Ban Bossy – Parenting Expert Says; I Disagree

by Dr. Karen Ruskin on March 11, 2014

When you think you’ve heard it all, something happens that reminds you that you certainly have not heard it all. Ban the word “bossy” as a campaign? As a parenting expert I disagree with this initiative. Reported on various news outlets today is that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new initiative is to ban the word “bossy”. There are multiple famous women joining this campaign including Beyonce, Jennifer Garner,…  Specifically Sandberg explains that young girls who assert themselves are called “bossy”, which has a negative ring to it. Thereby leading young girls to over time stop asserting themselves out of worry that they will be labeled as bossy. By comparison, the allegation is that when young boys assert themselves they are considered assertive and leaders. Hm, although I agree that the term bossy is not the typical word used for boys, and rather it is more often used for girls by gender comparison, I strongly disagree that boys are off the hook when it comes to terms used to label them that would be deemed negative. I often hear varied terms used for boys when they are being what would be termed bossy, and it is not always so kind. Typically words used for boy behavior is: “controlling”, “pushy”, a “jerk”, a “brat”, a “bully”, a “manipulator”. Certainly there are times when a boy is being bossy he is considered being a leader. Just as there are times when a girl is being bossy she is considered a leader, and other times she is considered, well, just downright bossy. Just as there are times a boy is considered being just downright pushy.

As a Psychotherapist, a Family Therapist and Parenting Expert for 20+ years, and as a parent, below you will find my talking points in reaction to: “Ban Bossy”.

  • Some adult females who state that they themselves were called bossy as a youngster and/or adult, are now bossing people around telling them they cannot use the word bossy. Is that being assertive, a self advocate, a leader, or just being bossy?
  • What happened to freedom of speech?
  • We must teach our children how to cope with what others say and feel good about themselves regardless of what those around them say. I am an assertive woman, and as a young girl I was assertive. If I melted each time someone reacted to my assertiveness, if I felt I had to get them to speak differently to me, to use different words, in order for me to remain assertive, then my identity isn’t truly assertive now is it? I never would be where I am today if I spent my time upset about or influenced by another believing I am bossy. Think of it like basketball. Some of us can get shot after shot in the basket when given a free opportunity to shoot with no one blocking us. But, within that same group of people when someone blocks them, those who are still able to get the shot in decreases dramatically. Everyone cannot get the shot in once blocked. Just as everyone is not a leader. Part of what makes a basketball player a basketball star is being able to get the ball in whether blocked or not. Part of what makes a person a leader is the ability to lead even when “blocked” by another’s words, not just when there’s an open path. If we teach our children they must change others in order to feel at inner emotional peace, then we will raise children who become adults that will never feel at peace. Ultimately we are raising a generation of children to be controlling in a negative way, rather than assertive leaders, if we teach them to ban the vocabulary of others. For you cannot control all that is around you, only yourself. I work with children and adults everyday with mental health issues. Symptoms such as anxiety, depression, … When a client of any age explains to me what is causing their symptomology I explain to them that we cannot control others nor the situations that come our way. Life includes challenges. What we can control is how we react to those challenges. I live by this philosophy as a wife, as a mother, as a professional.
  • The use of drugs is being promoted by many as acceptable, but the use of the word bossy is not acceptable? The legalization of marijuana is inferring acceptance of using and teaches children that marijuana use, that drug use is acceptable. That sounds twisted to me! Hurt your mind and your body with chemical substances (e.g., marijuana, alcohol, …) but hurtful words is wrong – this disturbs me.  Young girls dressed scantily clad whether for a dance competition, or in a play at school, what is being sold as clothes in the store for young girls to wear – this is all considered acceptable and labeled as girls “expressing” themselves. But when the term bossy is used that is not an acceptable form of expressing?
  • Words such as; controlling, bossy, a leader, self advocate are not all in the same. There are young girls and women who are controlling, bossy and manipulative in contrast to young girls who are acting as a leader and are self advocates. Sometimes bossy is being a leader and other times being bossy is being mean and controlling and far from being a leader. Assertiveness and being bossy are not always one in the same. It is imperative that parents and educators help children to know the difference. Albeit difficult considering many adults don’t know the difference.
  • I love the idea of awareness. As it is through awareness that we as people can make healthy shifts. By discussing how words matter we can help the public be more mindful of the words they use. The problem is the way in which “ban bossy” is being presented appears less about education of choosing one’s words wisely, and more about telling people what to do in a bossy manner. The campaign to ban the word bossy goes against my philosophy, as it is my strong belief that it is important to teach our children how to cope with what others say. As we cannot control what others say. I vehemently believe parents should never use labels to refer to their child. Parents should never call their children names. I have shared this in my parent education workshops, in my office with clients, and in my parenting book: 9 Keys For Raising Respectful Children Who Make Responsible Choices.

Final Words:

All in all, when it comes to banning the word bossy, I say; I disagree. I agree in being mindful of what we say. I believe parents should explain the difference between being bossy vs. being a leader, being bossy vs. being a self-advocate. I don’t believe parents should call their children bossy, as that is a label. I don’t believe in labeling children. I don’t believe that freedom of speech should cease to exist and children have to bite their tongue and not be able to express their feelings if they feel like another child is bossing them around. I feel children need tools, as do adults, for how to cope, adjust, and adapt to what others say. Raising strong girls who are assertive and become young women who are leaders and self advocate is not about controlling what others say. Girls as well as boys each deal with challenges in how others view their behavior and label those behaviors. I do not believe in labeling nor name calling and mindful awareness of how we communicate is an important lesson to be learned from the “ban bossy” campaign, not that all people must literally ban the word. Raising girls or raising boys, either way, the goal is to help them to help themselves, not to control the linguistics of others.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Evan March 11, 2014 at 11:50 pm

I think its a right on the tipping point word. I can see how someone would want to get rid of it. I am not a big fan of bullying in which I feel this word would mostly be used for and almost only be used or interpreted as. Thats a tough one but I’d say keep it because it gets the point across when someone is acting like so, so you could shut them up easier. Ha

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Dr. Karen Ruskin March 13, 2014 at 11:06 am

Thanks for sharing your insight. Best, Dr. Karen

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Jay March 13, 2014 at 6:54 am

Lady, you make sense! Besides, I’d listen to your credentials long before I’d listen to a singer or a diplomat.

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Dr. Karen Ruskin March 13, 2014 at 11:05 am

Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your feedback. Best, Dr. Karen Ruskin

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