My Bully Battle Compromise

A few weeks ago I declared the word bullying to be broken.  I asked for a ban.  This was naive, naturally.  One problem with cutting the use of the word is that everyone who wants to read about bullying is googling “bully”.  If I don’t use the word no-one will read what I have to say.

So I’ve come up with a compromise.  I’m going to keep using it, but I would like to provide another reason to carefully consider your use of it.

The bully label is a problem.  If a child is labeled a bully they will be ostracized.  Pushed away from the social circle, they’re likely to want to get back in.  Often the only way they know how to do that is more of the same behaviour.  Catch 22.

The actions and behaviours are what we need to target, not the individuals.  Rather than saying “you’re a bully” we should be saying “what are you trying to achieve with this behaviour?”  Identify the goals and then suggest alternatives.  Point out the negative repercussions of the behaviour that the child may not be aware of – labeling, social drawbacks, legal issues.

Parents need to stop labeling bullies as well.  When adults get together we like to gossip.  Parents are no different and they’re keen to find out who’s who in their kids’ schools.  It’s clear that parents’ use of language has an effect on their children.  In describing a kid as a bully, they are giving the green light for their kids to exclude the “bully” from social activity.

Bully: Use the verb, not the noun – the action, not the name.

8 Responses to My Bully Battle Compromise

  1. Dr. Michelle Anthony February 28, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    This is such an important post. In our haste to label the behavior, we lost sight of the reason to do so: to help the children who fall prey to poor choices to actually recognize their underlying motives and be given the tools to make better ones. Either we’re part of the solution…or we’re part of the problem.

    This is a main theme in Little Girls Can Be Mean: How do we understand what young girls are trying to do, and help them be successful doing it, while also developing their tool set of how to manage these recurring situations with kindness and respect.

    • Matt February 28, 2011 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks Michelle. I love your approach of managing with kindness and respect.

  2. Karen February 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    This is absolutely key. Part of ending bullying is the responsibility on the part of adults to realize what we are doing to help create bullies. Labeling children as the “bad kids,” and then telling our own children not to play with those kids, creates a situation where “those kids” don’t have a chance. And while it is often difficult to empathize with a “bully,” it is not so hard to understand a child who is frustrated because they can’t seem to break into a social scene or don’t have the social skills developed to make friends appropriately.

    I take real issue with the term “bully proofing,” as this is essentially advertising a program of ostracizing kids. Rather than allowing victims to be ostracized by bullies, we are supposed to ostracize the bullies. And where do we get with that? Like you said, it is critical to help kids think about what they are trying to achieve with their behavior, and then teach them appropriate, pro-social ways to achieve those same goals.

    • Matt February 28, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

      Exactly right. When there is a sign on the wall saying “No Bully Zone” it’s telling everyone that bullies are unwanted and allowing a negative connotation to be put on kids that simply don’t know how to act properly in their community.

  3. Aaron March 2, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    I feel this article hits on a core issue with bullying. By openly addressing bullying in a school, individuals have then turned bullies into targets for the rest of the student body. Yet, if bullying is addressed in a private manner, then it appears that the school is not taking a stand on an extremely serious issue. This means that when addressing bully, schools and individuals need to emphasize the role that decision making patterns play with the choices that are made by the bullies, victims, and bystanders. This does not mean that individuals are secondarily doing something wrong, but at some point they made choices that have lead to a less than desirable situation. Needless to say the dialogue on how to best deal with this issue must continue without demonizing the students who are making choices that hurt others, nor allowing those not directly involved to avoid some responsibility for the events going on around them.

  4. Katri Kytopuu March 8, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    Bullying is haze word. If someone says to me that she/he is bullied, I don’t have a clue, what really has happened. As long as the behaviour isn’t concretly discribed, it’s also easy to say, that “it’s wasn’t bullying” and do nothing. My opinion is, that we should start to use such language, that clearly discribes what has happened. It’s the only way to have a possibility to change behaviours.

    I also feel strongly against labelling children. When some community starts to speak about bullies and how there is nothing adults can do, I see it as adults avoiding responsibility to intervene. It’s our duty as adults to intervene any aggression or violence and help children to behave more positively. As I understand that is called unbringing ;-)?

    • Matt March 8, 2011 at 8:20 am #

      Thanks a lot Katri. Thanks for the confirmation of my thoughts. It’s a great point that using the word bullying also allows us to easily deny it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. My Bully Battle Compromise (via The Hero Construction Company Blog) « Building Heroes - February 28, 2011

    […] A few weeks ago I declared the word bullying to be broken.  I asked for a ban.  This was naive, naturally.  One problem with cutting the use of the word is that everyone who wants to read about bullying is googling "bully".  If I don't use the word no-one will read what I have to say. So I've come up with a compromise.  I'm going to keep using it, but I would like to provide another reason to carefully consider your use of it. The bully label is … Read More […]