Is It Bullying Or Is It Just Being Mean?
My 6 year old niece was on the bus traveling to school when a plastic cup hit her on the back of the head.
She turned around and another cup flew past her. A boy she didn’t know was the culprit. She was surprised and embarrassed. We were all upset for her. It was thoughtless and rude, but was it bullying?
Bullying is an epidemic in our schools. We are all very conscious of it. But are we become hypersensitive? Have we gone too far?
Signe Whitson, a child and adolescent therapist, agrees that bullying is a huge problem and it needs to be handled with sensitivity. But she also says we need to be careful not to confuse other behaviour with bullying. She told the Huffington Post: "There is a real need to draw a distinction between behaviour that is rude, behaviour that is mean and behaviour that is characteristic of bullying."
Signe says there are 3 ways that kids can interact in a negative way, and we need to learn the difference.
Being Rude: Inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else. For kids this could mean burping in someone’s face, or jumping in front of them in line. It’s thoughtless and spontaneous but is not premeditated or continuous.
Being Mean: Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone but not on a singled out, continuous basis. This could involve putting down the way someone else dresses or calling them names. This can be very hurtful, but is a one off.
Bullying: Intentionally aggressive behaviour, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can come in many different forms; physical violence, verbal abuse, using friendship or information to blackmail and cyberbullying.
As a therapist she has encountered a lot of bullying and has counseled countless numbers of devastated and frightened children. In saying this, she would like us to recognize the difference between rude and mean behaviour and bullying. "While I always want to be careful not to minimize anyone's experience... if kids and parents improperly classify rudeness and mean behaviour as bullying, whether to simply make conversation or to bring attention to their short-term discomfort, we all run the risk of becoming so sick and tired of hearing the word that this actual life-and-death issue among young people loses its urgency as quickly as it rose to prominence," she told the Huffpost.
Whitson praises parents for taking bullying seriously. She notes the huge improvements in schools in recognising and dealing with bullying.
Now she urges us to make sure we get the facts straight because we don’t want to trivialise bullying, and make it more difficult for adults to listen to kids who are experiencing it. "A child's future may depend on a non-jaded adult's ability to discern between rudeness at the bus stop and life-altering bullying."