Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Zero Tolerance for Bullying

No argument: There should be ZERO tolerance for bullying.  

The debate is over policy: Zero Tolerance Policies (where ALL acts of bullying result automatically in severe punishment, which in schools usually translates into suspension) sound good. Research, however, indicates it is ineffective at best.

Part of the problem is that Zero Tolerance Polices do not, by definition, incorporate (a) extenuating circumstances; (b) the fact that understanding what lead to the undesirable behavior is essential in determining the most effective responses; or, (c)  the fact that what constitutes "punishment" various from each individual.

Here's one real life example (names have been changed):

Brody hit Charles in the school lunch room.  Brody admits hitting him, tries to explain why - but the Dean, incensed with the action suspends him without an investigation.

But, is life ever that simple?  What did Brody and Charles learn from this?  What did their friends learn?

In truth, the scene above happens all too frequently in schools and is NEVER that simple.

In the above case, Charles began bullying Brody three years before this final incident.  Brody typically would walk away when pushed and berated but not report it because he felt ashamed of being victimized.  On this day in question, after homeroom, Charles again began calling Brody names. Brody walked away and Charles stalked after him.  Other kids observed this but no school personnel took notice.  Brody was a quiet kid, never got into trouble, helped his classmates and was considerate of others. Charles was not liked by others and was often found engaged in verbal arguments.  Charles kept harassing Brody - who kept walking away.  Finally Brody turned to Charles and asked him to leave him alone and stop stalking him.  They were in the lunch room.  Charles pushed Brody, and Brody in desperation punched Charles.  The punch is what the administration saw.  Charles refuted Brody's story (initially) and Brody was suspended. It was only after Brody's mom complained that the school began asking kids what happened and Brody's story was corroborated.

What was gained by the school's action?  Charles' bullying was reinforced - Brody got into real trouble.  Brody became a victim not only of Charles' bullying but of the school administration's blind eye to detail and circumstances.  Other students saw who was reinforced and punished in this scenario and they learned too.

From: psychologytoday.com

Until witnessing this scenario I was a strong proponent of Zero Tolerance policies.  Bullying should not be tolerated - be it physical,verbal, visual or sexual bashing.   In the case above, however, the Zero Tolerance policy reinforced Charles' bullying and further humiliated Brody. Brody should not have fallen victim yet again, and Charles' bullying should not have been reinforced by punishing only Brody (further validating Charles' behavior).

Bottom line:
  • There should be no tolerance anywhere for bullying, name calling. harassment of any sort.  
  • Bullying begins with words and physical cues and postures.  These words and postures should be the first behaviors addressed when dealing with inappropriate social interactions.  We should not wait for the physical manifestations.
  • There must be negative consequences for all harassers and all forms of harassment.
  • The first rule, however, of behavior modification is that when punishing someone for any type of act, the punishment has to be perceived to be a punishment by the person receiving said punishment. SO, if a kid likes being alone in a room, sending them to a room for time out as punishment, will not be effective.  Therefore, having predetermined punishments, by definition is not the most effective means of shaping behavior.
  • When punishing - make sure you have all the facts before passing judgement.  Realize that getting these facts may take some time.
 Anti-Bullying Suggestions:
  • If you see bullying on television or a movie, or read about it in a book, or see it happening in the playground - talk to your child about it.  Talk about how it feels to be a victim, talk about how to defuse a bully, talk about seeking adult help, and talk about NOT being ashamed if it happens to you.
 It doesn't work this way in real life, and bullying is not funny - at all - but it is a nice jumping point to watch scenes like this together and talk about them.
  • If your child is being bullied, talk about it.  Empathize with him or her, validate their feelings.  Brainstorm possible solutions explaining that there may not be any quick fixes but making sure your child sees some form of response and consequence.  If this is happening in school, talk to teachers and administrators.  Document the bullying.  Be persistent in checking in with the school and your child.
Some websites you may want to visit:
    There are so many forms of bullying (verbal, physical, cyberspace bullying, etc.) that cannot be addressed in one post.  Have you had to deal with bullying?  How have you handled it?


    1. Your example reminded me of the NFL. Someone pushes off, the victim retaliates, the ref sees the latter and flags him.
      Nonviolent response is best. But it's difficult.

    2. Situations like these are seldom black and white. There is enough blame here to cover all sorts of shades of gray. Great post. And, yes...it is amazing how we all interpret the same word differently!

    3. I was verbally bullied as a child. I had a 'posh' voice in a non 'posh' area. My Dad told me never to bring myself to the bully's level by responding, so I didn't. The bullies got bored and left me alone.
      Jane x

    4. I agree with you about the limitations of Zero Tolerance policies. From a sound-bite perspective, they seem great, but they don't get to the bottom of the issue. At my daughter's middle school, the kids themselves get in on designing the bullying policy and they have all sorts of great discussions about different kinds of bullying behaviors. They revamp the policy every year, not because it needs it, but to give all of the students the opportunity to talk about these issues in a proactive way. I think it is so important for the kids to understand why these things occur (both the aggressors and the victims) and how to address the issue before it gets to this point.

    5. Although we say there is no tolerance for bullying there is a lot of it going on and the tolerance is quite high at times. People anonymously have taken to bullying on the Internet. Sometimes bullying is in the form of shunning and done in such a way that there are no obvious bruises to prove the behavior. It is a very tricky situation, indeed, and as you say any signs of it must not be handled simplistically without investigation.

    6. You have a wonderful blog with great information. I'm visiting from the Super Stalker Blog hop and I'm your newest follower. I'd love it if you followed me back at http://organicplanet.blogspot.com/

    7. Excellent point about predetermined punishment.

      I was talking with my son (12) about how the anti-bullying programs and training for the kids don't work at his school. It seems to me the techniques (what to say, what to do) would work well for adults in the workplace, or between family members or with any person who could remotely be expected to care about the feelings of the one being bullied. That's not the case with bullies, though, which is why they are bullies.

      I've seen teachers intervening in situations they perceive to be bullying when the kids were fine and capable of working it out for themselves. The bad bullying is quieter, more threatening, and more dangerous.

      I love Kario's school where the kids come up with bullying policies themselves. THAT is an excellent method to start dealing with the problem.

      And what about online bullying, especially in the junior highs . . .

    8. It's a very complex problem. I've actually included it in my science fiction, but with a twist that you haven't mentioned--the bully's father is actually the one encouraging the bullying. Is this a problem in real life?

    9. Great post! I can only hope my daughter doesn't have to deal with bullying as she grows. But I'm glad you provided the information you did since I'm sure my wish won't be a reality. Thanks! Visiting from She Writes.

    10. Very important topic and well articulated. I couldn't agree with you more.

    11. I love that shot clip of video but bullying is not funny at all.

    12. Interesting story about Charles and Brody, "The truth is rarely pure and never simple,"

    13. Excellent post. You make an excellent point about predetermined punishments. Many of my students wanted to be suspended!

    14. Amazing how much of this is going on - I don't remember such a huge amount when I was younger.

    15. Excellent post, as usual. I found it difficult to deal with bullying or any kind of unacceptable behaviour in my classroom when the administration turned out to be "friends" with the poorly-behaved child's parents. There was a huge conundrum! The admin always sided with the kid and the kid never got punished. *sigh* And people wonder how teachers can get burned out - it's not from the work, but from the people.

    16. Good post. There seems to be a lot of discussion at our school as to what constitutes bullying and we have to be very careful with our use of the word. Is it a child being nasty, or is it bullying?
      I am your newest follower and am looking foward to connecting with you.

    17. I agree...there should be no tolerance for bullying. What has happened to parents? I am always amazed when they don't think their children are capable of something that destructive. We have somehow lost the big picture. I am hesitant to say more because I have strong opinions, but I will just add...One of the things that I see happening is that parents harbor a lot of guilt. They feel the world they are leaving to their children is flawed and they want to somehow make it up to them --so instead of being strong parents that restrict television, phones, FB accounts, etc. they go soft and allow (and buy) it all. What we are seeing is a laxity in parenting. Instead of doing the job, we gladly hand our hopes and dreams for our children over to an overwhelmed teacher who has too many kids with all sorts of needs. A teacher who has limited income and can't afford her own rent, let alone buy her class the extra supplies they need to run a decent classroom. Uncontrollable kids who teachers are supposed to somehow make mind, stop bullying, and turn into bright scholars. And as Teacher Mum says, "we have to be very careful with our use of the word bullying. Is a child being nasty, or is it bullying?" It is screwed up in my opinion.

    18. Interesting post. The Norwegian studies indicate that one important component of any school's anti-bullying program is teaching students to protest the bully's behavior or get an adult involved. Reducing tacit peer approval implied by silence and instilling a campus-wide culture of intolerance for this behavior, helps reduce bullying. It's not a silver bullet, but is an important part in a serious, comprehensive program.

    19. Tough subject to tackle and I agree, it's never that simple is it. A child here in Australia just decked (Australian for laid out flat) a child and it was then discovered that the child on the ground was the actual bully - though does an eye for an eye really help? So pleased my kids are kangaroos and these issues don't arise. Am your latest follower and came over from Time Travel Tuesdays of By Word of Mouth Musings.

    20. Hi new follower from the blog hop
      Very nice blog I enjoyed reading it
      please visit me at mine over in the uk anytime.

    21. That is exactly how it happens! Always! Good post, Meryl!

    22. Great post. And yes, zero tolerance. I don't understand why this behavior is on the rampage. It breaks my heart to be honest why kids are picking on kids. It makes me wonder if all some parents need to either think long and hard before they take on parenting...

    23. As always, a great post! And the adult bullies? No ownership there on their part, is there?

    24. Bullying has long reaching memories that haunt. if no witnesses, I think authorities will just have to separate the ones involved & question them separately and see if the story meshes... like in the adult law system... it needs to be corrected while they are young before it grows into a more dangerous situation. thanks for bring attention to this! Faythe @GMT

    25. Well everyone have had their share of bullies I see. I agree with you

    26. I know this is a very serious topic, and it needs to be handled and taken care of immediately... I have to say... I absolutely love South Park!