How to Get the Real Story From a Bully: Advice for Teachers

Tips for interviewing school bullies

When it comes to interviewing bullies at school, teachers and administrators usually dread the task. Most of the time, it seems nearly impossible to get the truth from anyone, especially from the one accused of doing the bullying. Kids will stretch or manipulate the truth not only to avoid discipline, but also out of embarrassment for being caught. But an interview still has to be conducted. Here are some tips on how to get the truth from bullies.

Call the bully down to see you, but delay the conversation for a few minutes. Allow the bully to sit there and think. In some cases, this allows the anger he is feeling to diffuse, especially if the incident just occurred. Do not give him an audience right away.

Get the bully to talk instead of you. Ask him to tell you what happened. Be prepared for him to deny that he had any involvement, to play dumb or to claim that the information is false. Allow him to tell you his version before confronting him with contradictory information. Take notes the entire time he is talking. Once he has completed his story, point out things that contradict his version of the events. For instance, if you have video of the incident, tell him. This realization may cause him to “explain” or admit to the incident. It is hard to deny a bullying incident when you have it on tape. But be careful not to name the victim or tell him how you found out.

You don’t want to put the victim or the bystanders in jeopardy of retaliation from the bully.

Ask the bully to write down what happened. Explain that he should describe what he thinks happened and what led up to the incident. Also ask him to include who was there. If the bully is still denying the incident even occurred, he may refuse to write much.

Still make the request. It is much easier to discuss his actions if you can refer to a document that he wrote.

Do not get bogged down trying to determine his motives. Generally speaking, the motive of the bully is irrelevant as long as he intended to do the act and willfully hurt another person. Keep in mind kids sometimes bully for what they feel are justifiable reasons. These might include: “I wanted to teach him a lesson,” or “I wanted to put her in her place.” Remind the bully that bullying is a choice and he must take responsibility for his choices.

Be alert to any manipulative language or behavior. Bullies often deny bullying. They also engage in blame-shifting and refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Be careful not to make any victim-blaming statements that could communicate that you agree with the bully’s actions. He could later use these statements against you.

Remember nice kids bully too. Just because the bullies may be good kids, well-liked or high achievers from good families, this doesn't mean that they are not bullying someone else.  Do not let the good reputation or popularity of a bully keep you from finding out the facts.

Explain to the bully why their actions were wrong.

Once the interview is over and you are confident you have gathered all the information, help the bully understand that that these actions are not tolerated and that there will be consequences for his choices. If you are ready, lay out the discipline plan. Also, be sure that he understands what will happen if he continues to bully at school.

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