In Defense of Bullying

Jun 23, 2016 by

By Rob Ogden –

The hysteria surrounding bullying in America’s schools has reached levels of shrillness not achieved since the last time Lena Dunham ordered a pizza.

Trump’s a bully, Farage is a bully, some girl in Michigan called another girl fat, and Taylor Swift cooed to a wounded fan: “Don’t let ugly words into your beautiful mind.” That last one I found at the Huffington Post, which has an entire section of their website dedicated to the topic.

If the number of anti-bullying non-profits is any indication, this is a phenomenon that America wants to end. But in our earnestness to shield our kids from playground bullies, we deprive them of one of the most important lessons they can learn: that there are bad people who must be faced. Put simply, bullying is good for you.

This argument is borderline heresy these days, so let’s start with the most basic question: What is bullying? According to, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.”

The definition suggests that bullying is an unwanted exploitation of a power imbalance. But power imbalances, and the exploitation thereof, are an intrinsic part of the human experience.

No wonder one of the most comprehensive studies on bullying to date — conducted by two University of California Los Angeles researchers who reviewed more than 140 studies — found that schools’ efforts to curtail bullying have been woefully ineffective. Similarly, a University of Ottowa researcher reported that most anti-bullying programs “yielded nonsignificant outcomes.”

Teaching kids that we can eliminate power imbalances is not egalitarian; it’s cruel. We should be teaching kids how to deal with them. Except in cases where children are being truly physically harmed by a bully, adults should teach them to exercise their own agency by standing up to people who are trying to exploit them.

At some point, every kid is going to have to learn how to stand up for himself. If they can’t do this, they will have it tough. And if we teach kids to avoid their problems until someone else solves them, they’ll listen. What will those kids do when they get out in the real world? To paraphrase Kat Timpf in an interview with Gavin McGinnes, “Those kids will be the real world.” This is not a world anyone wants to imagine.

The harder way is better, as I learned firsthand in fourth grade, my first year in public school after homeschooling all my life prior. Two sixth graders named Kade and Tony decided to pick on me, an intimidating new reality. One day they showed up on the playground determined to pick a fight, daring me to come over and scrap — so I flew off my swing and ran.

They came after me, and I knew what was going to happen if they caught me. So, I decided to dodge crosswise down a hill, then come back up. I figured I would at least make it challenge for them, maybe wear them out. I looked back over my shoulder just in time to see Kade, in the middle of wheezing a threat, slip and fall down the hill, rolling his pudgy frame over stumps and thistles and coming to rest in a puddle.

As he looked up at me through teary eyes, I laughed at him.

And you know what? That felt great.

Everything about him changed. He went from seeming menacing to ridiculous. It’s not like I punched him. He just humiliated himself while trying to be tough.

And I realized something that has always stuck with me: Bullies can’t exploit a power imbalance that no longer exists. Stand up to them.

The research backs this up. In 2010, UCLA researchers found kids who stood up to bullies were more mature, deemed more socially competent by their teachers, and more liked and respected by their peers. Empowered kids may be more likely to stand up for their classmates, too — not a trivial consideration, given that another study found that nearly six in 10 bullying situations cease when students stand up for their peers.

Conversely, as Helene Guldberg, a developmental psychologist has pointed out, anti-bullying intervention from well-intended adults often “undermines the child’s ability to manage situations themselves.”

The experience of tangling with stronger, nastier people is a feature of the school system because it’s a feature of human life. Whether it’s in business, at the bar, with a relative, or in a war, power dynamics don’t disappear just because they’re uncomfortable.

Source: In Defense of Bullying

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