No one denies that bullying among kids is a serious problem. Just look the many tragic cases of adolescents committing suicide after being tormented by peers in school or online.
But some kids have been called “bullies” over stupid pranks. Lawyer Monrae English represented three boys at a Fresno, Calif., high school accused of bullying after they created a phony Facebook page with the principal’s name on it.
“They put silly stuff on there — about how homework needs to be done and something about liking ‘Twilight’ movies,” she said. “Most of the students knew it was in jest, but the principal got irate about it and said he was personally being bullied.”
The boys — good students who’d never been in trouble — were suspended. When the school took steps to expel them, their families hired attorneys. Eventually the school backed down and wiped the boys’ records clean.
“It was not a great thing for the boys to do, but it was not bullying,” English said. “It was completely protected free speech.”
But there are other situations where adults may legitimately feel they’re being bullied by kids — even their own. Social worker Sean Grover gives workshops in schools around New York City on the topic “The Bullied Parent” where parents can be seen weeping in recognition as he describes families where kids are in charge, mocking their parents, criticizing them and making demands.
In this June 19, 2013 file photo, former school bus monitor Karen Klein talks with a reporter at her home in Greece, N.Y. Klein became known as the bullied bus monitor at the center of a 10-minute cellphone video that unleashed a flood of donations. (AP Photo/David Duprey, File)
And let’s not forget the bus monitor in upstate New York. After a video was posted online showing kids cursing Karen Klein out, threatening and insulting her, a campaign to send her on vacation raised more than $700,000.
BULLIES IN RELATIONSHIPS?
Leichtling, founder of BulliesBeGone, says “bullying is not only about kids. It happens all the time, in every culture, with people at every age, in every situation, and always has.”
When he coaches adults coping with bullies on the job or in bad marriages, he offers the same advice used to curb bullying in schools. “You have to say, this behavior is not allowed,” Leichtling said. “And you may have to get in the bully’s face.”
For years before he became a psychotherapist, Leichtling had a career running research labs. He says it was good training for the anti-bullying work he does now.
“Boy, I saw bullying in science,” he said. “It’s not an ivory tower. Academia is vicious!”