to experience the same joy you experience when you’re playing with your favorite toy. Forcing a toddler to give up a toy, then to watch another child enjoy it is a SUPREME INJUSTICE- it’s torture. This breeds nothing but resentments and not a sense of generosity. Think about it. When you WANT to give something, giving feels good. When you do NOT want to give something, giving feels bad. Let’s not teach our children that sharing is a punishment.
Expert parenting Advice #2 teaches children to internalize bullying in another way:
Forget about preventing tantrums at the store by maintaining an active, connected constant conversation (It’s amazing how much a toddler can talk at the store when you’re counting grocery-dollars in your head) These “experts” assume that tantrums are inevitable and advise parents to ignore it.
Can you imagine the emotional distress a child must be feeling in order to throw themselves around, kicking and screaming like that? Is it really mature to pretend that such a display isn’t distressing to witness? In her defense, the author was trying to get parents to react without violence or anger. Which is noble. But how about we remind parents that the child didn’t suddenly notice the price of peas and implode. Volcanoes don’t just blast. they rumble, they vent and THEN they blow.
Tantrums at the grocery store are generally the result of a child’s repeated requests being ignored. Yes, it’s difficult to hear “can I have a cookie?” and “can we get corn dogs?” and “I wanted the blue noodles” and “Grandma has a cat named Lucy” and “I need to pee.” Especially when you’re on a budget or in a hurry or afraid they’re out of your favorite creamer.
I have six kids ranging in age from 2-16 and I promise you, without a doubt, that EVERY SINGLE grocery store tantrum I’ve experienced was MY FAULT. Toddlers want to be heard. Sometimes it’s hard to listen, especially when you’re distracted. Communication is a basic human need, like touch, food and sleep. Communication and opposable thumbs set us apart from chimpanzees. If you don’t want your child to act like a chimpanzee at the grocery store, allow him to communicate by participating in his conversation. YES- it is that easy.
But this expert’s advice is completely insane AND- bears a striking resemblance to the “social exclusion” version of bullying. It models a forced and phony lack of emotion at just the WRONG time- the time when your kid is dying to make contact. It’s almost psychopathic, isn’t it? The author even recognizes that, by likening it to The Stepford Wives.
Put yourself in the child’s shoes. You want something stupid (no offense). You asked. You might have whined, you might have yelled. You might have whispered or sung it to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle.” But you asked. Several times. You might not even remember what it is you were pointing at 3 aisles ago, but you know that your mom is ignoring you. She might be talking to you “I know” but she’s obviously not paying attention and dammit, she’s supposed to respond. Your head is spinning, you hate this feeling, when will she answer?
So when you finally do implode and throw yourself on the ground kicking and screaming, you’re not even thinking about the whatever-it-is you wanted to begin with. You.just.want.to.be.heard.
But this expert advises parents to put on a poker face and ignore the child even more, until she is exhausted from the screaming and loses her will to try & communicate further.
Give it up, brat, no one is listening to you and they never will.
Your distress will never affect me.
Choosing a perfect cantaloupe is more important than listening to you.
I like this can of evaporated milk more than I like you.
Your emotional suffering doesn’t matter to me.
If that’s not bullying, what is?
Oh, I know.. blaming children for the parent’s lack of control, maybe. This Supernanny system teaches kids that control and order are of supreme importance, and that a parent’s job is to enforce rules. Affection, snuggling, cuddling and love, according to Suppernanny, are the perfect tools to manipulate children with, to gain their trust and cooperation. Give positive reinforcement (love) when the child is ACTING in a way that you like and take that love away (she actually advises a stern, low voice and more social exclusion) when children act in a way you don’t like.
Emotional manipulation is NOT parenting, it’s evil and twisted. Can you imagine being cornered by your boss and having him say “Every time you wear that skirt to work, something comes over me. I know you don’t like it when I grab your ass in the break room, but you keep wearing that skirt. If you want me to turn in your overtime hours, wear it tomorrow, too.”
The real world doesn’t look like that. In the real world, the boss would be slapped with a harassment lawsuit. But at home, children are just supposed to suck it up and allow parents to blame THEM for losing precious control over the situation. Even worse- they’re supposed to be cheerful and obedient throughout the social hierarchy indoctrination.
We are not here to control one another. When you seek to control another human, you are focusing on the wrong thing. When you seek to control your children, you are setting up a paradigm where your children will either become comfortable allowing others to control them, or BECOME A BULLY- using any and all of their skills to manipulate and control others.
Can’t we all just be friends?
Nope- because shortly after they’ve passed this toddler stage (all of the above advice is directed to parents of toddlers) they’re expected to go to school.
Where teachers (who were previously strangers) are suddenly the ones “in control” and by the very fact that there are now 20 kids and one adult in the room, rules get even MORE arbitrary.
By the time kids are school aged, they have mastered the art of 1- withering in submission to their parent’s rules or 2- putting on a mask of compliance when they’re being watched.
So they’re sent to school where an adult they’ve never met before is suddenly in charge of 20 of them. Naturally, social relationships will form. Teachers WILL have favorites. The socially astute will climb to the top of the class, and have a lot of friends. The kids who have trouble adapting (to this completely unnatural environment that goes against nature and psychology) will fall to the bottom.
Humans are not meant to develop under the stresses of an institutionalized setting.
School is unnatural.
PARENTS are supposed to raise children, not teachers, not talk show psychologists.
I could scream when reading my psychology book. it talks about the stress hormones that are released when people are institutionalized. Then, it lists some forms of institutionalization, in case we need examples. Throughout the book, their examples are “prisons, nursing homes, dormitories, and residential treatment centers” but NEVER public school.
It’s like the entire psychological world is blind to the fact that forcing children to go to school creates an unnatural paradigm that humans are NOT EQUIPPED to deal with.
Valedictorian Erica Goldson said it very well;
I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme”
Is that really the best use of a brilliant mind?
We’ve been so insulated from the pseudo-reality that is public schools. With my teenagers enrolled this year, I’m consistently shocked at the things kids are expected to put up with. I’m not the slightest bit worried about my girls, they’re spreading light and love, making mental notes, analyzing the social dynamics and doing just fine. I worry for the kids who have no choice. I worry for the parents who feel that they can’t pull their kids out of school. I worry that so often bullied kids suffer in silence. (Memoirs of a Bullied Kid)
I was talking to a very good friend the other day, she said that in high school there was a boy she picked on mercilessly. A few years after they got out of school, she realized how horrible it was and wondered what ever happened to that guy. She found out a few years later when she discovered her cousin was marrying him. My friend was nervous & excited – he looked sane & healthy- but she wanted to apologize, before the wedding. She met the couple for dinner and apologized- deeply. “I am so sorry for calling you names, for embarrassing you, for treating you like shit and I know I can’t take it back, but I am very very sorry.” She totally cried at the restaurant and he forgave her. Today, they are friends.
Bullies are victims, too. Without fully developed brains, their reasoning, empathizing and social skills should not be expected to handle an adverse and unnatural social environment like school. Especially when the only skills they have entering into the situation are a 5 yr old’s perception of what he’s learned at home
Through the magic of six degrees of separation, I found a friend from 5th grade on Facebook. Crystal lived around the corner from me and we’d walk to school. My parents were freshly divorced and I had no friends at this new school. Crystal was my friend for the 4 or 5 months I lived in North Hollywood. Her friendship meant a lot to me back then.
When I found her on Facebook, the first thing she did was apologize. Apparently she’d turned into a bully that year (must have been after I’d left) and terrorized people throughout the rest of her time in school. She felt horrible for not remembering me right away (honestly, I didn’t expect her to, it was such a short time) but she was so glad to be able to apologize. I’m glad she didn’t bully me, I might not have handled it well at that time in my life, but the fact remains. Bullies suffer, too. It doesn’t feel good to hurt people. It felt nice to be able to tell her how awesome she was back then, when her memory was giving her shit.
The mainstream discipline-and-control parenting paradigm, followed by the insanity of forced institutionalization for children is BREEDING hatred, intolerance, intimidation, imbalance of social power, disregard for individuality, gossip, disregard for privacy, liberty and personal freedom.
No child can reasonably be told that they are responsible for themselves when they’re not allowed to make their own decisions. No child can reasonably be told that bullying in intolerable when the adults who rule over him are manipulative and coercive.
Check out Alfie Kohn’s “Atrocious Advice from Supernanny” (quoted below)
Supernanny’s superficiality isn’t accidental; it’s ideological. What these shows are peddling is behaviorism. The point isn’t to raise a child; it’s to reinforce or extinguish discrete behaviors – which is sufficient if you believe, along with the late B.F. Skinner and his surviving minions, that there’s nothing to us other than those behaviors.
Behaviorism is as American as rewarding children with apple pie. We’re a busy people, with fortunes to make and lands to conquer. We don’t have time for theories or complications: Just give us techniques that work. If firing thousands of employees succeeds in boosting the company’s stock price; if imposing a scripted, mind-numbing curriculum succeeds in raising students’ test scores; if relying on bribes and threats succeeds in making children obey, then there’s no need to ask, “But for how long does it work? And at what cost?”
In the course of researching a book about parenting, I discovered some disconcerting research on the damaging effects of techniques like the “naughty corner” (better known as time-out), which are basically forms of love withdrawal. I also found quite a bit of evidence that parents who refrain from excessive control and rely instead on warmth and reason are more likely to have children who do what they’re asked – and who grow into responsible, compassionate, healthy people.
If you can bear to sit through them, the nanny programs provide a fairly reliable guide for how not to raise children. They also offer an invitation to think about the pervasiveness of pop-behaviorism and our hunger for the quick fix.
I like how Mr Kohn sums it up. Avoid the quick-fix in parenting. Don’t be a bully. Don’t insist on instant compliance or obedience. Model intelligent decisions. Don’t succumb to the idea that you need to know everything or control everything. YOU do not need to be in control of anyone but yourself.
Your children learn more from the way you treat them than from the words you’re saying. You can’t hit a child and say “no hitting,” you can’t lie to a child and punish them for lying and you can’t bully a child, then send them off for institutional bullying and expect them not to be bullies.
So I’ve totally failed to stop using the word and for that, I apologize. but I hope I’ve made my point.
And the only thing I have to add is that mainstream parents, who struggle to inflict those rules are suffering, too. Being a meanie doesn’t feel good, even when you don’t know another way.
It’s never too late.
Articles referenced here: (I’m not making clickable links to sites I disagree with. Google views outbound links as endorsements and I don’t want to endorse them. You can copy and paste the URLs if you’d like to visit those sites)
Supernanny – How to control a wild child
Alfie Kohn “Atrocious Advice from Supernanny”
Supreme court rules parents can sue the school district if their child is bullied – Spokane Society of Young Professionals
Love it! You pose the question I have been asking all along – where is the parental accountability?!? It is so alarming when you realize that these kids who are bullying are just doing what they have been taught and, in a way, trying to please their parents. Wonderful article, one of my faves! Great job!
Wow! You make many valid points and I applaud the fact that parents must take partial blame for their child’s actions, but most importantly make the child accept responsibility for his/her actions as well. As a private school elementary and middle school principal I can assure you that my “institution” fosters creative thinking, exploration, responsibility, and respect for other human beings. School itself should not be the blame for bullying, rather the adults that are placed in charge of the children can either make it a place of discovery and acceptance or a place of conformity and torture.
I am lucky to have a caring staff who do all that they can to ensure that all students feel safe and accepted and I make it a point to seek out those who are lower on the social ladder to make sure they know they are just as valuable as those who are more socially skilled.
With that said, bullying still happens on my campus and most of it stems from home and not school. These children come from parents who make excuses(not MY perfect child, he would never lie or cheat or call names. It must have been the other child who caused it!) or are too busy or too weak to teach their child properly. Bullies come from parents who give their child everything they want, from parents who allow their child to run the household because G-d forbid their child is unhappy, or parents who want to raise “tough kids.” Don’t forget about the parents who turn a blind eye and say, “kids will be kids.” And of course those poor children who are bullied by their parents.
I am lucky however, that when it does happen there is always some student who feels comfortable enough to tell me what is going on (most of the time the victim will come in) and their anonymity is honored by me. Middle school and high school students are caught between a rock and hard spot when it comes to bullying. They want to tell, but they are afraid. Sometimes the school is the only place that actually deals with bully. Trust me I would be a millionaire if I had a penny for every parent that does not deal with their little bully, oops “perfect child”. At least I can make it a learning experience,teach right from wrong and give out appropriate consequences. If these children were never taught empathy by the parents and never had an opportunity to perhaps learn it in an “institution” it would be a scary situation when this child grows up to be an adult.
Not every parent can home school,the economy does not allow for it and trust me Lisa not every parent should. I cringe at the thought of some of the parents I have come across in the past 25 years ever having control of their child’s education. Not all homes are loving like yours and schools are the only form of escape for some children.
I feel that schools should implement a solid character program that teaches empathy and respect for others. It should start in preschool and stay as a mandatory class through high school just like English and Math. Good character should be embedded into the child’s brain so it becomes second nature.
Lord knows that so little of it is taught in the average home with reality TV, computer, texting, and video games as the main source of entertainment/babysitting tool. Schools need to hire empathic teachers and add a solid character education to the curriculum, parents need to wake up and take a more active and responsible role in their child’s life and children themselves should be held accountable for their actions. It does take a village
I see what you’re saying about parents who think their kids can do no wrong. We have a local mom whose son is an absolute terror, every time she turns her head. In “her world” he is perfectly trained and I’m sure she believes that he really is perfect, but whenever she’s not looking he criticizes, insults and makes fun of the other kids. Whenever she’s confronted about the way he interacts with the other kids, she is simply shocked, and says “there must be a misunderstanding” and “that’s not in his nature.” She’s a mean mommy, too. It starts at home. I’m sure she thinks her meanness (discipline) paid off, and created this perfect child.
Come to think of it, she’s nasty to him when she thinks no one is listening. So he really is doing what he was taught; behaving only when she’s looking, because she only “makes an appearance” of being nice. She has no respect for him as a person, he’s her robot. He’s programmed that way. Yuck. I can’t imagine wanting a life like that.
I’m glad you keep kids’ confidence when they come to you. Meagan complained about the kid next to her in Algebra talking nonstop (after asking him to be quiet a hundred times and telling him she was having trouble concentrating) and the teacher went right over to the desk and confronted the kid in front of her. Of course when the teacher walked away, the student turned to Meagan and said “You didn’t have to tell on me.”
Umm Sakina bint Curt Eisenman
Whew, i wish more people could see your common sense approach to parenting! This was by far one of my favorite articles you have written. Some of these things I realized myself, over the years with my kids, listening to them and learning different strategies on parenting. As far as the typical tantrum at the store I practice two solutions for this. 1.) I made it a rule to not be where I would spend large amounts of time dragging my kids around a place filled with images and stuff that were not good for them or they couldn’t have 2) if i absolutely HAD to take them with me, i told them what was expected of them and I knew they were capable of good behavoir and IF they started screaming or whining, i knew if was because their needs were not being met. Simple. In public kids are tired, hungry, needing attention or a connection with parent or feel embarrassed wronged because other’s needs come before theirs (such as shaming your child bc ppl are watching or caring more what others think than your child’s feelings)OR they just want something they either can’t have or they are in the moment with WHAT THEY WANT or want MOM to buy. SOOOOO….if they are causing a scene…believe it or not, if I cant calm them down addressing what is the real issue, I LEAVE. Honestly, we need to wear our babies more and listen to our kids need’s… and meet them…and stop listening to “experts” Once I realized even using words like “You better” was using intimitation to get what i want. i am SERIOUSLY frustrated by people who tell my daughter to hit her brother back,,,when parents spank, they DO teach the child that who ever is bigger wins and its OK to hit!!!! how could it not? SO AS YOU SAY, EXAMPLE, EXAMPLE, EXAMPLE! keep yourself in check and your children will follow! al hamdulilah