Friday, April 13, 2012

Are We Even Clear On What Bullying Is?

No Bullying sign - School in Racine, Wisconsin
No Bullying sign - School in Racine, WI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For a long time I have been hesitant to share my thoughts on bullying for fear of being viewed as insensitive on the issue or looked upon as someone who does not take alleged bullying incidents seriously. But after writing some initial thoughts on bullying earlier in the week, a Wall Street Journal article by Danah Boyd, a research fellow at the Born This Way Foundation and senior researcher at Microsoft Research, has clarified some critical points that must be addressed if we plan on making serious headway on this issue.

First and foremost is the fact that we call many things bullying that really do not qualify as such. Boyd's piece sums this up as follows:
"Not all meanness and cruelty is bullying: Bullying refers to repeated psychological, social and physical aggression propagated by those who are more physically or socially powerful. Addressing the role of power is critical to combating bullying. Different strategies are needed to curb other types of meanness and cruelty, but it’s also important not to overreact.  Some forms of teasing, pranking and drama are perfectly healthy, even if they look troublesome from the outside."
The piece also touches upon an important point from my post early in the week surrounding the fact that we need to ask ourselves why someone is a bully. Students (or adults) who bully are usually dealing with their own issues.  In addition, it also hits a sensitive area that we are unwilling to discuss following the tragic suicide of an individual who was being victimized by a bully.
"All too often, mental-health issues, struggles to fit in, parental pressure and a culture of intolerance create a deadly combination. Rather than looking for people to blame, it’s important to look for root causes and work to address those. The blame game does little to stop the cycle of violence."
Finally, the issue that we all need to talk about is the fact that this bullying culture is really a product of some larger societal issues. We need to have serious community discussions about respect and tolerance and how healthy adults go about dealing with differences of opinion.  If we cannot agree with Boyd's concluding statement in the article then we do not really have a reason to be optimistic that we can make headway in creating healthier schools and communities for our children.
"...bullying is not just a youth problem. If we want to help young people, we need to put an end to adult meanness and cruelty and take responsibility for how we perpetuate problematic values and intolerance. We cannot expect youth to treat each other kindly when we accept politicians berating each other for sport, parents talking behind their neighbors’ backs, and reality TV stars becoming famous for treating each other horribly. If we want to create a kinder, braver world, we must collectively work to develop compassion, empathy and respect."

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  1. I recently saw a slogan on a billboard as I was driving by, "Be kind and compassionate to one another. Start an epidemic." It quickly caught my attention. What a great enduring message!!

  2. I think this is why I get in arguments about how to deal with bullies. I want them off campus. If they have problems deal with them at another facility until the bully is ready for polite society.

    People think I'm awful and harsh until we actually talk about what is bullying. My definition was formed by what happened to me.

    1. Being threatened regularly, and at the end nearly daily with rape. Graphic descriptions that I was too young and too sheltered to understand beyond the fear. (In 6th grade we had a rape prevention/health/safety lesson one of the girls I went to elementary with blurted out that is what Bully kept saying he is going to do to us. The teacher walked to the door locked it, and asked where bully was now. She was the first staff member to ever take his threats seriously without my parents threatening a lawsuit. He had moved to a private school because my parents were mean and pressed charges).

    2. Being beaten up regularly - to the point where my doctor was about to pick up the phone and report my PARENTS for abuse. He thought they were the ones hitting me. Due to a skin condition I don't get the normal discoloration with a bruise.

    3. Being told by adults it was MY fault. In 3rd grade he actually turned around and hit me with a fist in my face sending me sprawling across the floor. The teacher told me I shouldn't have annoyed him by "breathing so loud" I was having an asthma attack. Oh and I was punished for making a fuss and disrupting class. When my parents realized the extent of the abuse and got legal help (5th grade), Dad was told by a school board member "Well if Kimberly didn't enjoy getting beat up, she wouldn't provoke bully into hitting her."

    So the last 2 years - I've been furious at my administration, because they put the needs of 2 bullies ahead of the needs of the rest of the students. The bullies need help - they were abused. That shouldn't mean they get to abuse the students in their class. Penning girls against the walls and graphically describing how they were going to rape the girls. Threatening to break into boys houses and make the boys watch the bully rape the boys' moms.

    Those kids needed to be put somewhere they could get help and not harm anyone else. My head exploded when my principal said "It is just words,"

    The bullies never got real help. I am sure one day their victims will wake up and read that their bully has raped someone/maybe killed them. I did. I'm glad he is in jail - but how many people could have been saved pain if he had been helped when it all started - in kindergarten.

  3. Thank you for your post.

    As a parent, educator, anti-bullying activist and the person who first coined the term "cyberbullying", I would like to share four Websites I have created that seek to prevent bullying through education and awareness. I hope that they may be of help, information and support to others.
    The world's most visited and referenced Website about bullying
    The world's first Website about cyberbullying
    Offering Professional research-based, online courses and Webinars about bullying and cyberbullying for educators and parents
    The official Website of the annual Bullying Awareness Week

    I hope that these educational resources may prove helpful to you and your learning community.


    Bill Belsey

    "Where you are NOT alone!"


    Follow us on Twitter: @Bullying_org