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Why I’m Not A Fan Of The Anti-Bullying Movement

In no one is the post intended to minimize pain or the severity of bullying. This is a commentary on the movement and movement alone.

in all honesty, I think the whole thing is inherently flawed. I wish the movement would actually come up with something of blatant substance or go away. Why? Because as far as I've seen, the Anti-Bullying Movement doesn't say much of anything and what it does say has some real issues.

It was a beautiful afternoon and I was meandering through an outdoor mall running errands.  Okay, it was gray and dreary, but my mom had the kids for a couple of hours and I was dragging my toddler-free shopping experience out as long as I could. Sigh. It was wonderful! As I walked into a major international retailer, I saw signage on their doors advertising an anti-bullying campaign. Argh! I’ve seen these signs before, I’ve seen buttons, flyers, Facebook statuses, and tweets. Each time, I’ve bitten my tongue. I don’t want to kill the proverbial messenger. It isn’t the minimum wage attendants at the cash registers’ fault they are sporting pink T-shirts and asking for donations. So each and every time, I don’t say anything at all. But in all honesty, I think the whole thing is inherently flawed. I wish the movement would actually come up with something of blatant substance or go away. Why? Because as far as I’ve seen, the Anti-Bullying Movement doesn’t say much of anything and what it does say has some real issues.

It wasn’t always like that, though. The original Pink Shirt Day was a remarkable event rooted in heart, unity, and substance of character. There was a grade nine boy in the Canadian Maritimes who got picked on for wearing a pink shirt to school one day. Having learnt of this, his classmates bought and distributed 50 pink shirts for themselves and other kids to wear as a stance against those who originally made fun of the boy. What these students showed incredible depth and strength of character. Understandably and deservedly so, the day got traction and spread from its province of origin in Nova Scotia all the way to British Columbia, eventually gaining worldwide recognition and celebration. On the surface, it all seems great! Especially in a time where bullying is leading to a higher incidence of suicide amongst teens, a movement that rallies against perpetrators only seems fitting, doesn’t it? The problem is that Pink Shirt Day has morphed into Anti-Bullying thanks to politicians, administrators, and other adults in power. What started as a rich course of action and a constructive approach against a typical and terrible part of many childhoods has turned into something that comes across as vapid and inherently flawed. As a mother, I can’t help but think of this movement in the context of my own children and how the movement just doesn’t work.

Here are eight reasons I am not a fan of the anti-bullying movement

While I understand there is real pain cause by bullying, here are 8 reasons I'm not a fan of the anti-bullying movement

1. The verb bullying makes one person a bully and the other a victim. I would like my kids to understand good versus evil as a phenomenon confined to Disney movies or games of Cops and Robbers. People, especially children, do not fit into one of two categories. Kids can make bad choices, but there aren’t bad kids. 

2. Bullying has become a buzzword. Because of hearing about it so much, it seems students are quick to label negative interactions as bullying. Overall, I’m inclined to believe the vast majority of playground or cafeteria room interactions aren’t chronic and are dyadic in nature. “He bullied me,” makes it seem like HE did something wrong and I had nothing to do with it. This mentality diminishes responsibility. More often than not, I think the majority reported grade school “bullying” is actually more of an ‘It takes two to tango’ scenario. My mom, an elementary school principal would say to kids who would report another kid was chasing them, “If she’s chasing you, stop running.” 

3. I don’t want to raise my kids with a victim mentality. If my kids feel ganged up against, hurt, or chronically picked on, I want them to feel empowered to try and talk it out, walk away, and/ or discuss it with an adult in a constructive manner, not point the finger and cry foul.

4. At school, when one of my kids is being bad, my hope is that the adults involved not label his or her behaviour as bullying, but seek to understand why they are acting out and then discipline them accordingly. Though I would like to think my child would never be an aggressor, let’s get real. There’s a good chance at some point in their grade school experience they will end up in trouble. And when they do, especially if it’s an ongoing problem, I hope they are met with empathy and discipline. 

5. Unlike other words to describe acts of aggression amongst kids, bullying inherently labels the child behaving badly as a bully. “He hurt me,” “She’s being mean,” and “He’s bothering me” don’t have the same implications. Kids don’t run to their teacher or the lunch time monitor saying, “Johnny is being a ‘hurter.'”

6. Labeling a child as a bully suggests it is what defines him. “Sally is the class bully” makes it seem like a permanent state.

7. If a child is chronically aggressing, the adults in the child’s life should be working with the child rather than labeling their aggression in a potentially damaging way.

8.  I don’t even know what anti-bullying movement means. We’re against bad conduct? Who isn’t? The shirts, banners, and buttons pinned to t-shirts I’ve seen don’t promote good behaviour; they don’t prompt kids to reach out to someone who is hurt, or deal with problems in a collaborative manner. It just makes it seem like  bullying is a nebulous force or threat that we are all against, but doesn’t say much about anything else.

Any case of chronic abuse, harm, or aggression should be dealt with appropriate and expedient recourse. Calling it or not calling it bullying shouldn’t affect the way in which it is dealt. Basically, not calling it bullying shouldn’t make it any less of a crime or issue if someone, especially a child is being hurt.

My hope is that, as adults, we collaboratively work to empower kids to talk it out. Kids that feel bullied should feel empowered to talk about what they’re feeling and why. Kids that are acting out and hurting others should feel they are able to discuss their feelings of upset, frustration, or anger with someone trusted. Labeling kids in this context can only cause more harm than help. We should seek to understand, to love, and to console above all else.

What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Somewhere in between? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. I totally agree with what you are saying. As a former teacher, I had a few instances where parents would come in and talk to me about another student bullying their child. While I do agree that there are most certainly instances where children are bullied and picked on by other classmates, I, like you, don’t like the mentality of labeling the other child as a mean, bully. I taught Kindergarten, often the children labeled as bullies just need more practice with social skills or even had other underlying issues that needed to be addressed.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment, Tricia! I love the compassion and understanding you have for the kids that were just learning socially. I think one of the unfortunate results of this movement is people hastily throwing the word, “Bully.” Thanks again for your comment <3

  2. The Bully label does have a lot more weight to it now, than when we were kids. When we were kids,a bully was someone that had a bad attitude, might say something rude to you (Or in my case actually chase you down and beat you up for having glasses). I don’t agree with the two to tango theory, in my case – but in other cases I can see that. The bully label can be pretty harmful. Let’s teach our kids to handle conflict with grace, and not label them as bad. Good article.

    1. I really appreciate your comment. And, I don’t think it always is a two-to-tango situation especially in issues that are chronic. But in most school yard confrontations, I can’t help but wonder if it is more dyadic than not. I couldn’t agree more with your entire comment. Thank you so much for reading!

  3. Yes, I think all kids get into playground disagreements and we can’t go around labeling children as bullies. I feel the same way about a lot of the shirts and grocery store donation campaigns. I don’t really feel like they help the problem.

  4. I both agree and disagree with this article for a few reasons

    I do have to agree that the label is quick to be thrown out there and in many instances isn’t accurate to the situation. A kid acting out isn’t immediately something to be laid out as ‘being a bully’. However, as someone now into my late 20s, I can also say that not all cases are incorrect either. This I say from personal experience as a kid that went in every day to my latter elementary school years and was picked on for my weight. No one physically injured me, but try to tell me that day in and day out being tormented verbally for over a year isn’t going to have an impact on a child and we will have a massive disagreement. This movement isn’t necessarily going to be a ‘fix’ but I do think it does make some kinda more mindful of that particular breed of torment.

    It certainly isn’t an all or nothing situation and I would say for sure that it’s getting way away from what’s necessary. A label fixes nothing. However, some knowledge out there for kids who might not recognize right away what they are doing might be hurtful is a good thing and that a gang mentality (as the type that often leads to the suicides we hear so much about on the news) isn’t the right way to go just because everyone else is doing it

    Unfortunately it’s frequently an all or nothing thing in this world we live in. There isn’t a lot of room for wiggle room in these trends that get mass internet support

    1. Amber, I really appreciate the thought you put into this comment, for reading, and not just agreeing with me for the sake of agreeing.
      I’m so sorry you were bullied. The one thing I feared when writing this is people would think I didn’t think bullying was an actual issue. Which I do. I just think the movement is a bit vapid and as I said inherently flawed. Thank you so much for your perspective <3

      1. You made some very good points in regards to the movement itself. I don’t think you or anyone else would claim that legitimate bullying doesn’t occur or isn’t a problem, though the stamp being laid down these days that every hurt feeling is the result of a bully and not something that could have been unintentional is not the resolution. I fear that too few people make that connection though, so I’m always happy to see genuine conversation on the topic. Kids are still kids. Not everything is carrying malicious intent

  5. I think labeling kids for anything is a recipe for disaster. When I was picked on growing up, the kids always had underlying issues. Whether it was a bad home life or just a difficulty with studies. It was their way of acting out. In all honesty, there may be someone out there that feels as if I picked on them. Nobody is perfect. We need to address the real issue by finding out why kids are acting out and stop throwing labels all over the place.

  6. Great article! Unfortunately, this happens way too often. Way too many issues get blown out of portion. We lose sight of the original purpose and goal.

  7. This is an awesome post. Thank you for having the courage to say what many of us have been thinking. I work with children who have special needs and the special needs community is particulary rabid about “anti-bullying”. I see the term “bullying” used far too often. One child can say they just want to play with someone else and the “victim” sees that as bullying. “Bullies” take the responsibility off the “victim” to change their own behavior. Bullying, when it happens, is a serious behavior. I have seen true bullying and that needs immediate intervention.

    1. Thank you so much, Shelah! This is my thought exactly. It isn’t to minimize actual bullying but the word can be misused far too readily and the movement doesn’t teach us about empathy among many other important skills.

  8. it’s very hard to leave a meaningful comment when I agree with every single thing you wrote. The Anti-Bullying movement raises my hackles for all of the reasons you wrote. And it’s not because I don’t think bullying is a thing. It is.

  9. I completely agree! The ‘good’ or ‘evil’ way of defining ourselves is extremely dated! This is such a great post!

    1. Thanks so much! I made some edits but I actually submitted it to you last week. I wasn’t sure if the topic wasn’t up your site’s alley though.

  10. My son just finished up 1st grade. I totally agree with you on all of these points!! Calling a kid a bully for being mean a few times can sometimes even create a bully! If you tell a kid over and over he/she is a bully, then they might feel that is who they are… Just sitting them down and talking them through why that was their course of action can do Wonders. Great Post!

  11. Alana, I totally agree with the article, especially, the last sentence about” Labeling kids in this context can only cause more harm than help.” Thanks for sharing!

  12. Throughout junior high and high school, I was a member (and later president) of our peer mediation team. When 2 kids would get into an fight/bullying situation, they could sit with us and have a mediation in hopes that the problem would be resolved BEFORE the principal got involved. 8 out of 10 times, the problem would be solved with a few questions and answers. The opportunity to talk in a safe place did wonders for the kids.

  13. I completely agree with this!
    I think whenever we try to label anyone, whether the person is a child or adult, we negate their potential for true personal growth. Those boxes that others (and ourselves) put us in are really confining.
    I was often treated meanly as a child, and often treated others badly. It was part of being a kid, it didn’t make me (or them) bullies, it meant that we were kids and were still learning how our actions affected others.

    1. I was in the same boat. I got treated badly and there are times I am embarrassed at how I treated others. Thanks so much for this comment! I love everything you wrote!

  14. I love this piece and love that you had the courage to write it. I agree with most of it (though not the two to tango thing–with TRUE bullying, I think two-to-tango is rare), but I totally agree with the idea that the term bullying is being overused. By applying it to everything, it’s losing its power. Thanks for giving me a lot to think about!

    1. Thanks so much, Alyssa! I agree TRUE bullying isn’t a two to tango thing. But based on what I’ve heard from school principals I know, most cases of reported “bullying” is… Really appreciate your comment!

  15. I agree with you! I hate labels dealing with anything! Once you give someone a label, like in this case calling kids bullies, I think it actually makes the situation worse because now the kid thinks they are a bully and well, they already have the title why change?

  16. I could not agree more with this article! I also believe you are correct when you say, “it takes two to tango.” In many if not most cases I believe there was something that happened in order for the other person to react. I also believe that the person who screams “Bully” first is often the person who is actually the bully. Finally, calling someone a bully to me is name calling, which in itself is bulling correct? There are obviously exceptions, but I agree that this anti-bullying movement has gotten a lot out of hand, and it itself has created more bullying… Conflict resolution is something that needs to be taught at a young age in my opinion…

  17. You gave me some extra things to think about. I had never thought about it in this way. I have had a child tormented again and again by the same student. He knows how his parents would want him to respond to the actions of this other child. We also try to drill into him that we need to love that child. Most people make bad choices because they are hurting. It’s such a fine line to walk as a parent. But this gives me some fresh perspectives, as well as reaffirming some thoughts that I had already felt – there are no bad kids, there are kids who occasionally make bad choices. And they are just as worth our time and love and energy as any other child.

    Good post!

  18. You bring up some valid points here. As a classroom teacher – you’re right – it does often (not all the time though), take “two to tango”. But, bullying is OUT of control sometimes and that’s why there is such a big campaign for it. Great post!

    1. Totally and it is totally understandable why there is a movement. Obviously, I just think the movement is vapid and other programs do more of substance. Thank so much for commenting!

  19. This is great. When I found out my kindergarten son, whom I always believed had a heart of gold, was one of the ones doing the so called “bullying” I was crushed. After I learned the whole story, I realized it was less “bullying” and more “following the crowd,” another issue entirely. I agree with you that we don’t need more labels, we need more parents who care about their children and especially parents who care about the well being of ALL children.

    1. Thank you so much for writing this, JC. While I do believe actual issues of bullying exist, your son’s case was hardly that and MOST instances that are labeled bullying aren’t. Either way, the label is more hurtful than helpful. Again, thanks so much for your comment!

  20. Something that I respectfully disagree with.

    The “it takes two to tango”mentality when it comes to bullying.
    I was bullied for no reason.
    I was and am mentally ill and I used to get viciously bullied for being ” odd”

    I mainly sat quietly and stared at my desk.
    Still got attacked daily.

    1. Ami, I am so sorry for what you underwent. There is no excuse for such behaviour and you deserved better treatment. I am grateful for your comment, but know you’ve mistaken what I’ve said. My line was, “More often than not, I think reported grade school “bullying” is actually more of an ‘It takes two to tango’ scenario.” The example I gave was one that is representative of what many educators and other childcare professionals have noted. “Jane is bullying me. She’s chasing me,” isn’t bullying and also simply requires that the child disengage. If you don’t run, she can’t chase.
      That isn’t to minimize actual bullying it is simply to highlight a criticism of the movement.
      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  21. Kudos for posting this!! I was leery when I clicked from Pinterest, but wow. I agree. I never thought about the anti-bullying movement this way, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head!

  22. Not to mention, individuals that choose not to wear a Pink Shirt on Pink Shirt day are being bullied by these so called Anti-Bullying activists… it kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it.

  23. it seems like whenever we create a new norm or a new expectation we are also creating a new deviation. My daughter forgot that it was pink shirt day this morning and she was worried. In other words, pink shirt day is creating new anxiety, because one has to fit in right? or have a sense of belonging? I agree with a post earlier on saying that it wasn’t always an official named anti-bullying day. it started being a spontaneous response to a social injustice. Great. But now we have created a new socially regulated norm that one has to comply with or else … I think the problem is in the NAMING with the intent for recognizing a problem, but with that NAMING we are creating the very problem we are trying to solve (the first problem was the norm of NOT wearing pink as boys; the new problem is the norm of having to wear pink on pink shirt day). I enjoyed reading the other posts. thank you.

    1. I agree completely. The reason it started was incredible. The celebration of the day now has its own set of issues. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.

  24. Very well written. I agree to an extent. I was bullied. Made fun of ALL the time. On the receiving end of dares. I got suicidal from it. Currently my brother is being bullied. The young man that’s bullying him has quite literally pushed 5 families out of the school district and one of them he called when they moved states away to harass them. He has been bullying my brother for quite a few years. I think the movement is a good idea when it comes to actually bullies. Now the people saying ‘they are hurting me by laughing at me’ and it happens once or twice is not bullying to me. When that happened to me I didn’t think it was bullying but when someone repeatedly harassed me and was mean and tried to get others to be mean… that was bullying.. spraying chemicals on someone is bullying.

    1. Birigit, Thank you so much for your honesty and perspective. I’m so sorry you experienced this level of bullying. There is no other word to describe what happened to you. No one deserves to experience anything close to what you did. Thank you for the dialogue.

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