bullying teens anti-bullying month

To End Bullying, End The Bullying Culture


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 124 · Duration: 00:11:11

To End Bullying, End The Bullying Culture

October is Anti-Bullying Month, but what can we do so that bullying isn’t the norm?

Bullying is of course a huge issue. Bullying can be lethal, it can be brutal, and it can be subtle.In all cases it hurts and leaves scars that can last a lifetime. 

A Culture of Bullying

Here’s a story I’d like to share with you. A mom and her 7th grade daughter came into my office to talk about her daughter’s sadness. Clearly she was a sensitive soul and things do affect her deeply. She’s articulate and able to communicate her feelings to her mother. 

Mom wanted to know what to do to help her daughter. Recently mom withdrew her daughter from the local middle school and enrolled her in an online alternative school. She put lots of structure in place for her daughter to be with her friends, but it wasn’t going to be an every day thing. 

Of course, I wanted to know why they chose an alternative program. The youngster told me that the kids and teachers at school were mean and I asked a lot of questions about what that looked like. She had lots of examples of her being picked on and of teachers who used a harsh authoritarian tone to manage the class. Even though she had her own group of friends, the school environment felt very alienating, unsafe, unfriendly. 

Here’s the kicker though for me. When I asked mom what the principal said when they asked to transfer, the principal simply complied and never asked why. This is a good kid with good grades and she wasn’t interested in why she was withdrawing from her school.She simply acted as a bureaucrat, moving paper and kids. 

Okay, so what is bullying?Bullying happens when someone or several people or institutions use their power to hurt others or a group of others. Bullying can be active such as name calling, humiliating, or threatening. Bullying can be passive by excluding others, keeping them from enjoying the benefits of inclusion such as a friend group or getting hired for a job, or being called on in the classroom.

In order to talk about bullying we need to talk not simply about bullying as an act, which of course it is, but the culture in which bullying grows and what it really means to create a culture that doesn’t support bullying. If we are going to be honest with ourselves about wanting to end bullying, we have to look at the social climate that our kids live in; that we all live in, and ask, is this a bullying culture?

If we are going to be honest with ourselves about wanting to end bullying, we have to look at the social climate that our kids live in; that we all live in, and ask, is this a bullying culture?Click To Tweet

For starters, at the highest level of our country, the President of the United States uses bullying as his primary way if not his only way of getting what he wants. Getting crowds of people to shout “lock her up” in unison, calling Latino immigrants rapists and murderers. When anyone disagrees with him, they are immediately name-called with reference to their size, physical handicap, or other physical characteristics; much like you’d expect to see in a destructive middle school environment. This high level of bullying is making everyone in our country feel unsafe and it promotes bullying in schools, on the streets, and everywhere.

In our own homes too often we use anger and threats to get what we want and I’ve talked a lot about how that creates and is created by Control Battles that undermine youth development and lead to parental burnout.

How Important Cultural Change Is to End Bullying

Now let’s go back to my middle school principal. Schools can put up anti-bullying signs if they like, but that’s not going to change a school and end bullying. In fact, it can be hypocritical. They can say, “If you see bullying, confront it and report it.”But if you confront bullying in a bullying culture, there will be no mechanism to address it. The only way to end bullying in a school is to change the culture in the school. To have a school that doesn’t support bullying, you need a culture that says to each and every kid:

  • We’re glad you’re here. 
  • We are invested in your success and are confident that you can and will thrive here. 
  • We know you have a lot to offer and we’re interested in getting to know you and have you share who you are with us.
  • Some students may have seriously traumatic backgrounds, others may have issues of loss or other family problems.Some kids will be lesbian or gay or have gender identities different from their biology.Some kids will be racially and culturally in a minority group and many kids will have neurological differences such as learning disabilities, ADHD, or be on the autism spectrum.And yet each one of these kids is a unique individual who is more than these identifying characteristics and each one of these kids deserves to be and feel safe and supported.

Some schools are doing exactly that and are rebuilding their culture from the bottom up, but unfortunately, this is the exception and not the rule.

So if a youth and his mother go to a principal and ask to be transferred, the principal should be extremely concerned and say, “Oh my goodness, why do you want to leave your school? You’re important to us.” In this case, the girl would say, “I don’t feel safe here.”And that should set off all kinds of alarm bells.

Now let’s go back to the subject of our president. Recently he was using his bullying ways to intimidate a political opponent by bullying a foreign leader to do his dirty work. That’s how good he is at bullying, he can multi-bully. Finally a courageous individual steps up and follows the whistle-blower protocol that says, if you see something wrong or unethical, report it and we will protect you. An excellent anti-bullying law, right? He or she reports the abuse of power and what does the president do, he verbally attacks, or we could say bullies the unidentified whistle-blower and also bullies the chairman of the house judiciary committee and threatens to have him charged with treason for investigating the whistle blower’s complaint. 

If we are going to be authentic in our quest to end bullying, it’s going to take more than anti-bullying month slogans, it’s going to take vulnerability and courage. Click To Tweet

In Conclusion

If we are going to be authentic in our quest to end bullying, it’s going to take more than anti-bullying month slogans, it’s going to take vulnerability and courage. The vulnerability to confront our own experiences with bullying and how it impacted and impacts our lives, and the courage to stand up and lead, just like the whistleblower and the school administrator who transforms a school culture. 

I’m inspired by these courageous folks and I’m guessing that if I asked them where they got the courage to act, they’d say “What courage? I’m just doing the right thing. I'm doing what needs to be done. What’s so courageous about that?”

So listeners, let’s get serious about anti-bullying. Where are the places in our lives where we see abuse of power, or a lack of physical or emotional safety, or exclusion, or institutional neglect? What action can we take? Where can we make a difference? We can’t ask of our teenagers, what we’re unwilling to do ourselves.

Thanks for tuning in today listeners and if you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program, and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website neildbrown.com, and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

And please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.


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Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast.