OPINION: The problem with bullying isn’t quite as simple as you might think


Ontario’s new anti-bullying legislation is going to give school principals the power to expel bullies.

It’s a great idea. Bullies who repeatedly bully children should be expelled. There is no room for that behaviour at school. We certainly shouldn’t be letting one bully ruin the school life for any, or many, other kids.

What’s so shocking is that this is a new idea. In fact, since when couldn’t principals expel kids? They certainly could when I was a kid. Who is the genius that took this power away from them?

Ooops. It was Dalton McGuinty back in 2007 with Bill 212.

So let me get this straight . . . the “we know better than you do” Liberal government took away some of the punishments available to educators, and problems with school kids increased? Major consequences for bad actions were removed and as a result, bad actions increased? Who couldn’t have seen that coming? Oh right. The smartest man in the room, our Premier.

Bringing back expulsions is still a great idea. However, I’m not sure it’s time for parents to hang their hats up on bullying just yet. Rarely do laws passed at the provincial level seem to fix problems at the local level.

In fact, the current thinking on anti-bullying as well as many school policies, are actually causing more bullying, and creating more victims.

Let me lay it out for you.

First we have to narrow the definition of bullying. When most of us hear the word “bully” we think of a big mean kid that beats kids up for their lunch money. Today the definition of bullying has been expanded to include nearly everyone and everything.

If you check out the Lambton Kent District School Board’s website they have a lengthy regulation on bullying that would choke a horse. It talks about good things like aggressive and repeated behaviour, but it is open to interpretation to the point that kids can be (and sometimes are) considered bullies for simple name calling or laughing at someone.

Saying something like “Ha ha, Tom has a girlfriend!” to your buddy, isn’t worthy of being called a bully. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying name calling or teasing isn’t mean, but it isn’t worthy of expulsion either.

The other problem with this wide definition of bullying is that it dramatically lowers a kid’s self-esteem. Now that we label everything as bullies, kids are coming home wondering why they are picked on so much. And who wouldn’t feel terrible if their teacher, parents, and the TV news are constantly telling them they’re being bullied all the time.

Now I’m sure some of you are getting your back up already, so let me clarify. Yes, repeated name calling and teasing can be taken to the point of bullying. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a kid walking up and saying “Nice haircut” to someone and that someone running home feeling terrible because they were just “bullied”.

Having a hunch I was on to something with this, I contacted Brad Coulbeck, a renowned expert on stress resiliency. Here’s what he said:

“I think you are right . . . resiliency, the ability to bounce back from trauma and adversity, is a critical ingredient. If people are too sensitive, too soft, and can’t get up after being knocked down psychologically, they won’t achieve the same levels of success. To build mental toughness and resiliency people have to expose themselves to some adversity. Not too much that it will overwhelm, but enough that they will grow. The trick is getting that balance.

“Parents should work on building their children’s self-esteem and self-confidence so that when they do get hurt they have the basic mental tools to get over it.”


Stop destroying our kids’ self-esteem by making them feel like victims 24/7 and let’s start teaching them a little more “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.”

Once kids understand that not everything is bullying, the other thing we need to do is let them know it’s ok to defend themselves against real bullies if they want to.

When I started school the rule was whoever started a fight got in trouble. By the time I left, it had changed to anyone involved in a fight will be suspended. This concept of everyone being equally guilty is causing a lot of victims to be picked on repeatedly.

There is lots of proof to support this. Example A: My son got punched in the stomach at school by a kid who then knocked my son’s lunch all over the floor. I asked him why he didn’t tell the teacher. He doesn’t know. I asked him if he hit the kid back, he said ‘no’ because then he would have gotten in trouble too.

Score: bully 1, my son 0

Bullies love this rule because they can assault kids and the good kids won’t fight back because they are afraid of getting into trouble. And best of all, if you’re a bully and the kid calls you a name back (i.e. “stop touching me you big ugly ape) you just run to the teacher first and cry about feeling hurt because that kid over there just called you a name. Both kids are punished equally because name calling is also a form of bullying.

Does that make sense to anyone?

Taking away our kids’ right to defend themselves has made them feel powerless . It’s made them feel helpless. And some kids, even hopeless. That’s exactly the opposite of how kids should feel who are being bullied.

Kids who are bullied should know the school system has their back. Bullies should know they aren’t going to get away with causing a problem and then watching the victim be equally punished.

Now I’m sure some people are reading this thinking, “does this maniac really want to turn our school yards into yards of rampant fighting”?

Of course not. I predict there would actually be a lot less fighting. Before the end of the first school year, bullying would plummet because there would be real consequences (real fast) for real bullies.

Look at this way: If letting kids (who want to) fight back, prevents even one more victim of bullying from committing suicide, isn’t it worth it?

Let principals and teachers discipline kids again.

Stop labeling everything as “bullying”; it’s giving our kids a complex.

Teach kids some mental resiliency to name calling.

And stop punishing victims when they defend themselves.

That’s how you stop bullies.

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  • Leah Nielsen

    Excellent points, Matt. I totally agree. Kids used to have a lot more respect for teachers, parents and everyone else in the good ol’ days. We feared the principle and our teacher because not only could they give us the strap, they could call our parents, which used to be the real threat. Parents are not parents anymore. They are friends. If there was more parenting going on in the home, there would be less problems in the schools. I feel for teachers nowadays!

  • Adam James

    I agree. I am a teacher. I hear kids use the term bullying all the time, because they’ve been trained to believe they;ve been bullied even when they havent. There is so much whining and crying in elementary school including grade 7 and 8, its unbelievable. With kids no longer failing grades, teachers have no real authority and kids don’t have to do anything including stick up for themselves or do any work, because they know they can just keep “floating” by.

  • Mr. Mceachran,
    You’ve raised a couple points here and there that I identify with and agree with. I also struggle with some of your evaluation.

    Firstly, while I appreciate the value of naturally earned “experience” and the hearts and minds of individuals being weathered through the good, bad and the ugly as they move through their education and jobs and things, the expectation should not be created that “bullying” (regardless of who’s definition is used) is just something that will happen and is expected. Have you ever noticed how websites have buttons to report abuse? It doesn’t simply tell them to grow a pair and close the window. Yes, we should train our young people to be prepared for the less pleasant bits in life… we certainly don’t want their souls crushed every time something bad happens to them. Sometimes standing up for themselves, however, is important and involves more than responding in kind or with fists. Which leads me to my next point…

    Self-defence is great for those who have the wherewithal to recognize what is happening in the first place and respond to it in whatever manner they deem appropriate, but what of those who are not inherently violent or do not wish to further escalating the incident? There’s also other fears involved, including weapon-related violence. What about those who do not understand that they’re being unfairly targeted in the first place? It seems to me that awareness is important, and that the campaigns and efforts to educate young people on so-called “bullying” are a prerequisite to the types of assertions you’re laying forth in the first place.

    While it’s not exclusive to the school system, most of conversations of “bullying” are within the context of incidents that occur at school. Half of the problem is the way in which our education system evaluates children in the first place. We’ve created this miniature society in which socioeconomic factors dictate standing and success in a measured way and in most cases, a young person’s entire future in all practicality. We use a system that shortchanges all but a very select type of person yet insist on weighting traditional academic performance extremely high in a person’s worth to society. The systems we’re providing each generation with for the evaluation of one another are inherently FULL of discrimination and will most certainly lead to strife. I believe we’ve committed to hundreds of years of misinformation, passed on one generation at a time and there’s more to reversing the damage than simply “getting tougher”.

    The “you were seen fighting, so you shall be punished too” approach to handling feuds on the schoolyard was something that haunted me throughout my young years and I agree with you that more attention should be paid to details and situations evaluated more thoroughly. I do believe in persons defending themselves when they’re able as well. I don’t see these as problems, however. We’re talking here about people who had the strength in them to recognize a problem and deal with it in some way to varying degrees of success. Where we need to be concerned is in those who are ignorant or afraid. These young people will only find the best of their strength once they know there’s something they need to do with it. That is, when they properly understand when injustice is being done to them. Or “bullying” as some have been calling it.

    -Adam W Young

  • Kevin

    There’s lots of issues here, but I just want to point out one thing:

    It’s easy to criticize the liberals for “taking powers away” from “educators”. And that would be a fine criticism if in fact we could assume that these powers would be properly used if available.

    A good reason for disallowing expulsions and other severe penalties in the school system — especially if we’re talking about very young kids — is that a massive percentage of our so-called educators will abuse that kind of power.

    Look at how many teachers these days run right to parents and recommend prescription drugs for those children who they feel are not attentive enough in their classes. It’s shameful how many kids are on drugs these days, and even worse is how many teachers feel that they are qualified to recommend this approach.

    Maybe the kids are just bored, or they don’t like being in school? Maybe we ought not to try and zombify them into obedience, but look for active solutions such as finding ways to engage these kids.

    A similar “take the easy way out” approach is inevitable if we give teachers and principals too much power in the punishment realm. Rather than trying to work with problematic kids, they will just expel them.

    Making expulsions easy, and the number of kids not finishing school will rise dramatically. And this won’t be due to the massive number of deviant, evil little bastards out there in the system, finally getting their just desserts. It will be lazy teachers and principals, who want kids on Ritalin staring mindlessly at their blackboards and doing their homework on time, who will just expel the ones who cause trouble.

    The Liberals weren’t taking these powers away for no reason.

    The automatic assumption that every teacher and principal is a caring, hard working and dedicated person is ill-informed and dangerous. It’s a stupid thing to think, to put it plainly.

    The world of educators, believe it or not, is just like the world where you work, wherever it is. There’s good ones and bad ones.

    And if too much power is allowed, the bad ones will destroy the system. It only takes one lazy teacher with an itchy expel-button finger to ruin the life of a child who could otherwise have been helped. That is, if we allow these teachers to have all this power.

    Or maybe I’m wrong, in which case maybe we should also lighten up the laws for cops, allowing them to shoot people more often. I’m sure it would be easier for them.