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Adults Can Be Bullies Too… (Part II)

Psychologists identify three types of parent bullies – the Righteous Crusader, the Entitled Intimidator, and the Vicious Gossip.

Note: We are living in “supercharged” times when statements can be exaggerated and accepted as fact. People can speak in unkind ways and it is not only tolerated, but sometimes even applauded.  This blog is meant to help ensure that SSDS Bergen remains an oasis; a place where our better selves prevail and our Jewish values are lived. This blog does not suggest that this is a systemic problem, whatsoever.  Let’s keep it that way:

In last week’s blog, I wrote about the overuse of the term bullying in schools and how that can be detrimental to promoting the healthy emotional development of our children. This is not meant to deny that bullying happens between children – it sometimes does. That being said, we adults must remember that bullying, social conflict, or mean behavior must be addressed and taken seriously.  

There is another kind of bullying that takes place more frequently in schools throughout our country. This bullying is often not addressed and has serious consequences. It is the bullying between adults, and all too often, parents against teachers.  

This did not occur frequently at my previous school, and fortunately, it does not happen regularly at SSDS; however, any act of bullying by a parent against another parent or staff member is one too many. Parents who bully are aggressive, intimidating, and often controlling. These parents tend to exhibit the very behaviors they object to in children who are still growing and developing. Because other parents and school officials often do not want to confront their behavior, bullying can continue unabated.

In a society that seems perfectly okay with posting nasty comments on social media, making sweeping accusations and drawing general conclusions without nuance or accurate information, schools and teachers find it more important than ever to rely on our parents to be respectful, honest, and self aware. It requires addressing specific issues, respectfully and calmly, without accusation or generalization.

Psychologists Robert Evans and Michael Thompson wrote about this in an article entitled, “Parents Who Bully the School.” In their article, they identified three types of parent bullies – the Righteous Crusader, the Entitled Intimidator, and the Vicious Gossip.

“The Righteous Crusader is perhaps the most confusing for teachers because she [sic] claims to have identified a moral problem and attacks the school for failing to address it… 

“Entitled Intimidators make no bones about what they want: special treatment for their child. They demand that rules be waived, exceptions made, policies upended… The Vicious Gossip has what we psychologists call a character problem, one that plays itself out in continually finding fault with the school or with teachers and broadcasting her complaints, often to a group of vigilantes that she recruits. Sometimes she [sic] has a valid concern and has identified a genuine teacher weakness or administrative failing. It is her [sic] exaggeration of the issue — the relentless, destructive quality of her storytelling to other parents, her [sic] repeated gathering of what Richard Chait, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has called the ‘Volvo caucus in the parking lot’ — that qualifies it as bullying.”

The authors go on to identify parental anxiety, competitiveness, and loneliness as contributing factors to acting as bullies. They also cite other factors such as a rapidly changing world and uncertainty around what kids actually need.  All these factors make parents anxious.

Teachers, as a group, tend to be pleasers; they want to see their students succeed, are most comfortable around children, and tend to be conflict-avoiders.  “Hence, when confronted with intense criticism and unreasonable demands, they are easily undone. Many teachers — and many former teachers who are now administrators — find themselves repeatedly trying to placate, persuade, convince, and accommodate Righteous Crusaders, Entitled Intimidators, and Vicious Gossips. To no avail.”

Other authors have developed different labels for parents that bully, but these labels actually do not matter. Labels do not solve problems; they identify a problem. Bully parents can do real damage to individual teachers and the school itself. These types of parents — and those always threatening to leave if their demands are not met — more often than not, create, knowingly or unknowingly, an adversarial environment  that can make life more difficult and unpleasant for conscientious teachers. It also negatively impacts dedicated  and committed parents in a school community, and of course, our children.

We are blessed that SSDS Bergen is a special community. Our school is filled with children, faculty, and staff that strive every day to help realize the school’s mission and to live by the school’s core pillars and values. Like all schools, SSDS Bergen is not perfect and we are all human. Issues and differences arise. Mistakes are sometimes made. And even in an imperfect world, and school, we need to remember that our children continue to thrive at SSDS. The daily acts of Derekh Eretz [treating others with common decency], Yiddishkeit, and the energized classrooms in which our children are actively engaged in learning, truly represent SSDS and our community. 

It is crucial that SSDS reflects the sacred Jewish community it sets out to be. This happens when the adults in our community help our children deal positively and in a reasonable, patient manner, with social conflict and the occasional bullying that may take place as part of growing up. It is just as important that parents, faculty, and staff act with respect and dignity, even when issues arise. Children learn more from observing the actions of adults and the tone in which they speak, than from the words being spoken. Raising children is an emotional endeavor; please remember your children’s teachers and the school are on your team. They care deeply and want only the best for your children.  

Together we can continue to maintain SSDS as a warm, welcoming and inclusive community for our students, parents, faculty, and staff, as long as we continue to act respectfully, and help our children to learn to do the same. In these times, when respect and tolerance seem to be in short supply, how much more so should we commit to preserving our nurturing, respectful environment, here and now, at our beloved school!

8 Comments

  • anonymous - December 12, 2019

    I guess I’m a Vicious Gossip but this post can easily be interpreted as another form of bullying: attempting to guilt/shame/suppress parents who have meaningful and legitimate criticism of school policies and/or personnel. One way to make the stakeholders (parents) at SSDS more engaged is for the leadership to be more (not less!) receptive and open to feedback and yes, sometimes even criticism.

    Why does the tone of most of these Head-of-School blogs have to be so negative when we are already inundated with negativity in today’s society. Can the messaging please be geared toward more positive or productive topics in the future?

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - December 12, 2019

      As New Head of School, I think it’s important to raise sometimes-thorny issues. I most certainly want and encourage feedback, and for our parents to openly discuss any issues they may have. Feel free to make an appointment and speak with me directly about any concerns you may have.

      Reply
  • Tiny Dancer - December 12, 2019

    There is another type of bullying in schools, administrators who use their bully pulpit blog posts to try and silence parents who speak up on behalf of their children.

    “It is just as important that parents, faculty, and staff act with respect and dignity, even when issues arise.”

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - December 12, 2019

      The goal of my blog is to foster dialogue and share my vision as an educational leader, providing an open forum for others to express thoughts and opinions – all for the betterment of our Schechter Kehillah. I appreciate the feedback and want to reiterate, that as New Head of School, I most certainly want and encourage feedback and shared concerns. Feel free to make an appointment and speak with me directly about any concerns you may have.

      Reply
  • anonymous - December 13, 2019

    Mr. Friedman…. WAY TO GO and my highest respect for you for exposing this endless, thorny, ugly form of bullying ever present at SSDS.
    As the spouse of an educator at your school I have witnessed too many times, over years, too often, verbal, vicious abuses by parents that my better half had to go thru; allowed by past and present administrators under the pretext that “parents pay enough money here” or “this is a private school”…… or other nonsense excuses.
    There is NO excuse for ANY parent to abuse a teacher that wants only the best for their pupils. I hope, really really hope that you will make a difference. I start to see a light at the end of the tunnel….

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - December 13, 2019

      Thank you for your feedback; I want to begin by saying that I have found our Schechter community to be both warm and respectful, and I have not observed any systemic adult bullying at school.

      My focus is on the present and our future, and doing my utmost to help ensure that we all continue to live by our Jewish values, to and including how we treat each other.

      The blog was meant to serve as a reminder – that even when there are disagreements, concerns, or mistakes, it is incumbent upon all of us to remain respectful. We are all on the same team – the team of every child at SSDS!

      Reply
  • SSDS Parent - December 15, 2019

    Wow.

    In the private sector this would have gotten a CEO fired within a week. “Don’t talk poorly about teachers or admins or you are a bully… but oh yes, I have an open door policy.” Incompetence of the highest order. The last head of school really screwed things up in the end, and I think many held out hope that this guy would be different. The only person defending you is a spouse of a teacher. Laughable, and unfortunately part of a broader decline. “These types of parents” is a way to cause fear and keep the detractors away. You should want to learn from them. That is how to build a vibrant community.

    A message from up top should only be one: “Love us, hate us, tell us whatever you think, we want to improve and we will only improve if we hear from you, ESPECIALLY from the people who are the most frustrated.”

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - December 16, 2019

      Thank you for your comments. For those parents who may believe the point of my blog about adult bullying was to discourage feedback, please know that the opposite is true.

      I want to hear and learn from all perspectives, including from parents who feel frustrated.

      I chose to write about a topic that current educational researchers, psychologists, parents, and educators see as a growing issue in schools across our country.

      In my blog, I wrote: “This blog is meant to help ensure that SSDS Bergen remains an oasis; a place where our better selves prevail and our Jewish values are lived.”

      This is why I think it is reasonable to ask for your partnership in promoting respectful, civil dialogue between us, and that includes all of us – parents, educational leadership, and our teachers – particularly when we disagree.

      As you know, I am in my first six months of being Schechter’s Head of School. I’m asking you to get to know me – take a chance. I am very open and interested in hearing everyone’s point of view.

      I only want what is best for our children and community. To help me learn about this wonderful Kehillah, I held a series of parent get-togethers throughout the fall; I commissioned an anonymous, third-party parent survey to get your feedback, and invited anyone to share overall concerns with me.

      I am “fully in” here at Schechter; I truly believe it is okay to set a bar that asks each one of us to act with Derekh Eretz [common decency].

      Like you, I want to continue building a vibrant community and this can be accomplished respectfully.

      Reply

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