There was a post on here recently, about a bullying incident, I think it was one that went viral, about a boy who was being bullied for bringing his My Little Pony backpack to school and the school basically told his mother he was asking for it, and he should just conform – of course I’m paraphrasing, but you’ve probably heard the story anyway.
Of course I find the school’s reaction appalling, it’s victim-blaming and all that, wrong from every possible angle.
But there was a comment stream about this story that went on forever, and I’m sorry to say, very few comments that had anything useful to say. Mostly, all the commenters wanted to punish the bullies. The school should, or the parents should . . . and that shows a disturbing lack of understanding.
Punishing CAUSES bullying.
Punishing IS bullying.
The only differences are who’s doing it and why. The differences are: children are not authorized to punish and the reasons they punish are not sanctioned. The process, and the rationale are the same, and are as follows:
someone (a kid) does something that some more powerful person (bigger kid/bully, or parent/authority figure) judges to be wrong, and the bully/authority figure imposes some sort of hurt on them, it’s that simple.
Every time an adult punishes a child, they not only demonstrate and teach the process, but they make the punished kid feel helpless and powerless, thereby creating in him a need to find someone else to do it to, a need to find a situation where he feels he has some power again.
An example follows, and there will be a quiz afterwards.
Billy gets defiant at dinner and refuses to eat his vegetables, something his parents think is wrong, so they punish him, by banning him from the internet for the evening. This tells Billy that he lacks the power of choosing to play online when he likes, or eat what he likes, shows him that the exercise of power is a socially acceptable thing, and that it is the method his parents use to modify his behaviour, to stop him doing something they think is wrong.
Now Billy goes to school the next day, he’s with his friends, and he sees someone doing something he thinks is wrong – wearing something “wrong,” doing something that Billy has judged that he wouldn’t do, something that seems wrong to him.
1. What have the adults taught Billy to do in this situation?
(Bearing in mind, perhaps the parents have told Billy not to bully – but, action speaks louder than words. What have they SHOWN him?)
2. What pre-existing need does Billy have that this situation may appear to him to fill?
. . . now here’s the tricky part . . .
3. What will punishing Billy again do?
It may be debatable whether there are behaviours that can be improved by punishing – but the behaviours that are actually CAUSED by punishing, they can’t be.