Bullying – Without Consequences

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

I just saw the movie “Bully,” and I thought about how different school bus rides are for today’s kids. One boy was repeatedly hit, pushed and poked by several of the other kids on his bus. This was all recorded on videotape. When his parents went to speak to the school official (with the videotape), they were told a variety of reasons why nothing would really be done about it (essentially: there’s always several points of view, kids are just playing, when I’ve been on that bus the kids were well behaved, your son is probably too sensitive, etc).  To which his mother made the most important comment, essentially: “When I was in school riding the bus, the driver would have pulled the bus over and stopped the bus if a student was picking on another student that way.” Behavior had consequences. That’s what I remember from riding the bus many years ago. Behavior had consequences in the old days. We complained about which teacher, which bus driver, which principal was too mean and strict. But we didn’t have to worry about being hit, pushed and poked repeatedly when an adult was around. Of course, there was individual bullying. I had my own bully in third grade, who cornered me in the stairwell from time to time, when no one else was around. He would hit me in the face and on the arms and knock my books out of my hands.

So I made friends with the bigger kids, and they told him to leave me alone. Near the end of third grade, his father hung himself in their garage and they immediately moved out of town. I learned that his family was really messed up and I actually felt bad for him – that the only way he had of coping was to pick on me. But I also learned about the importance of consequences – whether they came from the teachers, parents or the bigger kids. I never felt afraid on the school bus, because the driver could see all of us and wouldn’t have tolerated such behavior. It would have been reported to the principal and to my parents.

Coming from a strict family, I would have been punished severely for acting badly at school – but also for publicly embarrassing my family. Parents, teachers and other adults supported each other, so that consequences were handed out by the adult community, not just one isolated person. I remember being places where I shouldn’t have been in our neighborhood, and having storekeepers say: “Does your mother know you’re here? Should I call her?” No, no – I was on my way home anyway.

Today, there’s at least two major differences for kids riding the bus. First, bad behavior is glorified on TV, in the movies, and on the internet – by adults as much as children, including celebrities and politicians – the role models of our society. So children learn that there are positive consequences to bad behavior – people will laugh and think that you’re cool!

Second, there’s less parent and teacher support for the same rules. Many parents feel on the defensive by today’s society, as they are blamed for all of the ills of society and their children’s behavior is considered all their fault – despite the heavy influence of our Culture of Blame and Disrespect that glorifies misbehavior. Many teachers and school administrators feel on the defensive from parents who want special treatment for their own kids and who undermine school discipline. When parents and teachers criticize each other and fear each other, it’s bad for kids – which means it’s bad for society in the long run.

The most encouraging thing about this movie is seeing parents, teachers and kids joining together to fight bullying. We need to focus on consistent rules and consequences – and support each other in forming a community against bullying.

The same message applies in the workplace. We need to speak up against bullying as a community, with clear policies and clear consequences. And we need to speak up individually when it happens. It doesn’t have to be a complicated confrontation. Just one person saying: “That’s enough, Joe!” may make a difference. Today’s Culture of Blame and Disrespect only exists where we allow it to. See the movie!

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

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