Zero tolerance teasing policies

I skimmed through the book Give a Boy a Gun and in its conclusion, it lists ways to stop school violence. One of its suggestions is for schools to have zero tolerance teasing policies. This seemed rediculous to me, but I can’t figure out exactly why, other than for the same reason that all zero tolerance policies are rediculous. Can we have a debate on the subject to help me understand what I’m thinking?

It’s ridiculous because children are beasts and don’t appear to develop empathy until well into their teen years. See “Lord of the Flies” for details. Zero tolerance at the best of times is useless and actually makes problems worse by causing people to lose respect for the process. Turning children into one-strike delinquents when they don’t “get” why teasing is wrong is a disaster waiting to happen.

I’ve known a lot of kids, both from my own childhood years and children of my friends and relatives, and roughly 90% of them inspire mad visions of going back in time to their birth and stuffing them into a sack, to be subsequently dropped from the nearest bridge spanning deep water. The problem is, it’s not their fault that they’re snotty little brats…the areas of their brains that control judgment and empathy aren’t very well-developed until late childhood.

I don’t condone teasing, or the more intensive variant of harrassment. I was a teased child for many, many miserable school years. But zero tolerance is trash, and won’t help.


Although zero tolerence is a stupid credo by nature, something has to be done.

When I was going to school, not all that long ago, kids threw rocks at me. Big rocks. Rocks that made painful bruises of considerable size.

I went up to my PE teacher after I got nailed with a rock and showed him the forming bruise.

He said he couldn’t do anything about it because he didn’t see it happen. He was “kind” enough to let me sit out the rest of the PE period in the principals office, where I was free to plea to my principal’s dead ears that something should be done to punish the perpetrators or at least make it known to the student body that throwing rocks at geeks isn’t an acceptable way to spend PE.

I don’t know what the answer is, but educators, probably more than kids, need to be educated about harrassment in their schools and be held accountable for trying to stop it. I don’t expect kids not to tease each other, but I do expect educators to take notice when it does happen and try to stop it, much like they would any other unacceptable behavoir. Schools have all kinds of rules and consequences about bad behavoir. When a kid is caught wandering the halls, somebody is going to notice and somebody is going to punish them. So why is it when that same kid is caught lobbing rocks at someone else people say “boys will be boys…bullying is inevitable…we should let the kids work it out” and let it continue?

Amen to that. I don’t know if things have changed at all, but when I was a kid, the bullies ran the school. There were a couple kids in my class who were definitely sadistic and probably borderline psychotic. Once in awhile they’d get a slap on the wrist, but usually they were pretty much allowed to freely abuse other students. Another falsehood you hear a lot is that it “builds character”. I’m sorry, but abuse does not build character, it traumatizes. I suspect that the people who say that are the same ones who were doing the bullying when THEY were in school.

Might I ask, what exactly would “zero tolerance” entail when it is applied toward teasing and/or bullying?

My guess is, virtually any attempt at humor would end up being defined as teasing. Virtually any insult as well.

I can’t imagine how any ‘zero tolerance’ teasing policy would NOT violate the first Amendment.

I put physical acts in a different category. Beating, rock throwing and other such tactics constitute assault.

I thought the First Amendment stated that the government would not prohibit free speech. The school isn’t bound by that, necessarily.

I have two problems with this:

First, what is defined as teasing? There’s a huge difference between throwing rocks at someone and singing “na-na-ny boo boo, you smell like doo doo!” at someone while you stand in the lunch line. Should both scenarios get treated in the same way? Zero-tolerance leaves no room for discretion in these kinds of things.

Secondly, what will be required to “convict” someone? Will a teacher have to witness the teasing in order for the punishment to be meted out? Or will it be enough for the victim to simply accuse someone without presenting any “proof”? What if a bully calls another kid a name and the kid defends himself with a similar response, like “I know you are but what am I?” Will both parties get punished?

I was teased as a kid too but I don’t think this kind of policy is effective. Actually, I think it will only make matters worse.

In the first place, what happened to evensven was not teasing, it’s called assault & Battery, and should not be ignored.

I agree that small kids can be little monsters when it comes to other kids (I recall a particular little mutant I know who had a distinct speech impediment, but enjoyed making fun of ‘retawds’. :rolleyes: )

And, I also agree that “zero tolerance” programs end up to be idiotic.

Some problems with the concept of zero tolerance for teasing.

  1. People are all different. What constitutes ‘teasing’ to one person is perfectly acceptable to another. Especially with kids. I joke w/kids all the time. My son was very used to some one pretending not to see the county fair coming up on the side of the road etc. A neice of mine was not used to teasing of any kind, even the ‘I can’t see you’ kind.

  2. Some things are meant as fun, others are not (reference to above comment about humor).

  3. It will be impossible for them to totally eradicate all teasing (the authorites are not in every place), which means either you’re going to get into a ‘he said’ ‘she said’ situation on a minute by minute basis (which doesn’t leave a whole lotta time for education), or you’ll ignore some egregious behavior.

Part of what the school needs to be able to do is to help students learn to maneuver through the adult world. Joking and teasing are part of it. A woman I know (who has autism) does not understand the concept of a joke, which is a detriment to her in the work place, she takes absolutely everything everyone says literally.

Now, on the other hand, I think it’s inappropriate for a teacher/ authority figure to ignore the absolutely cruel things kids say to each other when it’s happening. And, I also think that a certain amount of ‘teaching’ and ‘investigation’ should go on. (I’m reminded of when my son was in first grade, he was the only little tyke wearing glasses. He got teased, ** a lot**, and when he told the kid to ‘quit it’, he got punished for talking in class. I tried to explain to the teacher that when you hear him say ‘quit it’, he’s responding to a stimulus from another student and she should do a bit more than simply write his name up on the board and deny recess)

So, ‘zero tolerance’ = bunk, unworkable bunk at that.

however, when you have a student who is/will be the obvious object of scorn, it’s also a better thing to do to educate all about accepting differences, and how to be kind to others.

Since the schools are run by the government I do think they are bound by it. Remember that famous case involving students wearing black armbands? A school can ban certain forms of speech if it is disruptive to learning. I’m not a lawyer so it is possible I’m way off base here.


Well, I’m not a lawyer either, just a 19-year-old with a big mouth. Anyway, if a school can ban certain forms of speech if it’s disruptive to learning… I found teasing to be damned disruptive to learning, so I should think it would fit in there. I don’t support “zero tolerance” policies of any kind, I just don’t think they’d be unconstitutional as stated above.

Zero tolerance policies don’t work. They’re just a half-baked substitution for what really needs to be done - rather than teaching the administrators and teachers how to deal with students, ZT just gives them something to mindlessly fall back on so they don’t need to learn how to deal with things.

We need teacher and administration education - kids will be kids but that doesn’t mean the behavior should be ignored. It also doesn’t mean that we need zero tolerance policies that never work and are too easily abused.

As a kid, I got teased a lot, and when I became a teacher, one of the things I knew was very important to me was to make my classroom a safe place for all kids.

So far, I think I’m running about a 50% success rate, and it ticks me off to no end.

Bullies are very, very good at keeping their behavior below teacher radar. What makes it even more awkward is that some kids who are bullied turn around and bully others, and by the time I’ve twigged to a commotion three desks down from the kid I’m helping, there is no ascertaining who started what, and the time necessary to untangle all of it means the rest of the class will go apeshit. So, I end up issuing verbal warnings like a big weenie, asking individual kids privately what the hell was up, keeping a very close eye on those involved for the next week or so (they always think it’s forgotten by the next class), and - if I’m lucky - nailing the little monster the next time he/she pulls something.

What I am learning as a teacher is that response - what happens after a bullying incident - should only comprise about 10% of my and the school’s approach to bullying. The school, and better yet, the community, should have an articulate, defined policy about what bullying is and that it is not accepted. The kids should have it hammered into them every day for the first six weeks of school, and then weekly for the rest of the year. They should be taught what the different kinds of bullying are, how to respond if they see or experience it, and - most important of all - that the faculty and administration absolutely will not stand for it.

There’s one big obstacle, though. The parents. Now, the vast majority of parents would cheer us on for tackling the problem. They like bullying even less than we do. Unfortunately, there are parents out there who don’t see a problem with it, families for whom bullying is a normal, expected behavior. Sure, kids go through stages when they seem to lose touch with their innate empathy, but some kids never get it in the first place, because they don’t have it at home. It’s those chronic abusers that make me pull me hair out. They just don’t get it, and they probably won’t ever.

Zero tolerance, I think, is a mistake, but I can see how attractive it is as a response. No more critical thinking, no more trying to weigh which kid is being truthful, no more mess or fuss. Suspend them all and let God sort them out. Of course, it won’t work, and schools are going to get their pants sued off because of it.

How do we curtail teasing and bullying, when media is flooded with images of the same and usually the teaser and the bully ends up either winning, viewed as a hero or cool? Not to mention the power dynamics that take place in the children’s home. If the model at home is to tease, ridicule and overpower, that’s exactly what the kid is going to do when they’re outside of the home. The problem I see with these policies is that they are a quick fix, and rarely if ever address the underlying issues or the media imagery children are bombarded with every day.

Let’s not forget the code of the schoolyard. When I was in school if you were picked on you didn’t go running to the teachers crying. Doing so only got you in more trouble with your peers.

There were a few times I was picked on in school and I refused to tell the teacher who caused me to cry. I’m sure she had a decent idea of who caused it though.


I think that something clearly needs to be done by the schools about teasing. Of course, I am biased because I was one of the teased, rather than the teasers. I don’t buy that kids can’t tell that they shouldn’t do that – otherwise, why would they try to hide it, and mercilessly punish those who reported them? I’m not talking about small children – the big problems are among older kids and preteens.

I suffered years of being relentlessly teased, mocked, and harassed by the same students. Teachers witnessed it but never did anything. I had chairs pulled out from under me, people throwing things at me, all kinds of stuff that went far beyond just the name-calling (though that was bad enough). This wasn’t by everyone – just a handful of kids who really had it in for me. (Later on in middle school, I finally got so steamed that I demanded to know why they picked on me. The answer was that “um, when I first met you in Girl Scouts, I thought you were snotty.” I assure you that I had no memory of this and it certainly wasn’t intentional. “Popular kids” get into habits of preying on the other kids.) I hated being a kid and I couldn’t wait until I was old enough for this sort of behavior to be taken seriously. I know I took it seriously at the time.

This is obviously a problem. I doubt that the massacre at Columbine would have ever happened but for the fact that it is considered normal for daily harassment to be inflicted on those who are not in the “popular” clique. Blame is often put upon the teased because they are not “normal” enough, because they act too smart, they don’t adopt the same appearance or standards, and whatnot.

I am generally against zero-tolerance policies and I see no reason to make an exception here. There are always extenuating circumstances and the school administration shouldn’t just slap the same punishment on everyone. However, I do think there needs to be a real recourse for kids who are dogged by “teasing” (really, harassment). This is not a problem of one kid being called one day one name. This goes on for years because the cycle is never stopped. If the kids don’t know what they’re doing isn’t acceptable, the solution isn’t not to punish them, the solution IS to punish them after the rules are established! I know that on one occasion I wanted so badly to not be the subject of mockery that I turned to mock somebody else. It was very cruel and I feel guilty about it, just as I did at the time. (Fortunately, the person was forgiving enough to befriend me later in high school regardless of this.) Kids are smart enough to know that emotional torture is not OK.

I know a lot of people think flippantly of this topic (“it’s just teasing”), but imagine your child (or yourself) being the subject of mockery for years at a time, being followed around at school and after. Imagine that you are embarassed in front of friends and the subject of cruel ongoing jokes every single day, and that no matter what adult you approach, the answer is “oh, that’s just kids being kids” or “you have to learn to solve your own problems”. I know no adult would put up with that. The culture of abuse and preying on the weak should stop.

When I was in school I was rarely teased, and I often stood up for people that were teased. If someone tried teasing me then I either walked away or zinged them back (and having a sadistic older brother made me pretty good at the come backs). Even when I was in school, there was nothing that someone could say that I couldn’t walk away from. I have taught this to my son, and I have seen him walk away (he didn’t even know I was watching) and I have seen him stand up for other kids.

On the other hand, if it ever became physical, then I had no problem defending myself. I have explained to my son that bullying is not tolerated, but if someone tries to physically hurt him, then he is well within his rights to kick the shit out of them. I have had calls from the school because he was in a fight (only twice) but he was defending himself and I backed him up on it.

Zero tolerance will not work because kids need to learn how to deal with things like this. (I hope this next bit makes sense) I look at school not only as a place to learn from books, but also as a place to learn how to deal with others. My social interactions in school, while not always pleasant, did help me to learn how to deal with the many different kinds of people I now see on a daily basis. When kids get out of school and away from the zero tolerance rule then they won’t know how to deal with the assholes of the world because they have never been exposed to it.
Just my $.02

i agree fully.

Oh, so I, as a ninety pound eight grade girl, was supposed to “kick the shit” out of the gang of older stronger boys that were throwing rocks at me?

And when they spread rumors in seventh grade that I had an STD, I should have simply ignored it?

Why is trauma inflicted on kids considered so much less important than trauma inflicted on adults? Teasing is a part of every day life, sure, but cruelty is not.

even sven, I haven’t seen anyone advocate the realworld schoolyard equivalent of a Creatures wild run. People have a problem with zero tolerance as a philosophy, and with the application of that (failed, in my view) philosophy to teasing and harrassment.

I don’t believe school should be a Darwinian experience. But you can’t possibly tell me that zero tolerance is a valid method of preventing anything, given the spectacular failure of drug and weapon zero tolerance policies already in place.


I read this article to both my 8th grade writing classes this morning and told them a little bit about my own experiences being bullied.

It wasn’t the most productive of conversations, but it was heartening to see them pay attention, ask questions, and maybe even do a little thinking about it.

I sincerely believe that the worst age for this is between 11 and 14, and that’s right where my kids are.