The anti-bully movement has been giving rise to a lamentable phenomenon. Friendships between adults are being destroyed because their children are not getting along. Virtually every school administrator or parent who turns to me for help with bullying informs me about wars waged between parents, even ones who used to be best friends. There is a good chance your local school has been infected by this as well.
Let me make a caveat here. This claim is based solely on my own work experience, not on statistics. I can’t find any scientific investigations into the hostilities between parents resulting from anti-bullying education and policies. There are studies ad nauseum investigating the harm caused by bullying, but there are virtually none about the harm caused by efforts to get rid of bullying. A researcher or graduate student looking to make valuable new contributions to the bullying literature might find this a rewarding area of study.
Two of the basic premises popularized by the anti-bully movement are that 1) parents are to blame for raising bullies, and 2) schools are responsible for guaranteeing children a bully-free environment.
Fueled by these beliefs, feuds begin as follows: Parent One says to Parent Two, “Your child is bullying my child!” Parent Two insists, “My child is a nice kid. He/she would never bully anyone!” After discussing the accusation with their child, Parent Two informs Parent One, “It seems that it’s your child that’s bullying mine!” Before you know it, these former friends get into an ongoing bitter argument and turn into enemies. They may each enlist other parents to take their side, so that a social problem that began between two students escalates into a community feud.
While the parents enter the fray with the intention of stopping the bullying, they usually amplify the hostilities between their children. Now, both children are feeding off their parents, who are justifying their conviction that they are right and the other is wrong. The kids are now fighting each other as representatives of their entire family.
The parents have also reported the problem to the school, for it has become responsible by law for making bullying disappear and is therefore the address to turn to for resolution and justice. The school staff then gets busy following protocol by interrogating children, meeting with parents, passing verdicts, administering punishments and/or rehabilitation efforts, and filing reports to the school district. The entry of the school into the fray inflames the families’ passions as each plead their case in the hope of getting the school to rule in their favor. In the likely event that the school fails to make both sides happy, the disgruntled parents may complain about the school to the district office or even hire lawyers to sue the school. It should not surprise us that bullying lawsuits against schools are proliferating.
It is my impression that the family feud phenomenon has hit private and parochial schools in the United States particularly hard. Even though such schools may be exempt from anti-bullying laws, they have taken the anti-bully mission especially seriously. The reason is simple: parents demand it. To survive financially, the schools need each tuition payment. They know that parents will transfer their child to a different school if they are not satisfied with its efforts, so they go into high gear when faced with a bullying complaint. However, the more ardently they try to combat the bullying problem, the worse the problem tends to become.
Ever since the Columbine shooting in 1999 ignited the anti-bully movement, I have been warning that it is bound to cause more harm than good. Not only would it fail to eliminate bullying among children, it would escalate hostilities between parents and the schools, and between parents and parents.
Charles Murray, one of our nation’s leading (and most controversial) social scientists, said something profound: “A free society is most threatened not by uses of government that are obviously bad, but by uses of government that seem obviously good.”
When a policy seems obviously bad, people simply reject it. But when a policy seems obviously good, they blindly follow it, even if the results are bad.
The idea of eliminating bullies from society, and especially from schools, sounds so obviously virtuous that the entire world has embraced it. Hardly anyone bothers to consider that there might be something wrong with it. When the policies for eliminating bullying aren’t working, society concludes that the policies must be implemented more intensively. Whenever someone publicly criticizes the policies, anti-bully advocates pounce on them as though they are demons trying to undermine their saintly endeavors, so most critics are intimidated into keeping their thoughts to themselves. Thus, the public rarely gets to hear about the negatives.
Meanwhile, the anti-bullying establishment has convinced everyone that schools are responsible for guaranteeing children a bully-free environment, and that parents are to blame for raising children who are bullies. So the parents continue to blame each other, and they both blame the school as well.
Ironically, the bullying experts who have fought for anti-bullying policies and laws don’t know how to make bullying disappear, for the research shows their programs have dismal results, yet they demand that schools be held responsible for making bullying disappear.
If you are a parent, I implore you to stop blaming the school or other parents for the bullying your child is experiencing. It is not their fault. The school does not try to make students bully each other, and it is probably doing its best to follow mandated anti-bullying policies, but those policies do not work well and can make hostilities escalate.
No parents raise their children with the intention of turning them into bullies or victims. You have probably discovered that your children don’t always turn out exactly the way you want them to. Parents simply don’t have that much control over children’s personality development, behavior and relationships. There is an excellent chance that your own children at home are mean to each other on a daily basis and your efforts to stop them aren’t working. Do you get into a feud with yourself because you can’t make them be nice to each other? So why would you get into a feud with other parents because their child isn’t always nice to yours? That is unfair and immoral. You should love other parents even though their children may not be angelic towards yours. Neither of you are responsible for the way your children get along with each other.
If you are feuding with each other, do your best to “kiss and make up.” Tell them you are sorry for blaming them, for you realize it is not their fault, and you miss their friendship. If they blame you for the kids’ bullying, explain to them that you are really sorry about the way your child is treating theirs, but your efforts to make your child behave better aren’t working. If they don’t believe you, give them a copy of this article and hopefully they will understand.
And if you are feuding with the school personnel because they are failing to stop your child from being bullied, do the same with them. Apologize for blaming them and let them know you realize they have been doing their best. See if you can help them understand why their efforts have not been working and perhaps guide them to finding what does. Your child will also benefit when you and the school are at peace with each other. The school will have less of a need to try to prove that your child is at fault, and will be more open to alternatives.
Even if restoring your good relations with the other parents and with the school don’t turn your children into friends, it will at least reduce the inflammation caused by the adult feuding. You have nothing to lose, and you may regain your lost friendships.
Israel “Izzy” Kalman is Director of Bullies to Buddies, a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems.