Regarding the Online talk about Bullying

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.

The quiz:

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.


19 thoughts on “Regarding the Online talk about Bullying

  1. th3bak3rman March 31, 2014 / 4:46 pm

    Punishments, like rewards, must be dealt cautiously. While this issue raises all types of agreement/disagreement, most people would agree that almost every behavior usually leads to some type of consequence (cause-effect relationship). This holds true for adults, and not just children. Rewards for adults – promotions, pay bonuses and raises, extra vacation day(s).
    Punishments – demotion, humiliation, dock in pay, termination


    • neighsayer March 31, 2014 / 5:06 pm

      punishments and rewards do not qualify for “cause and effect” status. It’s not really “cause and effect” when some conscious entity is inventing toe effect for a given cause, is it? It’s a different definition than the scientific one it tries to invoke . . .


      • th3bak3rman March 31, 2014 / 5:59 pm

        As an elementary school teacher, I use “cause and effect” in other subjects and not just science. My meaning of “cause and effect” was more general than yours. Consequences – good or bad – are effects, enacted by a person who feels a connection to the person and/or event.


        • neighsayer March 31, 2014 / 7:33 pm

          I see . . . yeah, I see rewards and punishments as very detrimental to learning about the real world. I think the kids minds are not properly developed by the adults always substituting artificial effects for real world effects that would have had an actual relationship to the cause.
          They do say that over-punishing has the effect of some hampering of cognitive development, and I think this is why, because punishments and rewards interfere with actual, real life learning. And if I’m right about that, then the increase of negative cognitive effects is linear, not only present in “over-punishing.”
          Wouldn’t you think?


          • th3bak3rman April 2, 2014 / 3:12 am

            I agree that some punishments can have a negative effect on emotional growth, which in turn can effect cognitive growth.


        • neighsayer April 1, 2014 / 8:10 pm

          Wait a minute! You’re a TEACHER and you sloughed off the quiz?


          • th3bak3rman April 2, 2014 / 3:09 am

            Since the quiz was not aligned to a standards-based curriculum it was not deemed a valid assessment of student growth 😉


              • th3bak3rman April 2, 2014 / 7:18 am

                I never studied rhetorics; I’m a product of the school of sarcasm.


    • neighsayer March 31, 2014 / 5:09 pm

      sorry, ” . . . inventing THE effect . . . “


    • neighsayer April 1, 2014 / 11:01 am

      None, really, just talk, explain things to them. But that attitude has be there from the start. If we’re punishing kids, that’s a betrayal of love, and especially if we’re hitting them for the crime of hitting, hitting to teach not hitting, that is a betrayal of reason as well, and by the time they can can speak well enough to converse with, they won’t be listening any more.

      In my experience, with my un-punished children, an un-punished child stops misbehaving at a very young age. It seems to be the punishment that CAUSES the misbehaviour.


      • April 1, 2014 / 1:00 pm

        I certainly agree that hitting or violence of any kind does not send a positive message or ensure acceptable behavior. I have found that tough verbal love works well when necessary. State the rules of the house respecting people and then,if not followed, a reasonable conversation that is serious and discusses the issue on the child’s level so that it is not repeated. Because the minds of boys and girls develop at a different rate, the verbal approach varies to accommodate understanding.


        • neighsayer April 1, 2014 / 8:13 pm

          My stance is that it’s all ‘corporal punishment,’ that really, there is no other kind. Any punishment that we commit to is likely to become physical, if the child doesn’t want to do it. How physical do people get to impose their ‘non–physical’ penalties?


  2. th3bak3rman April 2, 2014 / 3:15 am

    Curious – you’ve shared you thoughts about punishments. How do you feel about rewards for children?


    • neighsayer April 2, 2014 / 7:06 am

      I would have to say it probably isn’t as damaging. Still, the two things share a lot of logical problems, for instance, they both teach away from empathy, they both make everything about the child’s self-interest. Also, as I said above, they both substitute artificial effects for causes and therefore disable much real-world learning. Not every real-life lesson is a life or death matter.
      But Alfie Kohn has spelled all of that out in his books, which are pretty good. I think what I’m bringing to the conversation is this: that there are no “non-corporal” punishments, because all punishment needs to be enforced, which means force, which means they all have to be backed up physically. Also, that even if there were punishments that aren’t physical, that is the fact of punishment itself that does the harm.


      • th3bak3rman April 2, 2014 / 7:20 am

        I read one of Kohn’s books: Punished By Rewards. While Kohn raises some valid points, he takes many things to the extreme.


        • neighsayer April 2, 2014 / 9:27 am

          I read a different one, “Unconditional Parenting.” I’m hoping to see things change to where the older views are what we see as extreme.


        • neighsayer April 10, 2014 / 7:08 pm

          ” . . . he takes many things to the extreme . . . ”

          This is interesting. You don’t think we should at least THINK to extremes? Don’t you think we should pursue logic to wherever it takes us? I mean, implementation is another matter. That’s kind of my whole thing – we can’t possibly create a thing that we haven’t first imagined . . .


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