by: Izzy Kalman, MS, NCSP
“Anti-bullying” programs, policies and laws are supposed to reduce bullying and increase harmony among people, right?
My favorite saying is, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Whoever formulated this is a genius. It explains most of the problems in the world. Most problems are not caused by bad intentions. They are cause by good intentions. But as scientists understand, there are likely to be unintended negative consequences to any intervention.
One of the consequences of the “anti-bully” movement is a great increase in hostility between parents. I have seen so many instances of parents who used to be good friends of each other becoming passionate enemies because of the bullying situations between their children.
The “anti-bullying” idea sounds so good that it is hard to imagine there could be anything wrong with it.
I began studying psychology 45 years ago because I had a strong desire to learn how to help people solve their problem, be happier and have better relationships. Helping people requires understanding human nature, the negative along with the positive. Our nature doesn’t change simply on the basis of wishfully thinking that bullying is not part of human nature. One important lesson I learned from psychology is that life is full of illusions. Usually when we have problems, it is because reality is often the opposite of the way it appears.
There is an orthodox field of bullying psychology that has been accepted all over the world because it sounds so good. It tells us that if we all unite in having no tolerance for bullying, then bullying will disappear. Unfortunately, this idea hasn’t been working and has resulted in many negative consequences. In fact, it has resulted in increased hostilities.
The reason the “anti-bullying” movement is so popular is because everyone thinks the bully is the other person. And we are happy for declarations of “no tolerance for bullying” because we think it means that other people will stop bullying us.
We don’t realize that when we have “no tolerance for bullying,” it is not an abstract idea or behavior we are not tolerating. It is people that we are not tolerating, because it is people that are doing the bullying. When we are intolerant of people, they become intolerant of us!
Parents naturally want to take the side of their own children. When our child complains of being bullied by another child, we see that child as blameworthy. Since the orthodox bullying field fosters the belief that parents are largely responsible for children engaging in bullying behaviors, we are likely to blame the parents of our child’s alleged aggressor as well. We want them to take responsibility for the way their child is treating ours and make them stop.
But the child who is being accused naturally wants to defend himself, and is likely to blame our child for the situation. That child’s parents also want to take their side against us. So now, not only are the children blaming each other, their parents are blaming each other as well.
Thus, what began as a problem between two children escalates into a feud between their parents. It even happens sometimes between adults who used to be best friends. They now turn into enemies because their children aren’t getting along.
That’s why the best way to prevent bullying is to teach children to solve problems with each other on their own. This way they don’t need to get anyone else involved, and situations don’t escalate into battles among adults. I am so glad that Be Strong has been willing to adopt my unorthodox approach to bullying, based on human nature rather than wishful thinking.
To understand the dynamics of parental feuds in greater detail and how to end them, read my article on Psychology Today: From School Bullying to Feuding Parents.