A Time Out to Talk about Big, Bad Bullies

Cats are bullies! Stop bullying!

Even cats are bullies!

Bullies take note:  No form of harassment is okay!

Yesterday, I had to visit my son’s school because he had been pushed down by three other boys in the bathroom and repeatedly hit in the face.  This is the third time he has been beat up, and despite informing the school of previous instances, we were met with the administrator acting horrified and telling us she had no idea that such a horrible problem was occurring among her students.

Now, I’m sure the intent of the statement was to reassure us that it was happening because the incident had not yet had their attention, but now that we’d alerted them, they were going to take extreme measures.  Having already filed an incident report with the school, what I really wanted to hear was that they damn well knew about it and if previous actions were failing to stop the behavior that they would have to step it up. (Pardon my French).  Today my son is home from school, and I’m frightened to send him back.

This morning, I woke up to see an article in one of my favorite groups entitled “Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem“.  Now, this group is a favorite of mine.  It’s called “Team Hooman“, and was started by Felicia Day and her brother Ryon to support two of their favorite topics (and mine): animal welfare/rescue and anti-bullying campaigns.

[The majority of my readers are understandably animal lovers.  If you haven’t seen Team Hooman before, check it out.  These two lovely people donate a good deal of the money they earn from publicizing their gaming exploits (ie, a majority) to various animal rescue charities every month.  Even if you’re not a gamer, it’s worth recognizing.]

Unsurprisingly, the comments section of the article’s Facebook post was an absolute mess.  White males were defending themselves, and other males and females were angry that the white males had stepped in to defend themselves.  Others were sympathizing with the author’s experiences.  The inherent problem of the article was that it was structured as follows:

Big huge Inflammatory title targeting white males!

Numerous personal experiences wherein white males had harassed the author in a completely unacceptable way.

Less-prominent text that the problem was not always all white males.

Since my son is (an albeit young) white, male gamer who experiences daily harassment of his own, this topic hit home for me.  So today, I am taking my audience on a journey away from the topic of pet poisons, prevention, and awareness.  Today we’re going to be discussing a completely different form of awareness and prevention: bullies.

Let’s start with a bit of background:

My son is 12 years old.  The poor guy inherited my genetics, and according to his doctors, is supposed to top out at 5’4″.  People routinely mistake him for a 6-7 year old, and are surprised at the intelligence that pops out of his mouth.  He quickly glommed on to my interests, and his favorite pastimes include video games, science-fiction and fantasy novels, art, comics, Minecraft, math, engineering, website-building, computer programming, and OMG ANIMALS (he’s a cat lover, but cannot resist the siren call of puppies, either).

He’s also the smallest kid at school. His father left when he was quite young, so his mostly female dominated upbringing has helped clue him in to the sensitivities of women, and he is both sensitive and emotionally aware.  I know it sounds like bragging, but my kid donates portions of his birthday and Christmas money to under-privileged kids because I once mentioned to him during a temper-tantrum that he had it better than a lot of other kids.  He deserves to be bragged about.

His size and hobbies make him a target to bullies.  Not only at school but online. Minecraft seems to be a pretty popular activity amongst his age group, and we recently have had problems with a  group of mean girls who were picking on him in chat, calling him names, cussing at him, making fun of his small stature and his tiny voice, then carrying those comments over to the classroom.

I want to particularly point out that this was a group of 3-4 girls who were being bullies.  You can tell me all day that this was flirting, but no matter the intent behind their comments, it did not excuse the pain it caused my son.  There was also no lack of young males in their little group.  Being a young male gamer, he happens to be in the majority compared to the females.


Bullying is a real problem in our entire species!

Whether it’s people punching our kids, women railing against men in the gaming industry, or ISIS pushing its way into Iraq and Syria, the act of one person asserting their dominance over another through negative reinforcement (or punishment).

Because my background lies in animal science, my allegory is going to obviously relate to animals.  It is well-known throughout the world of animal training that negative reinforcement is not the best tool use to train your pets.  You don’t hit, yell at, scold, or rub your dog’s nose in his poop.  You don’t spray, hiss at, spank, or frighten your cats when they jump on the counter.  It doesn’t stop the behavior (which is just a natural instinct) and only teaches them that you are a bully that they should fear.

Instead, we reward them with treats, affection, and love when they perform the “right” behavior.  In seeking further rewards, our pets repeat these good behaviors until they do it consistently.  If you witness them performing bad behavior, you completely withdraw your attention and presence to send the message that a particular action will not be successful in gaining attention. We call this “training”, and it is extremely successful.

There are instances when negative reinforcement is necessary.  When your dog is about to lick a light socket, jumping up and shouting “No!” may be the best way to startle him away from the wall in the immediate, but this NEEDS to be followed up with positive-reinforcement training to encourage him to lick less dangerous objects instead.

How does this translate to humans?  We all generally agree that bullies display bad behavior. There are some instances where negative reinforcement is necessary, (such as calling the cops on the kids who hit YOUR kid in the face, or physically stepping in to stop a terrorist organization from killing other people).  But this won’t serve to solve the greater problem in the long-term.  You see, negative reinforcement just doesn’t work, and in many cases only make people feel like you are a bully, too.

You don’t hit, punch, or otherwise throttle the children who are harassing your child (no matter how much you want to do so).

You don’t stand in the streets and scream at every male who walks by that they need to stop being rapists so the world becomes a better place.

You don’t write an inflammatory article demonstrating that white males are the bad guys, and ask everyone to stand up against their behaviors. (Even if you eventually say that it’s not all white men are at fault).

You don’t lambaste the author of an article about bullying; especially when she had experienced bullies herself, and she feels like she needs to lash back in order to survive.

If you do, you are meeting assault with more assault, violence with more violence, sexism with more sexism, and racism with more racism.  You stop being part of the solution, and you become part of the problem.

How do you become part of the solution?

If negative reinforcement does not work, how do we positively reinforce other people to help them learn?  You can’t exactly dole out cookies, and expect people to do the right thing for treats (although this technique does work on me).  Other people are often far more complex than our pets.

Instead, lead by example.  If you see your friends being bullies, you don’t have to stand up and shout at them.  But withdrawing your attention from them and stepping over to the other side to say encouraging words to the victim will not only support the victim, but it demonstrates to the bullies that their behavior shouldn’t be awarded with attention.

Instead of segregating and isolating our children and humiliating them in front of their peers when they do something wrong (which is more likely to make them bully another child again), sit down and discuss proper behavior with them.  Repeatedly if necessary.  Provide rewards for good behavior and to children who show respect, then show the kids with bad behavior that they can earn rewards too, simply by altering their habits of bad behavior. Step in to comfort and uplift the victims, and don’t add fuel to the fire of the bullies by giving them negative attention.

Compassion, empathy, kindness, and forgiveness are the traits of the strong, because it often takes an internal struggle to go against the natural instinct to dive into the fray and FIGHT.  In fact, compassion is a form of fighting bullies, it just utilizes a different set of skills.

Bullying is a disease that spreads.  A victim can become a bully in order to defend themselves, thus adding to the overall number of them.  Defend yourselves against this disease and think before you act, speak, or post.  We all want to speak out about this trend, but where should we actually be placing our support?

What did you do to help stop bullying today? Let me know in the comments!

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4 Comments on "A Time Out to Talk about Big, Bad Bullies"

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The Daily Pip

Wow, this is a really important post and I hope people will take the time to read it all the way through. I am sorry your son is going through all this …I have a 10 year old daughter and dread the day she will face stuff like this.

I love your connection with positive reinforcement training with dogs and handling bullies. You are right, of course …though I am sure in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to remember.

Beth | Daily Dog Tag
I’m so sorry to hear about your son being bullied. It is my experience that usually bullies are either bullied at home and/or insecure about something themselves. Whatever the reason though, it is unfair to the person being bullied. I hope the school will take steps to help these bullies as well as your son. Your son sounds like a great kid and I can understand why you are so proud of him. My oldest child was harassed by a classmate and we used to practice funny comeback lines to help deflect the situation. However, there was never the threat… Read more »