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Why Punishing Bullies Doesn’t Work

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by Izzy Kalman (March 2002)

A high school student in Hastings, Minnesota, has recently made national news (I am deleting his name to prevent him from being harassed by readers of this commentary). He was convicted and punished for being a bully. However, he is infuriating people because he doesn’t express remorse even after being punished. He declares that he is the victim! The nerve of him!

As punishment for bullying, he had to spend many hours cleaning the windows in his school. Is he reformed? Does he regret his actions? Has he stopped being aggressive?

No such luck! Despite his punishment, he continues to become murderously mad when other kids taunt him. However, now he restrains his aggression so that he won’t get terribly punished again. He grabbed a kid by his collar rather than break his nose, which is what he certainly would have preferred to do.

This case is making analysts wonder whether the efforts to punish bullies help, or whether they even make matters worse.

The experts would have the answer to their quandary if they would stop thinking of this student as a bully. They are mistakenly assuming that just because he is aggressive, he is a bully. The truth is that most of the violence in the world is committed not by bullies but by victims!

This student sees himself as a victim. He used to be the victim of the kids who enraged him by calling him names. Now, in addition, he feels himself to be the victim of the crooked adult society. Society takes his tormentors’ side against him and punishes him for trying to stop his bullies. He is now angrier and therefore more dangerous than before the wise adults disciplined him for being a bully!

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