The only way to eliminate bullying is for a community to pull together - students, parents, and staff - and decide that we will not tolerate bullying behaviors in any form. I do not mean that we should apply strict penalties and seek retribution when bullying occurs - that's what we are doing now and it is clearly not working. What I mean is that we should label bullying when we see it (even if it is our kid doing the bullying), we should teach students about the importance of common human decency and respect for others, and we should apply appropriate consequences in a caring way when necessary.
In my career as an educator (administrator, teacher, and coach) I've had countless conversations with parents whose students were engaged in bullying behaviors - I would not say that they were all bullies, but I would say that they were engaged in behaviors that clearly were intended to be hurtful and those behaviors were clearly bullying behaviors. In all of those conversations, I've encountered only a few sets of parents who were willing to label the behaviors and accept that their student was involved in bullying. In every other instance, the parents rationalized the behavior away. They came up with excuses to explain the behaivor. Things like, " . . . the other student must have done something," or, " . . . he didn't mean it that way."
The same is true for my interactions with students. Students don't see their behavior as bullying if they can find a way to justify the hurtful behavior. They say things like, ". . . she's just a drama queen and she deserved it," or, ". . . it was just a joke." The issue is further complicated because very often the student who is engaging the bullying behavior today is the student who was bullied yesterday and, for some reason, we have this belief in our society that you can't be a bully if you have been bullied - that simply isn't true. Bullying behavior is bullying behavior.
If we really want to eliminate bullying, the solution is very simple. We have to label bullying when we see it, we have to call it what it is, and we have to have an open, honest discussion about the type of community we want to be. When you engage in a behavior that has the potential to hurt another person physically or emotionally, you are bullying. Students and adults are both capable of bullying and they both do it. If you don't believe that, just spend a little bit of time looking at social media. It won't take you very long to find both adults and students engaged in bullying on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site. Much more bullying occurs there than in school.
If we want to eliminate bullying we have to start with what we have the most control over, our own behavior. We have to commit to behaving in a way that is respectful of those around us. We have to understand that our behavior always has the potential to impact those around us. I believe that we can each have a significant impact on the effort to eliminate bullying in our community by working each day to follow three very simple rules:
1. Do the right thing. We all have a moral compass and we all have a sense of what is right and what is wrong. If every member of the community works everyday to do what they believe is right, we would significantly reduce the instances of bullying. Although, as humans we are very likely to make mistakes.
2. Own your mistakes. When we make a mistake in our effort to do what is right, we need to own the mistake and take responsibility for it as quickly as possible. Taking responsibility means doing whatever can be done to correct the damage our mistake has done.
3. Take care of the people around you. This is a very simple concept that really needs no explanation.
Above all, we have to accept that our children are capable of poor decisions. We have to recognize behavior, not excuse it away. And, we have to teach our children that they have an obligation to treat others with decency and respect even when they are upset or feel that the other person is not treating them with decency and respect.
We have a bullying problem in our culture in this country today and the only way for us to fix it is for all of us to take responsibility and commit to doing something about it in our personal behavior.