Dear Your Teen:
My son is being bullied at school. His teacher said that it is just as much his fault. Really?
This is a tough one. In some cases, it is true that certain students behave in ways that contribute to the likelihood that they will be bullied. In other cases, the conflict between students does not rise to the level of bullying and is actually more of an equally negative give-and-take between both students. This is perhaps what the teacher was trying to communicate; the concept that there is a give-and-take of peer conflict between the students that both are contributing to more or less equally. Sometimes, in these cases, one student will claim that he is being bullied, without recognizing his contributions to the negative dynamic in the pair. One educator gives his advice on this issue below, recommending that the mother talk to her son and help him assess whether or not he is contributing at all to the conflict. Once they have done so, they can decide whether bullying is occurring. If yes, the victim is never to blame, and they can confidently go back to the teacher in search of a resolution.
If your son was accused of bullying:
In a true case of bullying, where there is an ongoing pattern of behavior that is intentional and there is a power imbalance between the students, I would be hard-pressed to assert that a student who was being bullied was at fault. If your teenager is not aggressing upon the other teen, and is not intentionally fanning the flames of conflict by in-person or digital means and the conflict continues, this is bullying and it requires adult intervention. In cases of true bullying, victims are not to blame.
Jason Culp is the Head of Upper School, at Lawrence School in Cleveland, Ohio.