Tag Archives: bullies

“It was just a joke!” How bullies blame their victims


“Why do you take everything so seriously? It was just a joke!”

“Where’s your sense of humour?”

Girls excluding another

“It was just a game.”

“That’s just kids being kids. It’s how they have fun.” (Or substitute “girls” or “boys” for “kids”).

All of these statements have one thing in common — they are typical responses from bullies (or their parents) when confronted with their wrong-doing. In dismissing it all as a joke, they are doing two things that are tip-offs to bullying:

  1. they are showing a lack of remorse for the hurt they caused;
  2. they are blaming their targets for feeling hurt and daring to articulate it.

All of this tends to make the kids targeted by bullying feel even more victimized. They are rendered totally powerless, and their hurt is discredited and delegitimized.

Saying those words alone does not make it bullying, however. There are other aspects to bullying, including its repetitive nature and the power imbalance between the parties involved. But this hallmark dismissal of someone’s feelings is a particularly cruel stroke, a manipulative flourish to cap off the mean act, words or gesture.

They are designed to hurt. And they do. The hurt comes from the further disempowerment, the insult added to the injury.

It’s important to recognize these words as red flags, whether you are a parent, teacher or child care worker. If your child comes home from school complaining of being blamed unfairly for a fight with another kid, and excuses his actions by saying “it was just a joke,” listen carefully. They might have been misunderstood (these things can happen), but it can also suggest the kind of manipulative behaviour that requires intervention before it worsens.

It can be hard for teachers and principals to see past this when confronted with it in the middle of a hectic school day. It can be tempting for parents of kids who bully to buy into their children’s defences. Those are some of the challenges we face in bullying prevention. But recognizing the words for what they are is a really critical first step.

The B-word: Why bullies need support and rehabilitation, not just punishment

CTVMontreal report
www.CTVMontreal.ca – “The B-Word”

Kids and teens who bully need our support, help rehabilitating and compassion, not thoughtlessly doled out punishments. If we want to help them grow up learning to interrelate with others without manipulation, harassment and abuse, we need to commit the resources and attitude to make that happen.

Because schoolyard bullies grow up to be workplace bullies. Or abusive parents and spouses. Or the person on the PTA or city council or condo co-op who makes life miserable for everyone else.

We all know people like that.

I recently enjoyed the privilege of working with CTV’s wonderful Cindy Sherwin on her excellent two-part investigative report on bullying, called The B-Word. This week’s installment (called “Putting an End to Bullying”), aired yesterday (March 15th) and focused on the ways schools and parents need to reframe their attitudes about bullies so we can make a difference.

We need to remember that kids and teens who are bullies are still growing up, and when we help them, we are also by extension helping all those who they have targeted (and those who might otherwise have been bullied by them in the future). We also need to think about the power we’ve given the word “bully,” and how this might undermine our best efforts to stop kids from hurting other kids (or adults).

Watch the full report here. You can also view Part 1 of “The B-Word” (which aired March 7th, 2012) here.