How the Anti-Bully Movement is Hurting Kids: An Interview with Bully Nation's Susan Porter

"I'm not saying they shouldn't have consequences but these laws often reach down to a child of age six, five. I mean it's incredible," says Susan Porter, author of Bully Nation: Why America's Approach to Childhood Aggression is Bad for Everyone.

Porter sat down with ReasonTV's Tracy Oppenheimer to discuss the anti-bully movement and how laws, labeling and the media are only agitating the problem. She says that kids are actually suffering because of these anti-bully efforts. 

"They are becoming less resilient," says Porter, "if you're now a victim, and you think of yourself as a victim, you are much more apt to get victimized."

About 6 minutes.

Produced by Tracy Oppenheimer. Shot by Zach Weissmueller.

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  • wareagle||

    kids are suffering because their ability to fight back has been totally undermined. Bullies are not new; sure, there are new methods of screwing with other kids - facebook rather than face to face, etc - but a thousand years ago, one of life's truisms was that a punch in the mouth was the best deterrent.

    You didn't have to win a fight against a bully, just be willing to engage in one. Bullies are largely pussies, especially the ones who don't have a bunch of running buddies, and they look for the kid who can't/won't defend himself and/or no one else will defend.

  • $park¥||

    kids are suffering because their ability to fight back has been totally undermined.

    This really seems to be the nut of the problem. One thing I have noticed though is that many kids appear the be getting more tolerant of things that kids used to get regularly beaten for.

  • wareagle||

    i think kids' tolerance has to do with schools' rules of zero tolerance. Retaliating gets as stiff a punishment as instigating does.

  • $park¥||

    Maybe, but I don't think that's the entirety of it. Many of the kids that go to the schools my kids go to seem to be generally accepting of kids who wear glasses, have funny names, have disabilities, or are gay. I suppose some of that is just from more regular exposure, but I think kids are just figuring things out from themselves without excessive prodding from the adults.

  • jamson74||

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  • sarcasmic||

    Last year my stepson was being pushed around by a bully, and he didn't fight back because he didn't want to get into trouble. They suspended him anyway because policy says so.

    Next time, since he knows he'll get suspended anyway, he's gonna knock out some teeth or break a nose.

  • $park¥||

    Next time, since he knows he'll get suspended anyway, he's gonna knock out some teeth or break a nose.

    I've told my kids to go for broke if someone starts pushing them around for the same reason. The school rules are pretty retarded.

  • Killazontherun||

    Just a little advice. Keep the reactions out of the school. You and your kid have no power there. The best defense is weirdness. There are manuals out there dedicated to how to get away with screwing with people for the purposes of behavior modification without getting caught or on the wrong side of the law. However, the last part there is becoming an increasingly narrow area.

  • Jordan||

    You didn't have to win a fight against a bully, just be willing to engage in one.

    That doesn't work when the bullies aren't willing to engage you 1-on-1. Most bullies I encountered always pushed people around as a group. The only way this problem goes away is if school administrators stop tolerating it. Expel or arrest bullies as necessary.

  • sarcasmic||

    In 8th grade I fought back against a bully after I got fed up with him pushing me around. He caught up with me on my walk home from school with his high school brother and a bunch of his friends. They had loads of fun beating up the 90lb weakling that I was when I was 14. When news got back home, his dad beat the shit out of him. Only then did he leave me alone.

  • Loki||

    When news got back home, his dad beat the shit out of him.

    Of course now his dad would wind up in jail for child abuse and CPS would put the kid into a foster home, which will only make him even more resentful and pissed off at the world, and therefore an even bigger bully than before. Possibly to the point of ending up behind bars himself somesay.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Exactly. My wife is a teacher and I ask her this all the time: If you know who the asshole is - and we always do - why do you suspend the kid being pushed around? Doesn't it send the absolute worse message?

    I never seem to get a straight answer.

    The best solution, in my view, is stand up, take your licks and defend yourself. It's probably one of the better life lessons you can teach your child.

    It rarely escalates because bullies are pieces of shits more often than not and tend to leave you alone after you face them.

    The real, mean motherfuckers don't bother people.

  • ||

    This is why zero tolerance (for weapons) is bullshit.

    When I was around the same age, a friend of mine and I were jumped by 5 kids from school one night. I ran screaming like a little bitch. When I made it to the front door, my dad already had his revolver and car keys in hand. We went and tracked down my friend (who was much less of a pussy than I) who was still surrounded by the assholes. Four ran and left their other buddy lying on the ground crying.

    Never heard a word from them again.

  • Henry the Twooth||

    Yes, and where do you think this bully kid learned this behavior? From his bully father. The bully apple does not fall far from the bully tree.

  • hotsy totsy||

    My younger daughter squared off with the leader of a group of bullies in 9th grade. They'd been tormenting her for about a week and at first she thought it was just the usual teasing of the new kid so she blew it off.

    One fine Monday morning the young bully made some kind of sarcastic remark when she was approaching the classroom. She swung her bookbag like a load of bricks and missed his nose by about a quarter inch, surprising the shit out of him and his goofy friends. No problems after that.

    Of course had she actually hit him she'd have broken his nose or knocked him out and then she'd have been in BIG trouble with the administration.

  • Rock Action||

    This. What's even more amazing is that I had a friend whose large kid was getting socially bullied for being large, and couldn't do a thing about it because of rules regarding suspension, etc. So the large kid/football player kept getting bullied by kids whose ass he could have kicked heartily. Seems inverted.

  • John Galt||

    "If you let yourself be bullied you'll always be a victim" my father told me when I came home with a fat lip and no lunch box.

    Damn glad that was fifty years ago. In today's America I would have been punished for standing up to the bastards and setting things straight so it never happened again to me in that school.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I think we live in a constant state of fear...


    We have a winner!

    One of the greatest services I think I could ever do my offspring is teach the kid how to box, then authorize him (I'm sending any daughters to the convent) to smash other kids in the face if they put hands on him.

    They will be barred from unsupervised internet use until high school. They will not be allowed to access Hit and Run until the age of 26.

  • ||

    teach the kid how to box,

    That, and teach your disgusting offspring how to do a double-leg and how to throw some elbows from the mount. It's harder to bully again without front teeth, you know?

  • Rasilio||

    Boxing, screw boxing, boxing has rules, teach em Krav Maga

  • Henry the Twooth||

    Pain and surprise. These are 2 critical elements that any one can gain in a fight, and are all the more important if you don't have one of the other elements, like size, speed and training.

    I have stopped fights and almost got into a couple in high school, but have been lucky. I do know that if I am ever in a serious fight, I will do what they train little ladies (I am not much bigger) to do. Go for the vulnerabiliies. Groin, eyes, fingers/joints. The key is to cause as much pain as fast as possible, and get away.

  • Matrix||

    Reason staff, why do you want to protect bullies?

  • WTF||

    Because they hate teh childrenz.

  • Matrix||


  • Hyperion||

    What sort of Libertarians are they?

    We need the children to polish our monocles and work 16 hr. days in our textile mills.

  • ||

    How are they supposed to polish monocles with all those missing fingers?

  • Henry the Twooth||

    If they don't have fingers, they can't feed themselves. Problem solved

    [evil grin]

  • H. ReardEn||

    Against the anti-bully movement? What are you, pro-bully?

    Paraphrasing an actual comment by my (politically) idiotic brother.

  • Marty .||

    Safe to bet it's not just political areas in which he's intellectually challenged...?

  • ||

    When I was in middle school, there was a kid in my science class who picked up the habit of smacking me in the back of the head every time he walked past my desk. He did it for a couple weeks until one day I'd had enough. I jumped out of my chair, put my hands around his throat, and said, "Don't do that."

    The teacher witnessed the whole thing, and called me up to her desk for discipline. But all she did was, with an amused smile on her face, tell me to behave myself in the future. I'm pretty sure she was aware of our history. I received no actual punishment, and the kid stayed the hell away from me after that. How times have changed.

  • Henry the Twooth||

    Nice. I used to laugh like a maniac. A guy once twister my arm behind my back and I laughed. He twisted harder and I laughed and mocked his weakness. Either I freaked him out, or he was afraid he would break my arm if he went further (I know that was what I was thinking). This was 4th grade, so I was about 9.

    I seemed to have more fun than he did, so he never tried again.

    "The robbed that smiles takes something from the thief."

  • Silly ol' Bear||

    When I was growing up, there was all kinds of bullying. This is ignorant. You can't legislate kids to not bully. Not only that, bullying builds character. If you get bullied, take the guy out. You will feel better and the bully might learn a thing or two. Same thing now, I am 50 years old but bully me? *lmao*...I suggest you run...really fast, really hard.

  • Jordan||

    Uh huh. And when he and 4 of his friends jump you, or he returns with a weapon, I'm sure you'll just shrug it off.

  • Matrix||

    if his four friends jump you, leave a horse head in his bed while he's sleeping.

  • Matrix||

    ooooooooooooooooor you cook up a scheme to get the kid to tell his parents that someone is abusing a pony. Then when the parents try to rescue the pony, the crazed owner of the pony shoots the parents. While the police are investigating, you sneak away with the bodies, process the meat and cook it into a pot of chili. Then you take that chili to a chili cookoff and have the kid eat it, so he's eating his own parents. After explaining it to him and he bursts into tears, you lick his salty tears.

    No one will ever mess with you again!

  • Jordan||

    Good ole Cartman.

  • ||

    And the chili would be delicious. They wouldn't be expecting that.

  • Matrix||

    Well, the chili that is delicious is the one you're eating. See, the kid, who will be eating the chili you made, has all the kids in town put their pubes into a batch he's making to have you taste. Well, of course you're too smart to fall for that, so you switch that chili with one the school chef made. It will be delicious.

  • Jordan||

    I like your style.

  • ||

    I'm pretty sure that telling a teacher wouldn't help much in that situation anyway

  • Matrix||

    liberals have been beating it into kids' heads that "violence is not the answer". So that generation grows up and passes that BS onto their kids. That's what we're in today.

  • Blogimi Dei||

    "'Violence never settles anything.'
    'So? I'm sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that.'"


  • Hyperion||

    Hey 4 eyes, how about a snowball sandwich?

    /the bully

  • Hyperion||

    Scott Farkus! What a rotten name! There he stood, between us and the alley. Scott Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes! SO HELP ME GOD, YELLOW EYES!!

  • Shmurphy||

    I was bullied so heavily in school that my 7th grade teacher found it to be a real bother. She decided the best way to resolve this issue was to have my classmates vote between kicking me (the new kid in school) or the kid who was bullying me (one of the popular kids) out of the class. Predictable results followed, and my mom pulled me out of that school... for a couple months before sending me right back, at which point the bullying continued and due to having missed months of school I had to spend the summer in summer school with a bunch of the kids as well. I still resent the fact that she never took them to court for it, because it's something I've had to deal with ever since.

    Point being, if you're being bullied in school, like anywhere else at any point in time in life, the worst thing you can do is seek help from a government employee.

  • Loki||

    if you're being bullied in school, like anywhere else at any point in time in life, the worst thing you can do is seek help from a government employee

    Looking on the bright side, it sounds like you learned at least one valuable life lesson from the experience.

  • Shmurphy||

    Can't argue with that one bit.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!

  • Killazontherun||

    Modern definition of a bully, any kid with more influnce with his peers than a teacher or an adult with the official designation of authority.

  • Hyperion||

    I don't know if maybe bullying was different when I was a kid, or just my particular circumstance. There was a gang of bullies, when I was attending elementary school, but they weren't classmates, they were Jr. High kids that would come over on our playground, from the Jr. High, next door to us.

    I don't think they really meant any harm, they just got a kick out of terrorizing us little kids.

    There was one little girl, I felt so bad for, because these kids would tell her things like, her parents had been killed by a swarm of killer bees. I swear, I'm not making this up. She would run into the school, bawling and tell the teachers that her parents were dead.

    With us boys, we were 2nd/3rd graders, they would tell us all sorts of crazy shit, like a race riot had broken out in the neighborhood and that the blacks were burning everything and killing all the whites, and that they were almost here!

    After we stopped believing their lies, they would just rough us up a little, steal our lunch money, or any toys we had, or take our jackets and put them in a mud puddle. One time, they started telling us that they saw us doing something bad and that they were taking us to the principals office.

    After a while of this, we decided to fight them back, and that just got us roughed up a little more. We never told on them for fear of making them meaner, and they never got caught doing it.

  • Killazontherun||

    My older cousins told me in first grade, the last year of the Vietnam War, that due to flunking a test I was going to be kicked out of school the next day and then drafted to go to war.

  • ||

    Most of the time, the best response to a bully is a punch "squah in the kissah". I don't care if that goes against the school's "anti-violence" bullshit policies, it's simply how the real world works.

    It gets to a point where doing anything but striking back is tacit empowerment of the bully.

    That's tangential to the fact, as noted here and elsewhere that the anti-bully movement is a bunch of bullshit to a large extent. We already have laws addressing assault etc. We don't need "bullying" laws, they are invariably overbroad, often unconstitutional on speech grounds and they tend to be like using a howitzer as a fly swatter.

    They also justify more police presence in schools, which is massive overkill.

  • Henry the Twooth||

    I dunno, foot in the groin seems more appropriate. Isn't that where the problem starts anyway?

  • Harvard||

    Dunphy is an expert on this too, for when he first began to take gym class showers he was mocked for his minimal dick, which in turn explains his imaginary employment preference.

  • Loki||

    "if you're now a victim, and you think of yourself as a victim, you are much more apt to get victimized."

    ...and to become dependant on the benevolent (yeah right) kindness of authoritay figures to protect you from the big bad mean world.

    Which to many is a feature, not a bug.

  • ||

    Exactly. It's a way to create more victims, victims to be snuggled under the protective wing of govt.


    Show me a bully. Now, punch him in the nose. I would suggest his bullying days are over. Simple

  • Matrix||

    but schools are now bringing law enforcement in to settle school fights.

  • ||

    Except we have different criteria. Among other things, where I work, fighting is not illegal. Assault is. Whereas fighting IS against school policy.

    If two kids mutually decide to duke it out, the school can call us (LEO's) in, but there is no CRIME. And we aint doing jackshit. We'll break up the fight if it's in progress (community caretaking function), but mutual combat fights are not crimes in my jurisdiction.

    This is distinguished from an ASSAULT, which is.

  • Jordan||

    I watched a video where Phoenix Jones kicked some loud mouthed racists ass in front of two Seattle cops. It was pretty hilarious.

  • Henry the Twooth||

    Sorry, but you are just, plain wrong. Let me splain some things to you:

    1. Schools do not establish CRIMES. CRIMES are established by state and federal governments. As you note, schools can only impose RULES.

    2. BATTERY. Before you can talk about assault, you need to understand battery. Battery is generally, and most simply, an "unwanted (or non-consented) touching". This could be a grope, grabbing a purse, or punching someone in the face.

    3. ASSAULT. Assault is the THREAT OF BATTERY. For example, if hitting you with a bat is battery, then waving the bat in your face or swinging it at you is ASSAULT. Generally, when someone is accused of physically hurting someone, they are charged with "ASSAULT & BATTERY
    , i.e. for hitting and the threat of hitting. Assault, therefore, is generally ALWAYS committed when a BATTERY occurs.

    4. FIGHTS. So where do fights fit in? A fight can involve both assault and battery. However, the instigator would usually be the culprit, while the other fighter might have a self-defense claim against assault and battery. If the police cannot determine whose fault it is, or that both were more or less equally at fault, then they might go for some lesser charge on both such as disturbing the peace.

    Just so you know, fighting IS ILLEGAL. But the facts underlying the fight will determine what charges are appropriate, and against whom.

  • jester||

    Well done. I think I learned these distinctions in the eighth grade. Funny that a libertarian cop would fly so loose with those precise terms.
    Maybe, someone is spoofing the real one, but I am unconvinced.

  • wwhorton||

    I think you can draw a line straight from the anti-bullying movement (and the general anti-fight policies that preceded it) to stuff like Columbine etc.

    There are bullies. There will always be bullies, from the day you're born to the day you die. They will use some advantage to try to make your life unpleasant, and they'll pick on the least likely to retaliate. They only understand fear, so if you react with anger, they move on to easier targets, whether you catch a beating in the process or not.

    Back when playground fights were the norm, these things never really escalated past mild to moderate fisticuffs. Bloody noses, maybe in the very extreme you might find something broken, but certainly no deaths. Physical violence worked as a pressure valve, and even the bullied were able to use it. I'm not saying it's a perfect system, but it worked.

    Now, any violence or aggression is punished equally, and ruthlessly. Schools send the message that, while the bully is wrong for attacking you, you're equally at fault for defending yourself. If you're on the receiving end, you feel like you're totally alone. The adults that are supposed to stick up for you are blaming you, or they're failing to protect you. It's no wonder that some kids go Rambo. I think it's a testimony to resilience and strength that more kids don't, with as hard as our schools are trying to fuck them up.

  • yonemoto||

    that would be a convenient mechanism except that school shooting incidents have been level if not going down over the last decade.

  • Henry the Twooth||

    Violent crime at schools AND against children are at historical lows. Don't get caught up in the hysteria of hte most recent headlines, or commit that very common of human errors, assuming that personal experience or knowledge can be used to explain sociological phenomena. The first step to wisdom is recognizing the limits of your experience.

  • Stevecsd||

    Great Britain has taken this to absurd ends. A few years ago a man who lived in a rural area was set upon by two thugs who attacked him in his house. He used a shotgun to kill them both. He was arrested and convicted of manslaughter. Outrageous!!!

  • mgd||

    Bullying can be severe enough that it calls for adult intervention, but I don't see that it requires state or (shudder) federal laws. If there are aware adults around willing to handle the issue, that should be the end of it.

    Cyber-bullying is a huge crock of shit in my book. Real bullying has got to involve physical harm or the threat of physical harm. Otherwise, it's just people being mean. Guess what? Some people are mean. Toughen up, cupcake.

    Does anyone else here see this whole anti-bullying campaign being surreptitiously nudged into restrictions on free speech? I've seen isolated instances of a single person saying a single unkind thing about someone and it being labeled "bullying".

  • yonemoto||

    oh yeah, I've called out my fellow scientists for bullshit that borders on criminal (when it's federal funds) negligence or overinterpretation, of data, and been called a "bully" for being aggressive about it.

  • hotsy totsy||

    I've heard it linked to, among other things, talk show hosts who "pick on the weaker".

  • buybuydandavis||

    There is obviously a range of bullying behavior. Most of it culminates in groups beating some child. I think this happens largely because of the artificial nature of schools, the Lord of the Flies design of a group of uncivilized children placed in a cage to fight it out for dominance.

    In normal human society, children aren't segregated from older children who aren't segregated from adults. The older enforce civilization on the younger.

    But given the Lord of the Flies design, schools should be protecting children from group beatings. This is not a hard question.

    I'm annoyed at the speaker here, all worried about "labeling" the little terrorist thugs who fall on other children in a pack to beat and terrorize them. Can't have people accurately identifying their behavior, after all. It might hurt a little thug's self esteem. Reality makes some people feel bad.

    Too bad. My concern if for the self esteem and mental health of the children being bullied. Once we take care of them, we can worry about the self esteem of the little thugs.

  • jester||

    So what about the bully pulpit? Is the POTUS a bully? Should he be arrested? Zero tolerance? Does it include the Chief Executive?
    (I know this sounds like a Napolitano post)

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yes, the POTUS is a bully, and bully for you!

  • Joseph Bacanskas||

    Yes, children are not so different. However, they haven't necessarily learned how to act in a civil society and today's parents may not always understand how to show their children how to act as members of a civilized culture.
    What I think might be missing in the analysis presented is the level of historic brutality that children endure from their peers in schools. This is brutality that is neither seen nor addressed effectively by the "powers that be" in schools.
    In my own case, I have cerebral palsy, it is thankfully slight but it does stand out and make one "different", especially in childhood. I was in primary school from 1956 through 1963. There was not a single year of that period where there wasn't at least on peer who thought it would be a great idea to berate, harass, and beat up the "crip". I got really good at avoiding these monsters, these children without morals. It got particularly bad as we reached our very early teams. The violence got much more prevalent.

    I finally liberated myself from this by attacking the school bully with such force and determination that he deemed it wise to focus elsewhere. It cost me black eyes and split lips, but no one bothered me ever again because I attacked the toughest bully in the school. At no time were the adults charged with our well being at school even vaguely willing to notice this violence.
    So, if Ms. Porter thinks that bullying is getting more attention, I say it's about time.
    Thank You.
    Joseph Bacanskas

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Thanks for that, Joseph!

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    For what it's worth, I have a couple of personal stories. While I was popular, and athletic growing up, I still wasn't free of being pushed around by older kids - everyone is. Like 'Stand by Me' you know?

    I recall being bullied by one mean prick in the third grade - he was in 5th grade and decided he was going to pick on me. I tried to avoid him but eventually you have to just fight these guys and I did. I don't think I won either of the to fights but I don't remember him bothering me after. It helped that the biggest, toughest kid in school - Bruno (aka Butch) who is now 6 ft. 7 inches now, was a friend of mine. "Kid, if anyone ever bothers you, you come get me" he told me. He was my Dave Semenko.

    That bully ended up being in the mafia. So I got my head punched in by a future mobster.

    Another story was how these older French-Canadian brothers began terrorizing me and my friends on our street. It was outright bullying in front of our houses. Again, they were older than us and we were scared of them. Age makes a difference. Anyway, I guess we realized at some point we have to fight our own battles and got into a major snowball fight with them. I mean vicious. Ice balls, pushing, real guerilla warfare stuff.

    Long story short, we eventually, as we matured, became friendly. They weren't "bad kids" just, well, boys.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    As for teasing, it's such a fine line between that and bullying I reckon. THAT, I saw a lot of. Shit, between me and my buddies were were merciless. We weren't happy until we degraded one another to the point of shame.

    Personally, I always felt uncomfortable whenever I saw a "vulnerable" person teased or attacked. It always felt wrong to me. However, wasn't sure how to react in some cases since, yes, you don't want to look "uncool" or go against your friends and all that. Sure, there were times I'd ask people to back off. I guess you have to hope kids are empowered enough to stick up for others but that's not easy at a young age.

    Now that I'm older and I hear of stories of kids finding the courage to protect others, I realize how powerful an act that can be.

  • Montani Semper Oppressi||

    I'd just let my kids handle their business regardless of the dumbass school policy. Suspension is nothing more than a two day break. Two less days in public skool say it ain't so!!!

  • Montani Semper Oppressi||

    I think there must be something said about a child's perception of play fighting and aversion to rough housing. I was at times both the bully and the bullied in my primary years.

    We had a WWE style wrestling club in my neighbor's backyard(we were 10 or younger, no backyard brawling that became news in the same decade, just pretend.) We would dress up and roughhouse the crap out of eachother.

    There was a neigborhood acquantaince of ours who would come around a lot but always wanted to play referee. Once we realized that was because he didn't want to get roughed up, all we did was beat the shit out of him. haha I am certain that he percieved this as bullying, but we percieved it as good natured horseplay. He allowed himself to become what older folks call a whipping boy. Regret that now, but I was an ignorant child.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    "We had a WWE style wrestling club in my neighbor's backyard(we were 10 or younger, no backyard brawling that became news in the same decade, just pretend.) We would dress up and roughhouse the crap out of eachother."

    I'm guessing circa 1984? Because that's when 24 boys turned my back yard into a WWE club. Ruined the grass. I didn't partake because I wasn't into WWE. I had the biggest back yard so they voted and asked me to use the yard. They were mostly my buddies so I they didn't beat me up. They needed me for hockey and soccer...

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  • CatHerder||

    I am a private music teacher, with my own studio. I teach ages 6 to adult, from all walks of life. What I get from this, the students that I work with, and the kids that I teach is that they are becoming afraid to even interact with each other. You catch someone on an off day and anything you say or do can be considered an act of bullying because they don't want to be bothered.

    By the time I get them after 6 hours of public school they are desperate to be somewhere where every single word and action isn't monitored for bullying. I also teach elementary teachers, who are just as tightly wound as the kids from trying to watch every single thing that every single kid does all day. It's a little too prison-esq for my tastes, I thought learning was supposed to be fun? My job is fun, my kids have fun when they're in my studio. I suppose we have to lower our expectations with a federally run public education system.

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