No one thinks, “I’m the Bully.”

Photo Credit: nist6ss via Compfight cc

I loved ‘”Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers’ by Danah Boyd. Boyd writes about how the real problem is not new technologies making bullying easier— the problem is a lack of empathy. Young people (along with many who aren’t so young) don’t see their actions as “bullying.” In short, teens think of “bullying” as picking on someone who doesn’t deserve it. And since they think that those they ridicule or exclude are deserving of such treatment, they don’t view their actions as “bullying.” The fact that society glorifies “drama” makes this situation even worse.

How can we, as educators, teach students empathy? How can we cultivate kindness, both online and offline? I think that we have to start by modeling empathy ourselves. We also have to have direct conversations with our students about how others’ feelings are impacted by our words and actions. We have to have these conversations all the time. I think students would also benefit from watching videos like those on Common Sense Media, which give such clear examples of the consequences of bullying. I think that it is valuable to also ask students to think about what the aggressor might have been thinking as he/she did the bullying. How does a person justify bullying?

I worry that our students picture “bullies” as 100% bad kids, who are out to bully someone for the joy of bullying. While I know that those types do exist, it is also often a former friend who feels hurt and then reacts by bullying, or someone who has been excluded from a group who then also excludes. Clearly, having been hurt doesn’t give someone the right to bully, but by casting “bullies” as one-dimensional total jerks, it makes it easier for students to think, “I’m not a bully. I’m a nice kid.” It also makes it more difficult for them to see actions as bullying when they experience those hurtful acts themselves. Can a bully be a total jerk all the time? Sure. Can a normally nice kid also bully? Definitely. I teach a lot of nice kids, and I am sure many of them have bullied others at some point in time. I’m also pretty sure that few of them would categorize their actions as bullying. There really is a disconnect.

Asking a student if he/she has ever bullied someone is likely to get a negative answer, but showing examples of what bullying can look like and what can be the initial cause for it to begin would encourage students to think more critically about how they treat others, and how others treat them. Empathizing with those in the videos can be a first step towards students having greater empathy as they interact with their peers.

5 thoughts on “No one thinks, “I’m the Bully.”

  1. Seth Hills

    Hi Hannah,
    Very well said. I am worried that the word “bullying” is over used. Many kids are quick to say they are bullied when their friends are just messing with them. You are right there is a total disconnect. I do like the point about not all kids who bully are 100% bad kids, many kids, who are good, may exhibit bullying tendencies.
    Numerous conversations on empathy and the affects our words have is a must for teens. We need to continue to keep hammering them on the importance of respect for others and themselves. What is important is the need for constant monitoring, which means we will have to be proactive when we hear conversations with negative tones or context.
    Great post,


  2. Widi Sumaryono

    To bully or not to bully? The cycle of bullying ought to be broken. This reminds me of an incidence that happened when my son got bullied at the end of his elementary year. It was so bad that I went to seek help from the school principal and counselor about the matter when he entered middle school. A lesson I learned was that we ought to work with both the bully as well with the victim. It was hard to accept the fact that my “perfect” son might be the one who might invite a child to bully. It was really challenging, thus me moved to India and coached my son to be “bully proof”.

  3. Himani Verma

    Dear Hannah
    Very well expressed!
    Your line”Young people (along with many who aren’t so young) don’t see their actions as “bullying.” In short, teens think of “bullying” as picking on someone who doesn’t deserve it. And since they think that those they ridicule or exclude are deserving of such treatment, they don’t view their actions as “bullying.” The fact that society glorifies “drama” makes this situation even worse.” reminds of an incident I witnessed while on duty during break time.
    A new student from my group of year 8, was racing down the hall with a furitive look on his face, obviously hiding from someone. Behind him came two other Year 8″s, active, well spoken boys, I would have never thought any other off. I stopped them to ask, and they said they wanted to speak to the new boy ahead and had been told to do so. But because he was running from them, they had to chase him. It sounded not very convincing, so I spoke to the coordinator later.
    Turned out, these boys had attempted to make friends but because the new boy had adjustment issues, what had started off as harmless getting to know each other had turned into insensitive chasing him to speak to him. This had petrified the new child to the extent he has been going home crying and his mother had complianed the day before.
    The two boys had never thought they were bullying and that their actions were hurting someone who was having a problem, he became someone “deserving of such treatment,”…

  4. Danieta Morgan

    The post and comments all bring up very relevant and important issues. While there are some students who using the term lightly along with “low self esteem” , there are also students who are finding great comfort in hiding behind the computer screen. Always, the best solution is to teach our students about empathy. I completely agree and adhere to this philosophy. We must continue to teach our students about social and emotional growth in order to decrease the use of bullying in schools.

  5. serge nicolai

    I like the idea that not all bullies are like the archetypal soap opera bad guys.
    Indeed we have to make the kids aware of what is bullying behavior and what is just ‘messing with’ someone.
    Teens are so sensitive that showing videos of those behaviors in action will definitely help.
    As to how we teach empathy, i agree with you: we can only model it. Wait, erase the ‘only’.
    We can model it! It’s a big thing, and if we do it consistently, it will have an effect, with our students at least.


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