June 6, 2020

A Post For The Kid With The Black Eye

bullies.jpgThis is my fifteenth year working at a Christian boarding school, and one constant during all of that time has been conversations about bullies. I’ve probably talked with 300 students about how to respond to a bully. I’ve probably had 50 conversations about the effect a particular bully was having on other students.

Because I was an only child, I was never picked on by older siblings, so I did not develop a kind of toughness that children from larger families have. There’s no doubt that being teased and taunted by other kids was more difficult for me because I didn’t get beat up every week by an older brother or cousin.

This may have made me less tolerant of some aspects of normal life, but it’s also made me very observant, sympathetic and aware of what havoc bullies can cause to a kid’s life. I’m probably the first one on our campus to say an unrepentant bully should be sent home, and the last one to take the bully back.

Because I was an only child, I did know what it was like to be taunted and threatened by bullies with no one to “watch my back.” I can’t recall any great “Scut Farkas” style bully encounters, but I remember very well what it was like to know that a larger, more aggressive kid was going to make sure he asserted his dominance over nobodies like me. Such episodes took a variety of forms and places, from gym class teasing, to stealing your stuff in class, to harassing you on the way home, to making sure you were the butt of jokes and humiliations.

I’ve learned that bullies aren’t all that different wherever you find them. As an adult, I think I’ve learned some things about bullies that I could safely apply to almost any situation.

1. Every school has a bully, plus a few bullies-in-training.

2. Bullies are playing a role that seems the way to be mature, cool and liked. The basic immaturity of the whole drama doesn’t register with them.

3. Bullies are never as smart, or as funny, or as well liked as they pretend to be.

4. Bullies always have a club of “yes men” who go along for the ride. If you were looking for a cowards, don’t look at the kid the bully is picking on. Look at the kids cheering him on.

5. A true “yes man” will apologize if he ever displeases the bully, and will say whatever needs to be said to avoid being the next victim. For these fanboys, life outside of the bully’s circle must be avoided at all costs.

6. People who tell bullies the truth are certain to be called whatever name it takes and treated in whatever manner it takes to get everyone on the bully’s side.

7. When the kid who resists gets in a good lick or two, suddenly the bully is a victim.

8. If forced to face up to their behavior, bullies always have an explanation.

9. If you’ve never heard a bully explain why it was that kid’s own fault for getting beat up, you’ve missed the best part of the show.

10. Bullies can’t understand why their victims can’t just accept the “way things are supposed to be.”

11. Bullies don’t make peace. They simply set up their next encounter.

Bullies hope that everyone will see the advantages in letting the bully have his way. The bully’s supporters appeal to everyone to see the bully’s good qualities, and to appreciate how peaceful things will be if the agitators and irritants will stay out of sight and turn down the volume.

After reading this, you’ll understand the picture at the top. Under this regime, some kids are always going to have a black eye.

I hope this post will remind all the kids in the schoolyard to play fair, be careful and avoid bullies…if possible.


  1. This summer I have been re-embracing the role of college student (I am studying to become a teacher). In one of my classes we did a presentation on bullying in schools. Here are some things that I learned in preparing for this:

    -Bullying does not just include physical aggression, it also includes relational aggression (gossip, slander, excluding certain people from the group)

    -Girls engage in bullying just as much as boys, but they are more likely to engage in relational aggression than physical aggression. In other words, Susie probably won’t beat you up, but she will tell all your friends to stay away from you because you have cooties.

    -Girls bullying boys: This does happen. And when it does, boys don’t like to talk about it, because (1)guys are supposed to be the stronger sex and (2)guys aren’t supposed to hit back.

    -A lot of bullying in the schools is able to happen because bystanders (other kids and especially teachers and other adults who have the power to do something) choose not to do anything.

    Anyway, there’s my two cents worth.

  2. This blog is written by a public school principal (and who has a home schooled family). He’s been doing a series on bullies.

  3. Very interesting. When I was in elementary school, bullies made my life hell. I can still name every one of them. My big brother wasn’t any help, either, since he was too much older to be close by when any of it happened. I was the kid who you could push and push, and suddenly I’d snap and lay somebody out. (That’s bad if you’re not prepared to follow it up with a THOROUGH butt-kicking a la “The Christmas Story”…).
    Funny thing, though– when I was a junior in college, my 5th-grade terrorist bully buddy was in a history class with me. I was making good grades. He was struggling. And the bully act doesn’t work anymore when you’re all the same size and in college. I felt vindicated, somehow.
    About girl bullies: very common here on the Rez. A girl my wife grew up with was a violent bully; she didn’t keep it to just emotional cudgels. Incidentally, she’s now doing a long stretch for stabbing someone to death. (Last word I heard was that she’d become a Christian in prison; I hope it’s true).
    Yeah, thanks Michael for reopening all these old wounds!!! 😉

  4. As a kid, I was bullied for years–from about 4th grade until high school. One day as a freshman, one of the bullies pushed too far. I grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him on to a table in the lunch room.

    No bully ever bothered me again.

  5. Michael, if you weren’t an educator, I wouldn’t have thought that any of this was literal. It’s drowning in metaphor. 😉

  6. This post was NEVER meant to be literal. It was a metaphor from the beginning, but hardly anyone caught it. So you are totally on track. Thanks!

  7. All these thing iMonk blogged to the multitude in parables… 😉