How the anti-bullying movement is setting kids up to fail

Posted by on December 19, 2011

The world will be a perfect place if we just pass anti-bullying laws that outlaw bullying, incivility, intolerance, dirty looks, disagreements that are not pleasant, and just about anything else that is not Kumbaya.  At least that seems to be the perspective of anti-bullying activists who have jumped on the bullying bandwagon the past few years.

Well here’s some news, my friends: While the Lion King movie may suggest otherwise, the world is not Hakuna Matata (“no worries”).  It never has been.  It sure isn’t now.  And it never will be.

Oh my.  I’ve just destroyed the fantasy.  I must be evil.  This message just couldn’t be coming from a school safety advocate.

It is coming from a school safety advocate.  One who wants peaceful, safe and orderly schools.  But I also want kids to be raised in reality, not taught falsely that the government (including schools) can force people to be nice and even criminalize their “bullying” behaviors.

Many of those behind the anti-bullying movement are well-intended. But their premise is ill-conceived.  We should teach kids that certain behaviors are appropriate for certain settings, that some behaviors are inappropriate for all settings, and that there are consequences for inappropriate behaviors when they occur.

But as psychologist Izzy Kalman points out in his article, “How to Create Utopian Schools“:

“Anti-bully activists want children to be schooled in a completely safe environment in which everyone is always nice to them. They want kids to be free from fear that anyone will ever insult them, talk about them behind their back, notice their imperfections, exclude them from a group, laugh at them when they say something stupid, lay an unwanted hand on them, draw an unflattering picture of them or write something nasty about them on the Internet. Perhaps the reason the anti-bully activists don’t announce that their goal is Utopia is that such a goal sounds unrealistic and unachievable.”

Kalman argues that in a truly Utopian society, people would create peace and harmony by promotion of wisdom and actions based on solid moral principles, aka: The Golden Rule.

I recently stumbled on Kalman’s column entitled A Psychological Solution to Bullying on Psychology Today’s web site.  I encourage you to read his series of articles.  He refreshingly brings to life many common sense, valid points that most activists on the bullying bandwagon won’t want to hear.

As a parent and as a school safety professional, I want to see kids taught the truth that the world is not perfect, everyone will not get along, and we all need to have the skills to function in a peaceful, respectful and non-violent way when people are mean, ugly bullies.  It happens in schools.  It happens in the workplace.  It happens in the Congress and White House.

To think that we can create Utopia is unrealistic.  To falsely teach kids that we can do so sets them up for failure by sending them out into the real world with false hopes and no coping skills.  This is perhaps the biggest act of cruelty anyone can perform.

Ken Trump

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2 thoughts on “How the anti-bullying movement is setting kids up to fail

  1. Jonno N. says:

    I think your blog misses some key concepts about the bullying prevention movement taking place today in America. Mostly that we aren’t teaching kids that it’s against the law to get a dirty look. We just want to teach them that those behaviors are wrong, and when they are experiencing them there are healthy ways to deal with it.

    It’s not about Utopia, and your blog puts words in people’s mouths by saying it is. It’s simply about love and compassion for our children, that doesn’t inherently mean that anyone thinks Utopia is possible. You’ve connected dots that weren’t even there to begin with.

    The simple fact is that children deserve a healthy environment to grow up in, and it is the responsibility of schools to provide that environment. And it is the responsibility of government to tell the schools how to function to achieve that desired end. That’s just how our society is set up. It’s what laws and our legislative branches (local and federal) exist for, so we can make changes when things aren’t working. And it is obvious that things aren’t working when suicide is one of the leading causes of death in teens in America.

    I personally think it is reprehensible how so many school officials have pushed back against laws to prevent bullying. If they were doing their jobs in the first place things wouldn’t have gotten this far to the point we need the laws. It takes barely 5 minutes to write an incident report, and there are schools around the country that don’t need a law to mandate this behavior in teachers.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for sharing your opinion and perspectives. Thanks also for your civil and professional manner in doing so.

      I don’t share your view that it is the role of the government to legislate love and compassion for kids, or the very broad interpretation of what every person believes may be a “healthy environment” to grow up in. The government cannot legislate people to love, to have compassion, not to commit suicide, whether or not they should have salt on their french fries (or french fries at all), and so on. I believe a “healthy environment” is one in which kids are taught the skills to face the reality of our world and to manage those obstacles, such as bullying, that they will encounter not only in school but elsewhere in their personal and professional relationships for the rest of their lives.

      Do we want children to be safe in school? Absolutely. Do we want them to peacefully resolve conflicts? Certainly. Is a state or federal bullying law an effective way to reach that goal? Absolutely not.

      Schools have school discipline policies and school climate strategies either in place or readily available to address these issues. And most schools around the country that I have worked with in 25+ years are using these tools. It is the role of parents and school officials to work at the local level to make sure they are in place and/or effectively used, not the role of the federal or state government bureaucrats.

      In terms of suicide, experts in the suicide field report that 90% of the individuals who complete suicide have diagnosable mental health illnesses at the time of the suicide. I do believe schools and society in general are not adequately addressing the mental health needs of children.

      Thanks for following the blog and for sharing your thoughts.


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