Therapy in Mind

Exploring ways to improve your life through practical behavioral therapy.

An Anti Anti-Bullying Movement Is Not What Our Children Need

Schools and society are making headway on bullying—let's not take a step back.

I read with interest Deborah Skolnik's article, "Bully Backlash" in Parenting Magazine (March 2013), as I have not previously encountered an anti-anti-bullying article. Perhaps the fact that such a position is atypical these days makes it newsworthy, but I was disturbed by an almost a shrugging tone about bullying (akin to "kids will be kids"), and the quoting one book author's stance on peer conflict as "normal, natural and sometimes necessary." I feel compelled to respond with my disappointment in Parenting Magazine for publishing an article that is essentially advising people to back off (at least to some extent) on anti-bullying efforts when we are just beginning as a nation to make progress on this front. Upon finishing the article, I was left wondering if Ms. Skolnik was just trying to be controversial by playing devil's advocate, or if she was at least partially identifying with her former aggressors.

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Notably, the article fails to bring out the most salient point in the whole issue of bullying and anti-bullying. An informed and astute article would simply encourage people to not label children as "bullies" but rather to focus on and describe the offensive or negative behavior of kids as "bullying," "unacceptable," "inappropriate," "poorly chosen," "bucket-dipping," or some such adjectives. Label the behavior, not the child.

While I am sympathetic to Ms. Skolnik as a victim of bullying, she is not an authority on the subject, and her argument that "leading voices" are issuing vague cautionary sentiments about anti-bullying efforts are thoroughly unconvincing to the critically thinking reader. Where's the data? What "backlash"? Ms. Skolnik claims that 2013 will usher in a change or reversal in the tide of the anti-bullying movement. Based on what? Perhaps a small minority's hope that their child who bullies others will be let off the hook? Let it not be so, neither for those who are doing the bullying and those who are on the receiving end.

We have come a long way since the days when kids were left to their own nascent devices to "work it out." Yes, character development should be part of an anti-bullying program, which is the one merit of Ms. Skolnik's article. We need to guide our children who continue to develop their capacity for social judgment (within both positive and negative scenarios) until they are adults. Just because Ms. Skolnik was able to point to a few isolated anecdotes of overreactions with regard to anti-bullying efforts does not justify a backlash. This is no time to regress to the bad ol' days. Just label the behavior, not the person, and emphasize character development alongside anti-bulling programs in moving forward.

Allison Conner, Psy.D., is the founder of Cognitive Therapy Associates.

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