Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is bullying always bullying?

I have no doubts: bullying is a bad thing.

But, kids are mean. Kids don’t know how to deal with the other kid who is ‘different’, and ‘different’ kids get picked on. 

Understand where I’m coming from. I grew up as the ‘different’ kid: a bit socially-awkward, a bit un-sporty, a lot nerdy. Low fruit for mean kids, and for the kids who need to make themselves look good by making others look worse. But, the only time I’ve ever considered myself ‘bullied’ is in the workplace, as an adult.  Many other kids probably had a similar experience to me through school, and learnt that sticks and stones may break my bones, but words leave deep scars, making you question your worth well into adulthood when the things that once made you ‘weird’ now may even make you the envy of the ‘normal’. 

Here is my question: is there a difference between bullying and kids being mean? 

If there is, what’s the difference? If we label all acts of kids being mean as bullying, do some kids end up more victimised: not only are they taunted by their peers, they are now labeled as ‘bullied’ by the grown ups.  But if we blanket say that most ‘bullying’ is just kids being mean, then do the genuine bullies - the ones that seek out weak kids to make fun of - get away with it more easily.  And if we say that kids are just mean, are we implying that it’s okay, it’s just a part of growing up, and ignore the kids on the receiving end?

If there is a difference - and I think there probably is - we need a different approach to dealing with the bully as we do with dealing with the kids who are mean. And whether there is a difference or not, dealing with bullying can’t be just left up to the schools. It needs to start at home. We need to teach our children to be resilient, confident and respectful of differences. (I also like to remind my son that he doesn’t have to be friends with the dominant personalities that like to call the shots, often at his expense: there’s plenty of nice kids at school to play with!)  Not that schools have no responsibility, but, like most things, schools, parents and students need to work together to make it work. 

What do you think?  (Feel free to disagree!) 


  1. I think there's definitely a difference between a 'bully' and a kid who is having a rude/mean/grumpy day. All kids at some point are going to be mean to someone else. Bullying is when it becomes more serious - there's intent and a desire to hurt someone in particular. It's more than a one off, it's more than a naughty day. Parents and schools should be working together to resolve both.

  2. "is there a difference between bullying and kids being mean?"

    Absolutely. Bullying involves an imbalance of power, with someone in a position of higher power abusing that to habitually intimidate, coerce, threaten and harass the person in the lower position. This isn't necessarily a physical position of power (like a big burly kid bullying little skinny kids) or even immediately obvious (not necessarily a boss bullying his subordinates) - all kinds of different things can give someone power over another person.

    I think you get kids being mean more frequently than you get actual bullies. Children sometimes don't even realise they've done or said something mean, or they do it in a moment of anger or jealousy. Or something else has happened in their life which has put them in a bad mood and they take it out on those around them that day. But normally once they are corrected, or have gone away and calmed down, they will apologise and at least stop being mean, even be friends. It's enormously different to bullying.

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  4. I think there's a difference between bullying and reacting. When I was told Adrian had hit a boy with his lunch box, at first it was made out to me that Adrian had just done it, and does it quite a lot. It was when the teacher realised I take that very seriously that she finally told me the other boy had started the fight. And while that doesn't mean it's ok for Adrian to do what he did, it certainly does change his behaviour from bullying to reacting badly.

    But, whenever it is started, I do believe it's bullying. Even the smallest act of a kid being mean, to me, is bullying. That's how it all starts. Now I'm not saying that that makes every kid a "Bully" because they could have just been having a rough day and it was out of character, but the act itself was still an act of bullying. A "Bully" would continue that behaviour, and let that behaviour mould his or her personality. I believe bullying and a "Bully" are two different things. Like if one of my children took a packet of chewing gum because they're still trying to control their urges and it was a once off and they felt horrible about it, they still stole something, but I wouldn't label them a "Thief". I hope I'm making sense????

  5. If you're wondering why I deleted the comment, only to post it again, it's because I just read it and realised I used their instead of they're at one point. I'm no English professor, but I just couldn't let it slide :)