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Bullying. The “B word”. It is used so frequently today that it has become a challenge for parents and carers and for schools to identify the circumstances that genuinely constitute bullying and those that are one-off inappropriate behaviour choices. This is not to imply that inappropriate one-off behaviour choices are not serious. They also need to be addressed. It is, however, really important to know the difference between what bullying is and what it is not, so that the appropriate responses and strategies can be used.
Let’s get clear about what bullying really is. Before any action can be labelled as bullying, there are three rules to keep in mind. An action is only bullying if each of the three rules is represented.
“A lot of us have done some bullying and didn’t even realise we did it.”
– Dash Mihok
Bullying is about harm.
Playful banter, rude words and silly name calling between friends that causes no harm should not be construed as bullying. Some people may be harmed by certain words and actions when others wouldn’t and so we treat each bullying case separately and seek to determine each time whether any harm has occurred. Bullying upsets people. Bullying annoys people. Bullying diminishes people, and unless there’s harm happening, it really isn’t bullying.
Bullying is repeated.
You can be mean to somebody once. You can be cruel to somebody once. You can even be aggressive to somebody once. But you cannot bully somebody once. Bullying is a repetitive act, where the harm increases or continues over time, and the person experiencing the bullying feels more helpless and powerless. It’s the ongoing and relentless nature of the interactions that leaves those experiencing bullying feeling increasingly less capable of finding a way out for themselves.
Bullying is about power.
Bullying is something that one person can do to another. Bullying is something that one person can do to a group, and bullying is something that a group can do to an isolated individual or another group. In the case of bullying, numbers do not matter. Power does. Those who are bullying others place their own personal status, feelings of superiority and power above the student who is being bullied and try to bring them down. It is not a “fair fight”. One party has more physical or social power than the other.
It is important for parents, carers and schools to be clear and consistent about their definitions of bullying. Once that clarity has been achieved, bullying can be dealt with in a far more focused and effective way.
If you need more information to help you define bullying please have a look on the Bullying. No Way! Website as well as the Office of the eSafety Commissioner website. These websites also provide a range of helpful resources.