I took quite a bit of heat for a Facebook status I posted a few weeks ago. I typed it so flippantly that I don't even remember specifically what it said. But, it was something like this: "Every touch is not bullying. Every conflict is not bullying. Ridiculous much?" I was absolutely floored by how many people were deeply offended by that micro-rant.
I am frustrated at how quickly the media cries "bullying" when a child commits suicide or goes on a shooting spree. I am frustrated at how quickly parents cry "bullying" when their child has a conflict with another child, particularly at school. It seems that bullying has developed a connotation that includes any clash between peers, even horseplay where the "victim" is a willing participant. In contrast, its definition specifies intimidation and victimization.
According to Webster's Dictionary, bullying is:
bul·ly·ing[ bullee ing ]NOUN
1. intimidation of weaker person: the process of intimidating or mistreating somebody weaker or in a more vulnerable situation
Synonyms: intimidation, mistreatment, oppression, harassment, victimization, maltreatment, hounding
Our culture's rapidly expanding definition of bullying, when practically applied, includes name calling, teasing, arguments, and rough play. If that is bullying, then who among us hasn't been bullied? I feel that to broaden the meaning of the word so widely, makes it almost meaningless. It cheapens what children who are truly being victimized actually go through on a daily basis. To cry "bully," when children have a conflict in school or when one child is unkind to another applies a damaging label to children who are just being children. If we apply these same standards to people of all ages, then I am a bully...and, probably you are, too.
So, let's discuss bullying. There are several key elements that set bullying behavior apart from normal childhood conflict. Bullying can occur between individuals, between groups, or between an individual and a group. Bullying consists of three types of abuse: emotional, verbal, and physical. This abuse is doled out as a means of intimidation. Key #1- intimidation. Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus defines bullying as when a person is "exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons," and goes on to explain such negative actions as being, "when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person..." Key #2- intention. Bullying is constant and escalating. Therefore, isolated or sporadic incidents of name calling, teasing, or even physical aggression, cannot be considered bullying. Key #3 - chronic. In summation, in order to be considered bullying, abuse may be any combination of emotional, verbal, and physical, but must be intentional, chronic, and designed to intimidate.
Researchers at the University of California at Riverside examined 153 studies from the last 30 years and found that both bullies and their victims both have poor social skills. The same study found that more than anything else, poor academic performance predicts those who will bully. Key #4- poor social/academic prowess.
The fifth and final key element to bullying, is the victim. Key #5- the victim. In our culture, we are loathe to look to the victim for clues...we believe that victims are blameless. But, in order to understand the problem of bullying, we must acknowledge that although the victims of bullying are in no way to blame for their victimization, they do, in fact, play a role. Experts agree that bullying is cyclical behavior that includes an act of aggression on the part of the bully and a response by the target that is perceived by BOTH as a sign of submission. Once both of these two elements manifest themselves, the bullying cycle often proceeds to feed on itself over time. The victim's response is so crucial, that if the bullying cycle is a new one, the intended target can often diminish the cycle or end it all-together simply by responding to attempted bullying with an attitude of clear self-confidence. The intended victim's response should demonstrate that he will not allow himself to be intimidated by the would-be bully. However, if the intended target responds with an attitude of defeat, the bullying is likely to continue and intensify. In saying that the reaction of a victim of bullying may invite further bullying, I want to be very clear that I am in no way implying that targets of bullies are "asking for it," or that they are responsible for protecting themselves if they are being bullied. I am only suggesting that there are ways to help students respond to bullying that will empower them and even short-circuit the bullying cycle. Therefore, it is very important for families, schools, teachers, counselors, etc. help students not to see themselves as victims and to coach them on how to respond should they be bullied.
During one recent conversation on bullying, I was expressing my compassion for kids who have been labelled as "bully." The person I was discussing it with disagreed. He said that he doesn't feel bad for bullies because, "some kids are just bad kids." I certainly understand feeling that way. I have been known to villain-ize other kids when they were making my kids miserable. But, when it comes right down to it, all people are precious to the God Who created them and gave His only Son to die for them. So, who are we to write them off with a flippant wave of our hand? So careless. So cocky to believe that our own children would never, COULD never bully another child or even be accused of such a thing. We all love our own children. We see the best in them. We are foolish to believe that everybody is going to see in them what we do.
So, what if it was MY child that other people had labeled: "bad kid," "lost cause," "bully," "too difficult?"
What if that child was yours?