“When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” — Eleanor Roosevelt
A national resource defines bullying as, “aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power or strength. Often, it is repeated over time and can take many forms.” Experts say kids bully because they want to establish a social order, obtain dominance and power, or have control over group membership.
Whoa. That is eerily similar to our movement’s understanding of domestic violence. I guess it’s no surprise that different kinds of violence have similar motives. As I scan through some of the current research on bullying, I see that some of the most common intervention programs, like zero tolerance policies and peer to peer mediation, are now being discredited. It turns out that just as with domestic violence, there are no simple answers on how to get a bully—or a batterer—to knock it off.
And how can there be a simple answer?
Take the recent news story about a father who is facing felony child abuse charges after he was caught on video cheering his teenage son during a fight with a schoolmate who had been bullying him. The father and mother said things got worse after they sought help from the school, and their son eventually came to believe that fighting back was his best option. While the father regrets encouraging his son to “smash [the other boy’s] head into the ground,” he is relieved that after the fight, the bully agreed “to be done.”
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So, wow. This family believes that vigilante violence was the best solution for their son. And while we know that boys especially are socialized to both be dominant and fight back against domination, I’m not convinced that street-fighting is the big solution we’ve all been looking for.
There must be more options for dealing with bullying besides “make the school deal with it” or “duke it out.”
So how did this get worked out in the social circles you were part of as a young person? Was there a way to stop bullying, dominating behavior without resorting to violence?