Friday, March 27, 2015

The Other Side of Bullying

I recently posed this question of a group of 1,000 Dad Bloggers:

"With bullying getting a lot of attention in recent years most of the stories have understandably focused on the victims. I'm wondering if any of you have had experience with, or written about, being the parent of a bully. I feel like it's a topic worth addressing, but I haven't seen anything out there."

I got two replies.

Now of course, as with any survey, especially a Facebook group survey, you don't know how much engagement you're actually getting. I have no idea how many dads saw the question. Still, two is a very low response rate.

Of the two replies one posited that it could be a hard thing to write about because of embarrassment or potential legal issues. Another told a story that I think is typical of how we tend to envision the parents of bullies as being bullies themselves. The story was told by a teacher who had intervened in an act of bullying in their class. Later, the father of the bully confronted the teacher in an aggressive and intimidating manner. To this teacher the source of the son's bullying behavior was clear. And I think that's a pretty typical narrative of what we think of when we think of the parents of bullies. The parents are also bullies, or abusers, or absent, or neglectful. Essentially, we often explain that kids are bullies because they have bad parents.

Another of the dad bloggers offered this, " I bet there are decent normal parents whose kid for whatever reason is violent or aggressive or intimidating."

I'm guessing that there's other stories out there as well. I imagine there's some shame associated with having a kid who's bullying. Maybe that's why we haven't heard the other stories. You'd think that just by sheer statistics that there are other circumstances, people who are trying to do everything right and still ending up with these behaviors from their kids. I'm curious about that.

There was a time when I was worried that my son was becoming a bully. It was devastating to think about. I was worried about having to face a lifetime of calls home from school and having to face angry parents a the PTA. It turns out, as I learned from a couple days observing the classroom, he was just being a normal 5 year old. But I think it could be a great resource for parents if people who had experience were willing to share.

Hopefully, by sharing those experiences we can look beyond simply blaming the parents. I later found this post on Punk Rock Papa where the author asked his Facebook followers a similar question. He also received minimal response. He lays into the problem pretty well for those of us who appreciate a good rant. There are two points he brings up that I found echo my own views. One is that we don't know anything about the parents of bullies, and that's a huge gap in our knowledge that leaves a dearth of positive tools for us to use in dealing with bullying. Second is that the Hollywood solution of round house kicking your way to a better tomorrow doesn't give our kids skills to apply later in life. As the author notes, kicking your bullying boss in the face isn't going to fly with upper management.

So where do we go from here?

For me the the interest in answering this question is two-fold. For one,
I've always been small, and I grew up being bullied. It shaped me and my interaction with the world way more than I realized until I was about 30. Basically, I saw anything that could be a potential injustice toward me as a fight. So I took an aggressive stance towards everything and everyone around me because I didn't want to allow an opening where I might be bullied. It was very counter productive. Fighting isn't the best strategy, the effect of fighting lasts long after there are fights to be had. Second, if my son does start bullying, I want to know if there's anyone else who has been through this. I want more tools to deal with bullying from the side of the perpetrator. 

The discussion with the dad blogger group led to another post on Tenor Dad where the author talks about his own experience being a bully. He discusses what led to his time bullying another child, and talks about how he plans to try to prevent creating future bullies. Tenor Dad writes,

I would be devastated to learn that my children were being bullied, but how much worse would I feel if I found out that they were the ones doing the bullying? No parent wants to believe that their child is capable of such things, but I can tell you that every child is. I was. You were. We have all been mean to someone at some time, and we all know how it feels when someone is less than kind to us. When the day comes that I am sitting on the couch, comforting a child who has borne the brunt of some juvenile cruelty, I will console them and I will hold them, but I will also ask them to remember that feeling anytime they are tempted to deal harshly with anyone else."

The victims of bullying deserve all the attention they have gotten, and will continue to get. I hope that by trying to take a more 360 degree view of the issue we can help parents of bullies to get involved in reducing bullying.


  1. Great post. This is a discussion that needs to be had,

  2. For what it's worth I saw your post on FB, but I'm afraid have nothing to add, I don't believe my kids are bullies (I guess we never really know).

    I can recall bullying when I was in school, and it seemed to happen to everyone at some point (I suffered quite badly at one point and it, I think, has affected my confidence), most of the bullying that happened in our class was deflection in reality, picking on someone smaller, weaker, easier to target than you to deflect any bullying attention away from you. Sad as it is, and I have apologised to the people I deflected onto since being an adult.

    1. Right on. I didn't figure many people would have experience parenting bullies. But I was surprised that no one even knew of anyone else who had written about it.

      Some of it could be selection bias. Maybe the type of person inclined to blog about their parenting experiences is also likely to parent in a way that precludes the kid becoming a bully.

      I have no evidence for that, but then, I don't know if there's anything other than the common perception of what creates bullies that also creates bullies. (Convoluted sentence and all.)