Reason with bullies? Nah!
Some suggest that children try to ignore the bullying and, if that doesn't work, punching the bully in the face. ...
Bad idea (I'm sure you knew that). Then it becomes a two-way thing, and the school will treat it as such
The American Psychological Association recommends against mediation programs
in bullying situations -- bullying is about power, not about a breakdown in cooperation.
In fact, many people report that the bully's friends lie and back him up
on the story that you started it, and all of a sudden, you're the one
getting suspended, and it will be that much harder to get the school to
treat the bullying as bullying in the future. ("Oh, these two have a long
history..."). Don't ever give them any reason to be able to
claim that you started it, finished it, or acted in anything other than an
Tell them to stop it!
Here's what I'd advise:
- Pitch your voice low.
- Speak in an even tone (no whining). Use the voice you'd use to discipline a bad
dog, or the voice your teacher would use to stop you in your tracks.
- Tell them what you want to do. ("Get away from me NOW." "Do NOT touch me again."
"STOP calling me names.")
- Don't say please, unless you've mastered the
teacher-voice that makes even a polite request into a command.
- Don't justify it. Don't talk about your feelings (I-statements
are for people you think are your friends, for people you think don't
actually want to hurt your feelings, so the I-statement informs them politely that
they've messed up. For a bully, an I-statement lets them know that they're winning).
- Don't make threats. Don't tell them what you're
going to do if they don't stop. Just use your voice to make
- If they don't, and you can't get out of the situation safely (walk
strong, never run), make like a turtle to protect yourself
(curl into a ball with your hands over the back of your neck).
- Then, immediately, go tell the teachers (if it's on the bus, tell the
bus driver immediately, then tell the teacher when you get
off the bus).
Reporting the bullying
Start with a verbal report
You have to use the same voice-trick when reporting the bullying, although a
little more respectfully. Don't whine, don't sound like a tattle-tale.
Sound like a grownup. Meaner: sound like a principal. You are informing the
teacher of a severe breach of discipline that requires her immediate
attention. "Fred has been repeatedly hitting me while we are on the
bus. I have moved away from him, but he has always followed
me. I have told him repeatedly to stop, and he has persisted. I need you to do
something about this bullying NOW."
Follow up with a written report
One benefit of making a written response, and getting an initialed copy to hold, is that it starts a paper
trail should you ever need one.
When you get home, tell your parents. Have them write
down what you said, and put it in a nice-but-firm letter to the
For helpful information about how to compose this letter, read http://www.wrightslaw.com about the idea of the
Letter to the Stranger (Key concept -- The recipient of the letter is not, in fact, its intended
audience. The intended audience is the hearing officer, judge, or other hopefully impartial decision-maker).
"Our son has informed us that the following behavior occurred on the bus on this date. He informed both
the bus driver and the teacher, Mrs. Jones. He did not observe any disciplinary follow-up.
We hope that you take this incidence of bullying as seriously as we do, and ensure that all of your students
have a physically and emotionally safe learning environment." (Or, in the unlikely case that they actually
do something. "We appreciate Mrs. Jones's sending Fred to the office to speak to you about it. We are
grateful to be sending our son to a school which takes as serious a stance as we do against bullying.
As you know, students must have a physically and emotionally safe environment in which to learn.")
Every single freakin' time, Mom. A letter to the principal.
Signed by both parents. Any incident after the first gets a polite
but firm phone call to the principal (consider having Dad make the phone calls, for horribly sexist but
unfortunately often still true reasons) after the letter has been hand-delivered. If they say anything
stupid like, "Your kid needs to learn how to defend himself," or, "Boys will be boys," you follow the phone
call with another letter, saying something like, "We are dismayed at your suggestion that our son
should respond to violence with violence of his own. We are concerned that any use of violence on his part
will be used to justify the bullies' behavior," or, "We are shocked that you would consider being
repeatedly punched in the stomach by a group of larger boys on a daily basis to be a simple rite of
passage. This is not consensual playground roughhousing. This is violent predatory behavior."
After the third time, if there is still no follow-up, send a copy to the superintendent, followed by a
phone call there. At some point, if they still won't stop, you involve the police, but chances are good
that if they see you laying a nice paper trail, they'll figure out that you won't go away. ("I'm not
expendable. I'm not stupid. And I'm not going." -- Avon, from Blake's 7)
Becoming a "calculated victim"
Also, interview the child about how the bullying makes him feel and how it affects his ability to learn.
Write it in a log, and use it as grist for the letters-to-the-stranger.
The idea here is to move away from being a passive victim towards being, well, an active victim.
A calculated victim. If you fight back, you stop being a victim, and the school will now have plenty of
excuses to refuse to help you. But if you understand how the system works and what the school's
responsibilities are as far as enforcing discipline and providing a safe learning environment, you'll be able to choose
nonviolent resistance as a long-term strategy.
Responding to verbal bullying
It's a little trickier when the abuse is only verbal, but it still needs to be documented, documented,
documented, and the school still has a responsibility. I've personally found that cultivating a
slightly supercilious and slightly surprised air where you sort of think, "Oh? You were talking to me?
Why exactly do you think I'm interested in your opinion?" but don't actually say anything, followed by
walking away, is about the most effective response.
Teasers want responses. You give them no responses,
they're more likely to decide you're boring and go pick on someone else. Or they escalate to physical
violence. I know it sounds weird to think of it this way, but if you offer no response to
teasing, and they punch you, you've won -- you've made them do something that it's much harder to argue is
your fault or something you should just have to put up with. Again, snappy comebacks are often
viewed by school folk as making the teasing consensual, a two-way street.
By the way, I *do* recommend martial arts for bullying and teasing
victims, and not just because I happen to have taught martial arts for years myself. I tell my students
quite explicitly that they are not to hit back, although certainly dodging isn't bad (blocking makes it look
consensual, I'm afraid) (I had an 8yo student once who had a bully rushing at her to tackle her. She
stepped aside, and he ran his head into the wall. Never bugged her again.). The goal of martial arts
training is the self-confidence and body language that communicates, "I am not a good choice of victim.
Try someone else if you must."
Changing the culture of bullying
I heard a very interesting discussion on the radio the other day about bullying -- you can listen to it here:
One of the interesting ideas these folks (who work with schools) had was that bullying is a cultural phenomenon. Bullies are
typically *not* the outcasts looking for attention, they're typically the social leaders
using bullying of an out-group member to establish their dominance over the in-group.
The solution is to change the culture:
- By educating the *bystanders,* to help the *other* kids realize that
bullying is wrong,
- To provide ways to anonymously report the bullying, and
- To support kids in building a culture where bullying is not
- Oh, and to come down on the bullies like a ton
-- by Aimee Yermish