The Do-Nothing Principal

Adapted from Dr. Ben Leichtling, PhD

When my son was in sixth and seventh grade, he was relentlessly bullied.  He was verbally, physically and relationally bullied.  The short version of our experience is that his dad and I reported the bullying many times.  We were met with false promises, excuses, ignorance and rationalizations from the leaders of the school and the school counselor.  We ended up filing a lawsuit, pulled him from school, invested in mental help for all of us, became bullying experts and started Bullying Recovery Resource Center (BRRC) for families who were going through similar traumas caused by bullying in all parts of Colorado and beyond.

We came across Dr. Ben’s YouTube talk about the do-nothing principals shortly after we opened the doors of BRRC in 2017.  As I listened to his list of the five traits he identified, I quickly put a check mark next to every one of them.  I was astounded and vindicated at the same time.  I was not crazy and had been played by the school officials at my son’s former school. BRRC has found this list to be incredibly helpful for parents who are dealing with reluctant school administrators.  What follows are Dr. Ben’s five warning signs of the do-nothing-principal.

  1. No school-wide programs – There is no school-wide training about bullying for children, parents, teachers, administrators, janitors, bus drivers, etc. All persons associated with the school should be taught to recognize the signs of overt and covert bullies.  Without a school wide program, it is obvious that the school officials do not take bullying seriously.
  2. Make no effort to monitor or investigate – Most everyone knows what areas bullying occurs at their school. School officials will make no effort to monitor those areas.  They will plead ignorance and expect “proof” to come from the target of bullying.  School officials will refuse to investigate bullying claims.
  3. Empathy and compassion for the bullies – School administrators will believe that the best way to stop bullying is for the target show forgiveness, compassion and empathy for the bully. The focus turns to why the bully harasses their target versus stopping the bullying.  These principals favor education and compassion over making the bully stop.
  4. Blame the target – Principals will assume that the target did something wrong to antagonize a bully. They will often not keep the bullying complaints confidential and/or look the other way than to stop the bully.
  5. Use confidentiality to keep you in the dark – To mask incompetence, bias or laziness, school administrators will use confidentiality to avoid transparency and accountability. Many times, they will ask you to trust them while they handle the situation.

If this list pertains to you and your situation, Dr. Ben states that it is time to act.  It is time to force reluctant principals to act properly.  These actions or lack of actions are unacceptable and will only cause more trauma for you child.  Make note that a school fears two things above all else – negative media and legal action.  He suggests four steps that you as a parent need to take to force a school to stop bullying.

  1. Before the bullying even begins, lobby with other like-minded parents to insist that the school provide school-wide programs to prevent bullying. Strongly consider contacting the media about your efforts.
  2. If bullying starts talk to the principal and the staff. Record all conversations.  Pay special attention to the attitude of the school officials and look for ignorance, rationalizations, excuses, and a discussion of what constitutes evidence.  Follow-up all conversations with an email of all the points discussed and any promises that were made.
  3. Give the administration, counselors and teachers one week or so to stop the bullying. Take notice if they accommodate your child (the target) or if they disrupt your child’s schedule and location as a solution.
  4. If the bullying has not stopped it is time to take action. Consider contacting parents of other bullied children, contacting the police, asking for legal help, contacting the media and look for coaching.

Taking action is not easy and will requires firmness, courage, determination and being relentless.  The journey going forward will be frustrating and exhausting.  Realize that every situation is different and will require strategies that work best for your family.  Coaches and organizations like Bullies Be Gone and Bullying Recovery Resource Center are available to help you work through options and strategies that are best your child.