School Bullying is Out Of Control: How Restorative Justice Can Help / A.J. Hendry

Not to long ago there was a Change.org petition doing the rounds calling for harsher penalties and expulsion for bullies in school.

It was started by a mother whose daughter was bullied and who as a result no longer felt safe enough to return to her school.

My heart goes out to the mother in question, I feel for her and for her whanau, yet harsher penalties and expulsion alone is not the answer to the problem she is seeking to solve.

I think we can all agree that we want to prevent bullying. And I think we can also agree that if a young person bullies another, they should be held accountable. However, it is the manner which we provide that accountability which will either bring about change, or further exacerbate the problem.

If the goal is to reduce bullying in schools, than exclusion and harsher punishments is not the answer. Punitive measures mean we end up simply punishing the behaviour, while more often than not, ignoring the problem.

And the problem is not that kids bully kids. Bullying, is simply a symptom of a host of bigger problem’s which exist within our community.

You’ve heard the saying, “hurt people, hurt people.”

That saying is no less true when it comes to our children.

And though that doesn’t justify any child bullying another, the reality is that if we want to actually reduce bullying, the child’s pain has to be acknowledged. And the root of that pain needs to be addressed.

By attending to the underlying cause of the child’s behaviour, we provide the young person a pathway towards healing.

But, what about consequences? What are we teaching kids if we just allow them to get off scot free? Isn’t it unjust to provide the perpetrator with support, while the victims own suffering is left unaddressed?

Well, this is where Restorative Justice comes in.

For many people Restorative Justice is short hand for letting people off the hook. Yet, that could not be further from the truth. Whereas, punitive punishment based systems focus on punishing people for their actions, Restorative Justice involves a process of helping a person face the consequences of their actions. During a Restorative Justice process the young person will have to face the person they have hurt and hear from them how their actions have affected both the individual and their wider community. Restorative Justice focuses on working towards reconciliation, and seeks to facilitate a process where the young person is able to make things right, while keeping the voice of the one who has been hurt at the centre.

But, Restorative Justice moves past just making amends. It also seeks to restore both the victim and the perpetrator back into community with each other.

In the process, after the young person has had the opportunity to hear and understand the damage they have done, the person who has been hurt is also given the opportunity to hear from the person who hurt them. In this way the wronged individual gets an opportunity to understand the circumstances which led to the bullying behaviour.

The door to reconciliation is opened, and the opportunity for healing is given.

There is of course some circumstances where this process would not be able to be completed perfectly. Perhaps it’s not safe to have everyone in the same room together, perhaps the person who has been hurt is just not in the right space, and won’t be for a while.

This does not mean that a restorative process cannot be undergone. It just means that it will have to be dealt with in a different, perhaps more creative, way.

The key is that we support the person who has done wrong to understand the consequences of their actions, to see the damage they have done, and to work towards making amends. And on the other side, for the person who has been hurt, to have their voice heard, and to be able to vocalize what they need in order to move forward.

One of the problems with the way we do “justice” – both in schools and in wider society – is that the punishment often is completely removed from the people who have been hurt.

For example, a young person tags on school property. As punishment they get a telling off from their dean and are excluded from school for a couple of days. The punishment, though perhaps seeming fair, is punitive, and thus disconnected from the actual wrong committed. It focuses solely on punishing the behaviour. As a result, the young person doesn’t learn from the experience, and simply feel’s like they are being punished for something they perhaps don’t see as “that big a deal”.

A restorative approach would help the young person to understand how their actions affected others. To understand the stress it caused school staff to have to organize to get the tagging cleaned off in the midst of an already hectic work schedule. To understand the cost (in time, money and energy) their actions had on the people involved in addressing the situation. It would then seek to help the young person actually make amends. Which in this case might be to work out a plan to help pay back the costs, and also to help clean the tagging themselves.

But, the restorative justice approach wouldn’t just stop there. It would also take the next step of seeking to understand why the young person has behaved in this way, and supporting that person to receive the care and support that they need.
The spirit of restorative justice is to bring healing, and open the door to reconciliation.

It is about seeing what is wrong made right.

Punishing people, that’s the easy part.

Actually getting serious about justice, now that’s no small task.

A.J. Hendry

5 thoughts on “School Bullying is Out Of Control: How Restorative Justice Can Help / A.J. Hendry

  1. Thanks, Aaron for your blogs and values. I read your article in Noted about Falou. However, the Bible is NOT an imperfect ancient set of writings but is the revelation of God and the mind of God. I note also you mention your ‘my theology’ needed to change which is great but your theology was an interpretation of God’s mind and not fully God’s mind. We all have this issue. But as Christians, we need to balance the love of God and the issue of the unregenerated old nature we are all born with. Sadly, we are all imperfect (the Bible names this sin) and we all need to be regenerated to receive the revelation of God and to truly appreciate the love of God. A failure to do this even for gay and Trans people means we all stay outside of the true grace of God and continue to live in our old unregenerated selves away from the transforming power of God. Aaron, I know the dilemmas you face and you mention these but we all must be very wise with God and the mind of God. Our own theology can be a misinterpretation of God and we end up misrepresenting God which is a very dangerous situation.

    Like

    1. whenlambsaresilent 05/02/2020 — 11:58 am

      Kia ora, thank you for your comment.

      If you are interested in dialogueing further on this topic our sister blog Reclaiming the Lamb has been set up to wrestle deeper with some of the theological themes which appear on this platform.

      In regards to the topic of sexuality and a Christian understanding Aaron has been exploring this further here:
      https://reclaimingthelamb.wordpress.com/2019/09/15/can-the-church-accept-gay-marriage-p1-what-about-biblical-authority-a-j-hendry/

      Have a read of this series, and if you would like to keep exploring this let us know your thoughts in the comments.

      Like

  2. whenlambsaresilent 05/02/2020 — 12:09 pm

    In regards to Biblical Interpretation, and how to read the Scriptures,

    Aaron has written further on this topic here:

    https://reclaimingthelamb.wordpress.com/2018/09/30/the-bible-as-our-idol-has-our-reverence-for-the-scriptures-gone-to-far/

    https://wp.me/p9XRuy-I

    Would welcome hearing your thoughts and perspective.

    Like

  3. Hi Aaron, how does Restorative Justice work in cases where the offender is a Psychopath and therefore highly unlikely to take on board any empathy-based learning’s?

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  4. Very powerful post! And I so agree with you. It’s not all about punishing bullies, it’s also about teaching victims confidence, teaching them how bullies operate, where bullying comes from (hurt, powerlessness and the need to make someone else feel bad in order to feel good) and how to defend themselves. Only when you shrink the victim pool do you also shrink the stats of bullying.

    Thank you for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

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