Since school is about to start for some, (Not for me. Thank goodness not for me. Not for my son yet. Thank goodness not for him yet.) But for the poor saps who start mid-August or those other poor saps on year-round schedules. I have a school-related rant.
It’s about bullying. And it’s not about how to prevent it or make the problem go away. It’s about how we, the adults, school administrators, and state legislatures make the problem worse by calling it “bullying.”
I’m sorry but I have never met a bully. And neither have you. I have met people who make bad choices, kids who are sometimes mean to other kids, who take advantage, steal lunch money, seek fights, etc. But a person is not either a bully or not a bully. Making school policies (which every school district in my state was required to do by law last year) about bullying implies an either/or approach. Bullying is a behavior – not a definition of a person. I hate labeling that categorizes – especially when it categorizes kids.
One of my son’s friends in school has bullied him. On other occasions, my son has bullied back. They are trying to figure out how to interact with each other in a world where their moms aren’t hovering, telling them what to do. Sometimes they get it wrong.
I was bullied. Not by a bully, by a friend. From the bullying came some of my best life lessons: how to stand up for myself, how to tell an adult, how to turn the other cheek, how to make new friends, how to come out of it with empathy and self-esteem intact. I am still friends with my bully and have never until that sentence thought of her as a bully. She’s a friend who was mean to me sometimes. It seems like an important distinction.
I am not saying it isn’t the responsibility of adults to teach children how to treat others kindly. It is. We should. I’m also not saying it is okay for children to be mean to each other. It’s not. They shouldn’t. But kids have to practice without us and when they make mistakes, they shouldn’t be suspended from school and labeled. You see how this works right? If you say, “that kid is a bully,” who is ever going to give that kid a chance to prove it wrong?
My son’s school has a “bully box.” The idea is that if you’ve been bullied you can report it by slipping in a card with the perpetrator’s name on it and the incident and it will be dealt with. Only. My son says the way it is actually working is that ‘bullies’ are falsely reporting their victims as bullies. Nice.
I know we need words for things and that “bullying” is a short-cut word for a collection of behaviors. I just think this particular short-cut is a disservice to kids and gets in the way of teaching better behavior – because it has a name that begs for a zero-tolerance policy. I have a colleague who calls those zero-intelligence policies. Sometimes, policies are helpful. Sometimes, policies hamstring administrators into one-size-fits-all solutions.
Maybe I am overreacting. It’s just a word. But words done carefully, with regard to long-term consequences are better. Let’s use some of those instead of this terrible, limiting label, “bully.”