June 17, 2013 by eimrick
As Pastors, parents and teachers, we all need to be sensitive to the topic of bullying. I’m so thankful for people like Susan Fee who specialize in this topic and can be such a great resource for all of us as we try to be caregivers to both bullies as well as those affected by bullies.
Susan Fee is a clinical counselor with Lakeshore Counseling in Brecksville, OH. She specializes in girls’ health and wellness and is the creator of Circle of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. which is a program to teach girls about healthy friendships. Learn more by visiting www.susanfee.com.
Read what she has to say about this important topic.
Imagine the following scenarios:
A boy shoves a classmate in the school hallway.
A girl calls her former best friend “fat.”
A group of kids post on Facebook that a certain student isn’t invited to a party.
Are these cruel acts? Yes. Are they bullying? It depends.
Recently, much attention has been given to the issue of childhood bullying. As a clinical counselor specializing in adolescents, I’ve certainly encountered the issue many times. What I’ve found is that many adults (especially parents) are quick to label all disagreeable behavior as “bullying,” when in fact it’s not.
Without a clear understanding of bullying, it’s possible to that your attempts to help actually hurt the situation even more. Before you can assist a child, you have to be able to recognize the real problem. Below, I’ve outlined definitions and roles of bullying. In a separate posting, I’ll offer appropriate ways to respond.
What is bullying? The definition of bullying is: A repeated pattern of hurtful behavior involving intent to maintain an imbalance of power. There is a lot packed into this last sentence.
First, “a repeated pattern” means that it occurred at least three times or more. That discounts times when kids are randomly rude or mean. The behavior must be consistently targeted. “Behavior” means something specific a child does or says. It’s not bullying to not like someone. “Intent” means the child knowingly behaved in a hurtful way. Some kids are ignorant to the way their behavior affects others and some kids are hyper sensitive and assume everyone “hates” them. “Imbalance of power” means that a child is being oppressed in some way – socially, physically, or emotionally and isn’t equipped to balance the scales. The children involved don’t want to be friends with each other.
What is peer conflict? The definition of peer conflict is: A dispute between two parties with equal social power and skills that are seeking a resolution. Part of growing up is learning how to get along with others. It’s not easy and kids need a lot of practice. I call this social homework. When stories are about friends or former friends fighting, causing hurt feelings, it’s usually peer conflict and needs to be addressed as such. In these conflicts, kids ultimately want to resolve their differences.
What is bullying behavior? Bullying comes in four forms: physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Physical attacks include tripping, shoving, hitting, pinching, or any other unwanted touching. Verbal bullying includes name-calling, teasing, rumors, and unflattering nicknames. Relational bullying is attacking a person’s relationships in order to isolate the child. Tactics include “stealing friends,” the silent treatment, gossiping, exclusion, and mean stares. (Girls rely more on relational bullying than boys (read about that here). Finally, cyber bullying includes gossip, rumors, exclusion, and name calling through electronic means. Due to the possibility of mass exposure with one posting, one incident of cyber bullying can count as a pattern.
What are the roles? In bullying situations, kids fall into one of three roles: bully, target, or bystander. Contrary to popular beliefs, the child who bullies has a high self-esteem and is a leader. He’s very good at getting other kids to do his dirty work. Many times he’s well liked, especially by adults. These kids are actually skilled communicators who can read the crowd fairly well – they unfortunately are using their skills to harm versus help. Kids who bully lack empathy and are quick to blame others or say the target “deserved” to be treated poorly.
Targets fall into their role for several reasons. Sometimes the child is passive, socially awkward, has a disability, is a new student, or is perceived to be different in some way. Other times, the child becomes a target simply because she wasn’t at school one day and suddenly became the butt of jokes.
The majority of students are bystanders who witness bullying but do nothing. Their silence counts as agreement. Yet, many times they don’t become “upstanders” out of fear or lack of knowledge about how to help.
In my next posting, I’ll suggest ways to help students respond to both bullying and peer conflict.