How should we handle teenage bullies?

Posted by Samantha on October 21, 2013 in Bullying, Consequences, Criticism, Punishment, Responsibility, Teasing |

kickingPupils at a school in Yorkshire have assaulted at least 6 of their fellow pupils in an unofficial “Kick a Ginger Kid Day”.

The school have called the acts “deplorable” and have “acted swiftly to send a strong message”.  It seems the pupils involved have been strongly reprimanded.  Furthermore, there has been a school-wide warning that any future acts of violence will be “met with similar strong and decisive action”.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10387636/Kick-a-Ginger-Kid-Day-leads-to-attacks-on-schoolchildren.html

I can state with some confidence that the school are deluding themselves if they think this will be an effective consequence.  In my opinion this is  a clear example of the punishment not fitting the crime.

As one parent of an attacked child said “If I went into school and kicked a kid then I would be arrested.”

Why do I believe the school’s action will be ineffective?

For starters, I suspect that teenagers who would take part in such an attack will be able to consciously shrug off a strong reprimand.

A strong reprimand is essentially criticism.  This will subconsciously reinforce the teenagers’ negative image of themselves.

It gives them no opportunity to make amends for their terrible behaviour.  This means they have no alternative but to carry the shame and/or try to deny it.  This will further harden their hearts and subvert their consciences.

The schools’ choice of consequence does not offer the wronged and wounded pupils an apology and a chance to heal their hurt.  This inappropriately lenient consequence runs the risk that their hearts and consciences will be negatively affected by the incidents too.

It reinforces the idea that adults are not empowered to stand up to violent teenagers with truly serious consequences.

It contains no element of taking personal responsibility for the effects of one’s actions, which would be an essential element of an effective consequence.

What will the kids learn from this attempt at discipline?

Nothing that they haven’t already learned a long time ago: that adults will criticise you non-stop no matter what you do.  All you need to learn is to stand still and pretend to be listening to their drivel.

If kids could actually keep our criticism out of their hearts and minds it might be merely ineffective at teaching the qualities we hope it will: in this instance perhaps kindness, remorse and empathy.

Unfortunately for all of us, the strong reprimand the school have so hopefully doled out, will – on it’s own – teach none of those qualities to these teenagers.

The school authorities needs to (re)familiarise themselves with the concepts of restorative justice and being in charge.  Otherwise unruly pupils will continue on their destructive and negative lifepaths.

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