OPINION By MATT McEACHRAN
Ontario’s new anti-bullying legislation is going to give school principals the power to expel bullies.
It’s a great idea. Bullies who repeatedly bully children should be expelled. There is no room for that behaviour at school. We certainly shouldn’t be letting one bully ruin the school life for any, or many, other kids.
What’s so shocking is that this is a new idea. In fact, since when couldn’t principals expel kids? They certainly could when I was a kid. Who is the genius that took this power away from them?
Ooops. It was Dalton McGuinty back in 2007 with Bill 212.
So let me get this straight . . . the “we know better than you do” Liberal government took away some of the punishments available to educators, and problems with school kids increased? Major consequences for bad actions were removed and as a result, bad actions increased? Who couldn’t have seen that coming? Oh right. The smartest man in the room, our Premier.
Bringing back expulsions is still a great idea. However, I’m not sure it’s time for parents to hang their hats up on bullying just yet. Rarely do laws passed at the provincial level seem to fix problems at the local level.
In fact, the current thinking on anti-bullying as well as many school policies, are actually causing more bullying, and creating more victims.
Let me lay it out for you.
First we have to narrow the definition of bullying. When most of us hear the word “bully” we think of a big mean kid that beats kids up for their lunch money. Today the definition of bullying has been expanded to include nearly everyone and everything.
If you check out the Lambton Kent District School Board’s website they have a lengthy regulation on bullying that would choke a horse. It talks about good things like aggressive and repeated behaviour, but it is open to interpretation to the point that kids can be (and sometimes are) considered bullies for simple name calling or laughing at someone.
Saying something like “Ha ha, Tom has a girlfriend!” to your buddy, isn’t worthy of being called a bully. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying name calling or teasing isn’t mean, but it isn’t worthy of expulsion either.
The other problem with this wide definition of bullying is that it dramatically lowers a kid’s self-esteem. Now that we label everything as bullies, kids are coming home wondering why they are picked on so much. And who wouldn’t feel terrible if their teacher, parents, and the TV news are constantly telling them they’re being bullied all the time.
Now I’m sure some of you are getting your back up already, so let me clarify. Yes, repeated name calling and teasing can be taken to the point of bullying. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a kid walking up and saying “Nice haircut” to someone and that someone running home feeling terrible because they were just “bullied”.
Having a hunch I was on to something with this, I contacted Brad Coulbeck, a renowned expert on stress resiliency. Here’s what he said:
“I think you are right . . . resiliency, the ability to bounce back from trauma and adversity, is a critical ingredient. If people are too sensitive, too soft, and can’t get up after being knocked down psychologically, they won’t achieve the same levels of success. To build mental toughness and resiliency people have to expose themselves to some adversity. Not too much that it will overwhelm, but enough that they will grow. The trick is getting that balance.
“Parents should work on building their children’s self-esteem and self-confidence so that when they do get hurt they have the basic mental tools to get over it.”
Stop destroying our kids’ self-esteem by making them feel like victims 24/7 and let’s start teaching them a little more “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.”
Once kids understand that not everything is bullying, the other thing we need to do is let them know it’s ok to defend themselves against real bullies if they want to.
When I started school the rule was whoever started a fight got in trouble. By the time I left, it had changed to anyone involved in a fight will be suspended. This concept of everyone being equally guilty is causing a lot of victims to be picked on repeatedly.
There is lots of proof to support this. Example A: My son got punched in the stomach at school by a kid who then knocked my son’s lunch all over the floor. I asked him why he didn’t tell the teacher. He doesn’t know. I asked him if he hit the kid back, he said ‘no’ because then he would have gotten in trouble too.
Score: bully 1, my son 0
Bullies love this rule because they can assault kids and the good kids won’t fight back because they are afraid of getting into trouble. And best of all, if you’re a bully and the kid calls you a name back (i.e. “stop touching me you big ugly ape) you just run to the teacher first and cry about feeling hurt because that kid over there just called you a name. Both kids are punished equally because name calling is also a form of bullying.
Does that make sense to anyone?
Taking away our kids’ right to defend themselves has made them feel powerless . It’s made them feel helpless. And some kids, even hopeless. That’s exactly the opposite of how kids should feel who are being bullied.
Kids who are bullied should know the school system has their back. Bullies should know they aren’t going to get away with causing a problem and then watching the victim be equally punished.
Now I’m sure some people are reading this thinking, “does this maniac really want to turn our school yards into yards of rampant fighting”?
Of course not. I predict there would actually be a lot less fighting. Before the end of the first school year, bullying would plummet because there would be real consequences (real fast) for real bullies.
Look at this way: If letting kids (who want to) fight back, prevents even one more victim of bullying from committing suicide, isn’t it worth it?
Let principals and teachers discipline kids again.
Stop labeling everything as “bullying”; it’s giving our kids a complex.
Teach kids some mental resiliency to name calling.
And stop punishing victims when they defend themselves.
That’s how you stop bullies.