Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:
- An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
- Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
I have very few regrets in my life. But one I have spent a lot of time thinking about is how I bullied a couple of kids when I was in elementary school. They were really nice, benign, sweet kids who everyone picked on, and I was no exception. I’m not sure why these types of kids got picked on. Maybe we sensed weakness somehow and then went in for the kill. I read the disturbing book Lord of the Flies in high school- it’s very primitive behavior.
We girls had lots of ways of doing it. Exclusion, teasing, hair-pulling, name-calling. One vicious bullying method was called a Slam Book- a common composition notebook with each of our names on a page. The notebook belonged to all of us girls and we wrote nice things or horrible things about each other, depending on which side we were on. I remember checking my page every day to see what people had written, and I remember writing some pretty mean things.
Bullying is not limited to children, unfortunately. I was a target as a new teacher in one of the districts where I worked. A group of teachers would stand in front of my room and invite each other to lunch, leaving me out. The same group would sit in the teachers’ lounge and loudly discuss how much fun they all had together skiing or at the bar. Once, my lunch bag was taken out of the refrigerator and thrown into the garbage. It was unbelievable, a ridiculous nightmare, and my husband, as well as the principal and even the superintendent of the district became involved. I wound up leaving the building for this and other reasons. And of course, in the news we read about incredible things like moms getting involved in Facebook bullying (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3882520&page=1#.UCpD8J38uSo) and (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/06/mom-chokes-bully-over-facebook-comments/). I personally witnessed a father choking a fifth grader at morning line-up because his son was being bullied by this other child. We have had meetings with parents and kids, also fifth graders, over cyberbullying since AIM instant messenger was popular, well over ten years ago.
Because of this, I am brutal on bullying in my classroom; pretty much like a reformed cigarette smoker. I had a “No Bully Zone” sign on my door when I taught third and fifth grade. The smallest hint of teasing or exclusion, even in kindergarten, will lead to a class meeting and a private chat. If someone says, “Can I play?” the answer must always be “yes”. I tell the kids you don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you have to be friendly to everyone. I wish adults followed this rule too. I want to think that if someone had stepped in back then, maybe I would have realized how wrong it was, and I would have stopped. Maybe. I have to wonder if bullying is almost a Darwinian thing- I believe canines in the wild, as well as other social species, use bullying to establish a pecking order. Still, we are supposed to be better than that.