How are Verbal Bullying and Freedom of Speech connected?

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In a survey of four thousand mental health professionals and educators, virtually all of them said they support the freedom of speech. Yet about half of them also said they believe children should be punished for saying things that can hurt others’ feelings. Most people don’t realize that the two don’t go together.

The Golden Rule mandates freedom of speech. If we do not like people punishing us whenever they don’t like what we say, we should not get mad at or punish others for saying things we don’t like to hear either. The freedom of speech is really the Constitutional version of the old “sticks and stones” adage and it recognizes the fundamental difference between physical and verbal bullying.

The results of a physical aggression are objective in nature (If you attack me physically and I get hurt, you’re the one who hurt me), while the results of verbal aggression are subjective (if you attack me with words, it’s up to me – not to you – if I feel hurt). This is why the First Amendment protects us from being punished for saying things that other people don’t like to hear.

The reality is that people will occasionally insult us, criticize us, blame us or say curse words that we don’t like to hear, and we have to learn to deal with it. Freedom of speech recognizes that people can have opposing opinions and beliefs and yet not be enemies. A healthy, dynamic society requires people to be free to think and say what they want without fear of punishment.

Words have the potential of hurting people’s feelings. Freedom of speech means that we don’t get punished for hurting people’s feelings. This does not mean that verbal bullying is alright. There are natural consequences to being mean and inconsiderate. People will not like us and we will have poor relationships if we speak inconsiderately.

How can we, as educators, promote the freedom of speech in a healthy manner in our classrooms?

Learn more…Take this course: Bullying: The Golden Rule Solution

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One Response to “How are Verbal Bullying and Freedom of Speech connected?”
  1. Selena says:

    I am having small issues with my 8 year old son. From the beginning of the school year his teacher has been telling me he is being “disruptive” in class. I didn’t know what this meant, I thought it meant he was “interrupting too much.” Well apparently last week, he made a comment (which I personally don’t see as a terrible thing), where another student finished reading a poem and my son said: “that is girly”. To me it seems like an opinion not an insult; and aren’t we all entitled to our opinions? Anyhow, the teacher told me about this incident and said “this is an example of his disruptive behavior this year”.. I was confused, I thought he was just being hyper or something else, because this is the first incident that I hear of where he has expressed himself this way.
    I even put the poor kid through a large amount of tests and stuff because we thought it could be ADD or something else, which he ended up being diagnosed for.
    My son is a very shy and he lacks confidence in certain departments and I have never seen him be mean to anyone; it is not a behavior we tolerate at our house. He has grown up in a loving home (both mother and father separate which I realize can cause issues itself), but we do not use insults around the house. Maybe he is picking things up from other kids in the school?

    As a parent it is very frustrating to try to teach your child to build his own character, stand up for himself and always speak his mind and have people on the other side reprimanding him for the same actions we are trying to encourage to avoid him getting bullied.

    Is there any suggestions? Its like the only choice we have now days its to tell our kids whenever someone says something that is not nice you gotta go tell a teacher. I recall being called names and what not in school, but isn’t that what little kids do? It helped me become a stronger person.

    I would greatly appreciate suggestions on this matter.



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