Bullying is a serious problem that has led to increased vigilance by parents, teachers, and government officials. While bullying is not a new phenomenon, the era of cell phones and social media has given the problem a new face. Laws have been passed, policies are in place, and statistics are being tracked to measure not only who is bullying, but also who is being bullied.
As a result of the anti-bullying campaigns, victims now have more resources than ever to help them cope and address the problems at hand. Unfortunately, the unintended side effect of these efforts has led to the misuse of the term “bullying.”
StopBullying.gov defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” The acts must be aggressive, ongoing or have a potential to be ongoing, and signify a distinct imbalance of power physically, socially, or otherwise.
Some are quick to apply the term “bullying” when referring to a typical, run-of-the-mill childhood disagreement. A playground spat that ends with one child being called a bad name is not bullying—it’s just a playground argument. If, however, the argument becomes an ongoing affair with escalated behaviors, the case could be made that it is an incident of bullying. Likewise, not getting invited to a birthday party is not necessarily an act of bullying. More often than not, it’s the result of a limited guest list. But too often, an isolated incident causes parents to label a child a “bully,” the whole episode an “act of bullying,” and demand immediate action from schools.
Schools are serious about reducing acts of bullying, and carelessly using the term is generally unhelpful. Adults don’t always get along, and sometimes couples argue; the same applies to children. Bullying is a serious accusation with real consequences. It’s important to make sure that a child’s actions constitute an ongoing threat rather than a one and done childhood disagreement. If it’s an isolated case, it should resolve itself with limited adult intervention. If it’s an ongoing act of bullying that can be documented, the school needs to be notified.