Is It Bullying?
With all of the media coverage and educational emphasis on the problem of bullying, it would be easy to categorize bullying as an epidemic. It would also be easy to fall into thinking that developmentally normal behavior, such as conflict, could be categorized as bullying.
So how can we tell the difference between bullying and developmentally appropriate conflict?
Conflict is a part of everyday life. As adults, we maneuver ourselves away from conflict throughout our days, and sometimes we know that it just happens. It goes without saying, then, that some conflict is normal in our children’s lives in the same way that it is normal in our lives. It is only because of our experience in dealing with conflict that we, as adults, now know how to deal with conflict ourselves. In fact, many adults attribute the difficulties that we have faced in conflict with others as areas of growth that have built our resilience and helped us face life’s adversities.
As adults – whether parents, school officials, or community members – we need to recognize that some of what we call “bullying” may actually be developmentally appropriate conflict and is a normal part of growing up.
Bullying is a complex problem, but there are good tools and resources that can help parents, educators, and caring adults identify bullying behavior. Did you know that there are four, specific characteristics that can qualify a situation as bullying? The behavior has to be intentional, be repetitive, be hurtful, and involve an imbalance of power.
- Intentional—Children can hurt other children by accident. Bullying, however, is always intentional and meant to cause some sort of harm, whether it is physical or verbal. This behavior may persist even after the victim has asked the bully to stop.
- Repetitive—In most cases, bullying happens repeatedly. Bullies often target children who they know will not do anything about the behavior, so they can continue bullying as long as they like.
- Hurtful—Bullying is a negative behavior that may include physical or verbal harm. The types of hurtful behavior that qualify as bullying are varied, but they all cause harm of some sort to the victim.
- Imbalance of power—If two children hold an equal amount of power, one cannot bully the other. This imbalance of power can come from different sources, including age, size, strength, and social status.
We have this same issue in our adult lives as well, and there are laws to protect us when conflict crosses the line into adult-size bullying. We cannot legally threaten, harm, or harass each other; when we do, there are procedures in place to bring the “bully” to justice. Because we are adults and because we have learned that threatening, harming, and harassing each other is not right, this system works. This is not the case with children—yet. When dealing with children, we have to both educate and protect. We cannot simply expect proper behavior in the same way that we can from our coworkers or our friends, and we cannot simply turn our children over to the criminal system when they harm or threaten one another. Instead, we need to model behavior that teaches children how to communicate and go through conflict with others.
Learn more: Teaching kids to resolve conflicts peacefully >>
At the same time, we need to hold children accountable for their actions, correct their misbehavior, and help them how to make better choices in future situations. At times, drastic interventions may be required such as having children attend anger management classes or go to individual and/or family counseling. Like some adults, some children may need to be detained if their behavior is so threatening to others that they cannot safely remain in their homes or schools.
We all had to learn to deal with conflict just like our children will need to learn. At the same time, though, we have to ensure that children are safe and protected. This is not easy! Just as we take action once someone crosses the line from conflict into crime, we must act once children begin harming others in ways that are intentional, repetitive, hurtful, and cause an imbalance of power—or in the most extreme cases—life-threatening.
Helping Kids Rise above Bullying
While devising programs and plans to reduce the incidence of bullying is important, these actions can only do so much. All adults need to realize that they play an important role in preventing bullying. The action steps that adults can take start at home, and spread to schools and entire communities. These action steps are called building resilience, and it’s the long-term solution to addressing bullying and other risky childhood behaviors.
- Alcohol Use
- Drug Use
- Depression and Suicide
- Tobacco Use
- Bullying and Cyberbullying
- Early Sexual Activity
- Eating Disorders
Related Blog Posts
Learn to Recognize the Warning Signs of Bullying
Do your part to help put an end to bullying! Download the following worksheets and pass them along to your child’s teacher or school administrator.
Downloads taken from The Right to Be Safe: Putting an End to Bullying Behavior, by Cricket Meehan.
What the Research Says:
Raising kids to be resilient can lead them to avoid more types of risky behaviors, including bullying. Learn more >>