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Bullying: Some Perspective Please
Mom with a View

Bullying: Some Perspective Please

I think the school's zero tolerance towards bullying is going too far.


I still remember a story a friend told me about her college years. One evening she returned from the library to find someone’s bed in the hall of her dormitory. She started laughing – it was a silly joke but it appealed to her (still) adolescent sense of humor. Then she realized it was her bed. She called the campus authorities and had the culprits arrested.

Actually she didn’t; this was many years ago and she just kept laughing. She recognized a harmless, innocent prank.

I admit there’s a fine line between innocent pranks and meanness, between playful college initiation rites and dangerous hazing. But there is a line. And most people recognize it.

I recalled this anecdote when I read about a 4th grader in New York City who was suspended from school for placing a “Kick Me Please” sign on the posterior of a classmate. I think perhaps his real crime was lack of originality – isn’t that joke as old as the hills? Or at least me?

But in NYC today, this action violates the Discipline Code and is part of the “zero tolerance” policy against bullying.

Of course no one is in favor of bullying. But I think there are two important questions here.

One is “What is bullying?” Is every joke, every tease, every note taped to someone’s back without their knowledge (rabbit ears behind their head during a photo-op perhaps) bullying?

It may not be nice. It may not be the highest level of righteous behavior. But is it really bullying? Is it only a slippery slope from those notes to torturing cats or other forms of serious destructive behavior?

I don’t think so. I personally don’t think it merits a suspension from school. I think that responsible parents could speak with their child and resolve this situation in a much less confrontational manner. But no one asked me…

The second issue is whether this really helps the “victim” of this admittedly tasteless joke. We can’t rescue our children from every situation and nor should we try. Children need to learn coping skills. They need to find ways to deal with adversity. They need to learn to navigate the ups and downs of their friendships and even their relationships with their adversaries need to be strategically managed.

If parents or schools or other figures of authority step in every time, then the child is left without any tools for dealing with life’s challenges. And I don’t know that this “post-it” note even qualifies as one of life’s challenges.

I’m not diminishing the pain of the targeted 4th grader but growing up is difficult. Friendships are complicated. Having shepherded many girls through those years, I can testify to the tears and the hurt and the frustration. One day they aren’t talking; they next day they are best friends.

But I learned from the process. I saw that they all eventually grow up and find their way to healthy, mature, thoughtful relationships with others and that my intervention (on those few occasions where I just couldn’t help myself) NEVER made things better and sometimes even made them worse.

At school, teachers and principals should handle their students with intuition and understanding and not based on a rigid code. It is absolving them of responsibility as well. I can only assume that, having been reared under such a system themselves, they too lack the coping skills. Perhaps it makes their job easier not to have to think of a creative response and just fall back on the rules.

But the students are the ones who are being hurt. They all miss the opportunity to learn and grow from the situation. And I don’t think rules and codes can really solve the problem of serious bullying.

I’m not advocating these juvenile pranks; just a little perspective. And if you are going to indulge in these foolish (and harmless) activities, a little creativity please.

March 6, 2011

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 49

(49) Bobby5000, November 9, 2017 9:53 PM

New York tolerance of bullying

Amazing to talk about New York and no tolerance policy. The papers just reported children being beaten and worse in a boy's bathroom Teachers and administration pretended not to notice and many boys were terrified to go in. Sadly one child made the mistake of going in and what occurred is too horrible to repeat here.

(48) mordi, April 17, 2011 1:18 AM


I agree that bullying needs definition. That makes it a case by case procedure. Kudos to you for bringing it up. I don't think that i would have you on the decision making panel.

(47) Melanie, March 29, 2011 9:33 AM

what's the context

I agree there needs to be a balance. But we don't know about the context of the "Kick me" story - was it against a kid who was getting bullied daily, or a one-time incident? A bigger problem is that people have gotten way too detached to apply intuition and wisdom to many interpersonal situations.

(46) Avi Keslinger, March 15, 2011 5:54 AM

lashon hara and ona'at devarim

All these examples (including "playfulness") are lashon hara and ona'at devarim and strictly prohibited. Kol hakavod to the school administrators.

(45) Pauline, March 15, 2011 3:37 AM

It's best to nip it (problems so to speak) in the bud.

Now a days, little stuff has too frequently quickly gotten way out of control, sometimes even turning deadly. So, my thought is that the school did right. It is never too early to teach and expect, and not settle for less than, respectful behavior of each other. The school and work place (which is what school is for children) needs to be safe. It's much easier to deal with a not so good behavior in the beginning while it is small, then waiting until the problem has grown into a monster situation. And unlike at the work place for grown ups, children aren't free at their own will, to just leave a school if people get too far out of control, and go learn where they want (without their parent's support). And if they do leave, they pay a price of giving up the good stuff too... the parts that were familiar like neighborhood friends they did have at the old school. And then they feel ashamed even though they may have done nothing wrong. Having to endure regular put downs day after day as a child is not good for the victim, and to let it go (no consequences) is not good for the thoughtless or mean child. At school, children should have an environment that's supportive of learning. Embarrassed or stressed out people usually can't do as good of learning/thinking as when they are relaxed and comfortable. And that is the point of school, learning the material and other various positive skills. Some excuse bad behavior at school and say "school is also a time for learning socialization". But they seem to mean learning to get used to being treated with disrespect, enduring agony, and that it's okay for people not to care about each other. Maybe this unpleasantness could teach them empathy in the future, but more likely, it teaches them not to care about others, and for some, the interest in getting even, so to speak. For those in charge at the school to just let things go would fail to teach children that it is of primary importance to treat people with respect.

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