Bullying Overkill

I've been mulling this post over in my mind for quite some time and have not been sure how to approach this particular topic in a sensitive way while also getting my point across. I guess the best solution is to dive in headfirst and see how it goes.

I know that "Bullying" is the new cause that everyone is getting behind right now. It's the "Just say no" of this decade known as "It gets better". Celebrities, such as Ellen, are campaigning against it, all the TV shows are covering it, the schools are educating parents about it.

I think all this is valid to a point...but can we try not go overboard? Something I've seen in my school, for instance, is that any minor disagreement between students is now being labeled "bullying" and the entire place goes berserk! I think the campaign, with all the media coverage, is beginning to make things worse rather than better.

I, for one, don't want my kids to have to go through childhood without learning how to resolve conflicts with others. I learned lots of valuable life lessons while dealing with kids who would now be labeled as "bullies". I learned how to choose my friends, who to trust, how to stick up for others. I learned not to care what others think, how to be strong, how to stand up for myself. I learned that some kids are irritating and annoying and lack self confidence - and that it wouldn't affect me adversely unless I let it.

I used many of these lessons learned later in the work force when faced with co-workers who were out to use me, walk all over me, or just in it for themselves. I used it to break free of neighborhood cliques and be inclusive through my ability to relate to what it feels like to be an outsider (though I'm still not going to be forced to invite every person to every party I have). I learned everyone isn't going to like me all the time, that sometimes people are selfish, that I can't win them all. And that all of those things are okay. It's called "That's life."

Let's look at the real definition of "Bullying" by Olweus, the leading researcher of bullying behavior:

"A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself."

This definition includes three important components:

1. Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
2. Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
3. Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.

My kid got stabbed in the neck with a fork this school year and I've had to respond to many parents who labeled the perpetrator as a bully. I had to tell them that it was an argument between kids, that it wasn't anything that had been occuring over time, that he wasn't a "bully"! He was a kid who made a really stupid choice.

Now, I'm going to say what I said at this month's PTO meeting...

Sometimes kids are not well behaved. Sometimes kids have conflicts. Sometimes every kid is not going to be friends with every other kid. Let's not jump on the bullying bandwagon so quickly! Let's acknowledge these conflicts and discipline accordingly without jumping into the bullying protocol immediately...please? Because I believe adults labeling kids as "bullies" unnecessarily is kind of ... bully-ish.

Don't misunderstand, I think it is valuable to teach kids not to bully, I just think the excessive coverage has it turning a corner into something else and that real bullying isn't as widespread as the media would have us believe. Feel free to slam me for that opinion.

So, it's Feedback Friday and I need to know...

Do you feel like Bullying is more prevalent and/or dangerous today or do you think it's the same behavior with a different label?

Do you believe that kids can gain something valuable from learning to resolve some conflicts with other kids or should all conflicts be avoided?



  1. I thing that the thing that makes bullying a bigger issue these days is that people are taking it to the internet. It is becoming more than a situation in one location to a situation for potentially a lot of people to see and join in on the bullying. I think that at the younger ages, it is just kids trying to figure out how to deal with conflict. I also feel that if it is not corrected at the younger ages, it can lead to something more aggressive. I think that some kids can deal with bullies without losing self confidence but some kids can not. I think that it should be addressed in schools and not ignored as kids being kids.

  2. I do agree with your post.
    Also, to protect themselves schools are spending millions of dollars on this issue. I also think that this is a negative part of the internet for children.
    Good point in your post about the working world.

  3. I agree with everything you said. Don't ya just wonder how we survived growing up? LOL

  4. What a brilliant post! My own opinion of bullying is when one person makes another person become fearful. I completely agree with you about conflict. Resolvong conflicts when one is young certainly helps to build life skills. I'm not sure how it is now but when my children were in school if they were being "bullied", and in one case my son was bullied to the point of another classmate holding him down and spitting in his face-daily- that escalated to the point of my son not being able to sleep at night because he was frightened; we went to the parent of the offender and told the parent what was going on and the parent put a stop to this immediately. As well as the offender making a very sincere apology to my son. Btw-the offender is now a well known football player and an outstanding citizen.
    Thanks again for your post!

  5. To me, bullying would be more on the lines of singling out a person and attacking them physically and mentally...not the normal playground/locker room agression. Its all in the intent behind it. Kids are going to fight. Kids are going to be stupid. One minute they're enemies, the next best friends.

    Yes, bullying is bad and the cases the media shows are horrible tragic cases. But, we can't keep our children in a bubble. I see friends with near adult children that have no idea how the world works--- everyone wins, everyone's friends, nobody dies. And those kids do silly reckless things, are too good for jobs flipping burgers because obviously they are meant for managment at 17 and have no idea how to navigate through the playing field of life.

    Wow, long comment! As parents we need to be aware, talk openly with our kids about appropriate behavior and problems at school...you know...Be a Parent!

  6. It Gets Better is addressing something very specific. Not bullying. Suicide.

    While I was doing my teaching internship we had 1 suicide an 1 attempt. The following year the school had another suicide. Other schools in the district have also had suicides.

    I don't think we're going overboard when we are standing over dead children.

    It Gets Better is a response to not one but about half a dozen kids who have committed suicide in the last few months because they were bullied for being gay or because people thought they were gay.

    The suicides at my school were done by girls. One of them had been bullied and got beat up the week before. One of the kids said "Why don't you go hang yourself." That was a Friday. On Monday morning, she did.

    The Columbine shooters had been bullied. They responded by getting an arsenal and going to the school to kill everyone. In the end a teacher, several students and the shooters were dead. There's no coming back from dead.

    I think parents need to teach their children it's wrong to tease, torment, pick on or otherwise abuse others. I think it needs to start with the parents not talking crap about others. Especially in front of their kids.

    I don't care how overboard people think it is. I care about not having any more dead kids.

    The coverage, as I said, is not what you're making it to be. The coverage is because there are DEAD kids. It Gets Better is specifically addressing suicide, not bullying. The whole point is to say "Hey, you don't have to end your life. There is a light at the end of the tunnel called school and life really truly does get better."

    What may seem like a small conflict to you might actually be the final straw in the life of a kid who has to deal with conflict after conflict every day until finally they think they can't take any more. What may be something we could handle, as adults, can be devastating to kids. So no, it's not ok to name call. No, children should NOT have to learn to deal with it, that's the problem, saying they need to learn to deal with it. You don't get it. But you're lucky, you haven't had to bury a child after finding them hanging in their bedroom closet.

    I have stood on the front lines. It will never be enough until we stop losing children. And it does get better. Now we need them to see that.

  7. My husband and I are teachers (well, I am home with kids now, but will go back someday) and I LOVED this post.

    Yes, there are bullied.
    But, no, every kid that makes a bad decision and has a conflict with another is not a bully.

    Thanks for being brave enough to put it out there.

  8. I think things are worse for girls. Which sounds a little sexist, but this is my reasoning. With most boys, worst case scenario, somebody's nose gets broken and it's over. Girls, on the other hand, do not stop until their target's life is sufficiently destroyed. It's not a physical fight that can be broken up, and it doesn't even have to happen at school. That used to take at least some time. Now, a quick post on Facebook or an e-mail or a mass text message can get your rumor starting or secret sharing or embarrassing photo advertising off the ground in a few seconds from the comfort of your own home.

    The problem is, of course, that I can't think of a thing teachers could do to stop it, then or now. There wasn't even always a conflict to be solved. Sometimes it happened just because someone decided they didn't like you, for reasons that weren't your fault. For those kids, I do think adults should reach out and reassure that yes, kids can be cruel and your world is a horrible place right now, but that doesn't make you a worthless person and it doesn't mean that you should give up. Some teachers and parents do that naturally, but maybe others need an advertising campaign.

  9. Dear Anonymous,

    This is exactly what I'm talking about. Do you believe every situation should be dealt with as a potential suicidal one? Do you think every conflict should be dealt with as such?

    I think there are areas of gray and that sometimes bullying is bullying and sometimes it's not. I don't believe the solution to bullying is labeling every child as a bully for every little infraction.

    I think the word is overused and it is diluting the real meaning of the word and the very serious situations that kids find themselves in sometimes.

    My point was that people are throwing around the lingo such as "bully" and "it gets better" when it doesn't always apply.

    Your points are valid and I believe you have seen terrible things...but not everything is so terrible.

    Jennifer Juniper

  10. I think with the suicides that have happened it has really hightened the awareness of bullying. These instances were bullying. Like you said something that is happening repeatedly over time. Other instances that happen once in a disagreement are not bullying but just a disagreement. I agree that they are being put into one category and it isn't right. I also agree that lessons can be learned with disagreements and should be left alone to be resolved among the kids.
    Interesting post, it made me think.

  11. I've ran across your blog a few times, and I find it interesting that YOU posted this. The reason that I say that I find it interesting is because you blogged on something that went on with one of YOUR kids, and their teacher, and I thought you were being whiny about it.

    While I do agree that lumping disagreements, fights, and bullying in the same catergory is wrong, I also think there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Which It Gets Better is doing. Like the other person posted, It Gets Better is addressing something very specific. And if you think that the same issues you dealt with as a child, are the same issues that your children will have to deal with, then you are in for a rude awakening. It's a different world out there, and children today are ruthless. Not all, but some...

    So, I guess until it's YOUR child, it doesn't matter, or it's going overboard. *shrug*

  12. I do think it is more prevalent, but I also think the term is overused. And I do think kids need to learn how to resolve the conflicts.

    Part of the problem is that by the time an adult knows to step in then there has been an ongoing problem. It may be the first time anyone that can do something knows about it, but not necessarily the first time something happened.

    I think there is a pretty fine line between bullying and just being a normal kid and doing kid stuff that probably isn't nice, but isn't necessarily mean spirited either.

    My daughter and I had a discussion about this very thing this morning. She told me that her and her friend don't like a boy in class. I told her it was fine to now like someone, but that doesn't give her the right to be mean or talk about him. That she isn't always going to like everyone and that everyone isn't going to always like her, but the important thing was to always be nice and friendly. That being mean is just not acceptable whether you like someone or not.

  13. Oh, it's on? Okay, let's go.

    I defended the person who hurt my son and said he wasn't a bully...maybe you missed that part. I clearly stated that he was a kid who made a stupid decision. Like we all do sometimes - maybe even you?

    That's okay, if you want to see the world as black and white that's up to you. I, personally, don't see the point of labeling every child that has conflicts as bullies (that's all I was saying). It's counterproductive to the message of "it gets better" because not every kid bullies or gets bullied.

    Sometimes conflicts are just conflicts, why waste our energy when we could make a bigger difference to kids who really need it? All it takes is some work on the adults' part to make sure the bullying is really bullying.

    I see the point of "it gets better" and I think it has value, but I don't think adults need to jump all over kids for each little infraction and call it "bullying" and expect that it will lead to suicide.

    Let's use the campaign to provide teachable moments for our kids about the ways to treat other people, not a reason to attach labels. Sometimes overexposure leads people to misuse the lingo and miss the point.

    Oh, and I have the right to "whine" about my kid...It's my blog.

    I'd love to sit and debate this with you further because this is such fun (not), but I'm off on my girl's weekend where I'll bet we'll discuss this very topic.


  14. I really don't agree. I think that kids can be really mean and cruel. If someone were being tortured daily in a job, they could quit and find a new job. A child cannot decide that school is too much to take and leave. If a child is being tortured at school, and speaks up - they've traditionally been told to ignore the student or get a thicker skin, or try to fit in (just ask any kid who has been tormented). So they stop speaking up, because they know a grownup will never help. I watched a girlfriend be tortured every single day in middle school initially because a boy liked her instead of the lead bully. When we spoke up for her, we'd be a co-target for a month or so until eventually we all stood by silently while they cut a piece of her hair, put fish in her locker, sang mean songs about her, and taunted and teased her daily. She was a pretty, happy girl going into 7th grade. When she left middle school, she was changed, haunted. She became promiscuous. I felt like a horrible friend for not being able to stop it, and cried many days when I came home from school and I wasn't even the target. No adult did anything. So, if someone wrongly tells a kid to quit acting like a bully, I don't really have a problem with it.

  15. Exactly, because what you described, P/F, is bullying! I have no problem with stopping bullying - My point is that not every disagreement should be labeled as such!

    Geesh, people, can you really tell me that you believe every disagreement/argument/incident that ever happens between kids is bullying?

    Can you really not acknowledge that sometimes kids are going to have conflict and it isn't actual "bullying"? That all instances of kids not getting along should be treated the same way? Because whether you know it or not, that is what is happening in schools because of the "sky is falling" mentality.

    Bullying should be handled a certain way and other conflicts should be handled a completely different way. That's all I'm saying.

    Let's continue to teach about it but not jump to conclusions on either side of the coin.

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  17. Whoa, I see reading comprehension isn't big around here.

  18. I like the part of the definition you included that said "repeatedly."

    To me there's teasing...and then there's bullying, and I guess, let's not forget there's also poking fun.

    In my school, there was a LOT of teasing. And, there was some serious bullying going on. I was bullied. And, no child or teacher stood up. And, it hurt.

    But, I don't think that all teasing or poking fun is bullying. To me it's the repeated teasing that is the issue. Knowing that every time I would pass that person in the hallway they would reach out - either physically or emotionally - to "get at me."

    Teasing happens. Poking fun is part of life, too and we need to be able to laugh and poke back, if appropriate.

    Bullying is a whole other level to me and needs intervention when it occurs.

    Just my 2 cents :)

  19. First let me just say, that anyone that lashes out while remaining "anonymous" looses all respect.

    Now, I don't know if this has been said, if so...sorry for the repeat.

    My son was the victim of true bullying last year and the year before. I see myself as a pro at dealing with that subject. For years, he was constantly harassed for the simplest of things. I'm a advocate for teaching children about true bullying and putting an end to it.
    That being said...an argument or a disagreement is by no means "bullying" and to even try to end this type of behavior is well...for lack of a better word...ignorant. As adults we are faced with disagreements on a regular basis. It is our job as PARENTS to teach our children how to deal with these road-blocks appropriately.

    I see this "blanket definition" of bullying as yet another example of how our schools are taking the easy way out. It has started to look like it's easier to fall back on things like "zero tolerance" than to actually use your head and evaluate the situation.
    We've all heard the story of the young boy that was suspended from school for bringing a tiny plastic lego gun to school to play with. This was "zero tolerance" at work. Do we REALLY want this to take another step? How can we teach what bullying really is, if our teachers and the staff refuse to address it properly? We can't.

    You're correct, Jen...it is being taken too far...and THIS is from a mom who has dealt with true bullying, "Anonymous."

  20. I agree with those of you who say that bullies are bullies. I also agree that there is a difference between disagreements and bullying. There are so many times that things are overblown by so many. I know that there are those out there that are being bullied, committing suicide, and hurting others by doing so but this world is in danger of crippling our children by not allowing them to learn the skills they need to make it on their own. Life skills are not about blaming others for your problems but for learning how to deal with situations. If you are truly being bullied then speak to someone you trust to help deal with the problem.

  21. I made the first Anonymous comment. I'm locked out of my google account. My name is Danny, and I don't have a blog. Didn't know that would make me "lose" respect.

  22. AMEN SISTER...

    Ok I got that out. Actually my husband and I were talking about this the other day, I 100% agree with you. If it wasn't for "bully's" I wouldn't be so strong today. They teach children to be strong and to stand up for themself, if they don't do it now as kids how will they function under the same condition as adults?

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  24. Danny,
    All you have is a sarcastic dig at a typo? If you weren't the one lashing out, why are you behaving so defensively?

  25. Wow, you really stirred the pot, Jennifer! But surely you knew you'd get some of these very responses.

    I think that the "It gets better" campaign is great and I truly hope that it's reaching and helping the kids that it's meant for. Bullying is horrible and the stories and related suicides that have surfaced recently are absolutely heartbreaking. Real bullying does need to be attacked head-on by the school systems and parents because if it's driving kids to commit suicide, then it's going waaaaaaaay too far.

    BUT I do understand what you're saying. Which is that there is a difference between ACTUAL bullying and a disagreement or situation that is CALLED bullying when it shouldn't be. If any and every infraction is seen as bullying, then the campaign as a whole will lose some of its effectiveness. There is a difference... I get it.

  26. I agree that the bullying label is over used. It should be rendered when it is an ongoing problem and the person being bullied cannot resolve it themselves by using tactics like ignoring or walking away. However, (BTW, mother of five, here). I have seen an increase in violent behavior and really nasty verbal abuse, in these times. There is a real lack of self control and way too much entitled, me, me, me, I am more important. It is the parents who are responsible for teaching their children acceptable behavior in a civilized society. Life always has limits. Many parents in my opinion have become "children centric" in their own lives. Discipline in any form seems to be a no-no. They are very quick to play a defensive role and do not allow children to face the music! Children despite their protests do like limits, it makes them feel safe. They are not old enough to understand the need for self control without being taught. The schools are trying to fill a void that should begin at home. Everyone loses their temper from time to time and children are more stressed now days than ever before. We must resist labeling and giving excuses for bad behavior.
    As an aside, something to ponder...is there a direct correlation between lack of respect for each other and adults/authority and the constant exposure to ads and T.V. that portray adults as fools and the children as the smart ones, saving the day. Think of any sit-com, even the subtle commercials that deliver that message. In my day, children did not get a vote in the family business, they were always considered, but adult decisions were made by the adults and the children went along. Who is running the asylum after all.

  27. Yikes. Whoever said "I guess reading comprehension isn't big around here" made me laugh out loud. I feel like most of you who are attacking Jennifer didn't actually READ FOR UNDERSTANDING her post!

    She is not saying REAL bullying is blown out of proportion. Sheesh people-please read and think before you get all up in arms!

    I don't have kids, so I'm not much of an expert on this issue, but I do know from history we tend to make things a bigger deal than they are when we want to control out of fear, so Jennifer is probably right. At first, I thought, "Maybe it's best that they are going overboard in order to prevent real, heinous bullying, that is leading to suicide, etc."

    However, it isn't fair to the child who gets moody for a second and calls another kid a name one time to be labeled as a "bully" and punished like one.

    There needs to be a middle ground. Even if you see something ONCE, it's probably best to ask questions and probe to make sure it's not a repeat torture instead of the one time you happened to notice. But is there really a need to call in the psychologists, suspend the kid, etc because he had a moody moment and made a bad decision? Talk about screwing up kids for life.

  28. Jennifer,
    I've read about the incident before and was horrified that someone did this to your child. I have mixed emotions on this and I will tell you why. Firstly, kids DO have squabbles. However, we parents have allowed them to have video games where it is okay to stab and shoot people with no consequences. In fact, they receive a reward. Points added to their score. With the lack of social connectivity through the invention of video, texting, tweeting, IMing, etc., we have lost a necessary part of learning how to manage relationships. That is why online dating is so popular. I don't like you. Blip. Goodbye... You're gone forever. Now on the other side, my stepson was a very distraught child. He had no bond with either of his parents because they both used drugs. He put a plastic knife in an envelope and said, "Hey XXXX. This is for you." He gave it to a boy at elementary school. My stepson meant it as a threat. He often broke the heads off of his toys, hung them by ropes, and had many other problems. Today, you can find his website with pictures of people with axes in their hand, chopping stuff. It's very scary. All from a cute little boy that said he wanted me to be his girlfriend when I met his daddy.

  29. I have to say I'm on the fence about this one. It seems, if a huge big deal (whether deservedly so or not) is not made of something, it does not get noticed. If that means lumping bad behaviour in with bullying and teaching kids what they're doing is bordering on bullying behaviour... then I choose to see it as the glass being half full... and hopefully they'll learn to be nice to each other.
    That being said, kids are kids and they are often mean. I try to make sure my son is not one of these mean kids, and I try to teach him to brush it off if he thinks kids are being mean to him.
    As a child, I was bullied. I was picked on, physically and mentally, continually teased about my weight, my ethnicity, my skin, my nose...one kid used to squeeze an orange over my head on the bus or spit or do awful things to me. Later on, when I somehow became more confident, by 6th grade I had an opportuntity to be more "popular" and took it - at the expense of someone else.... in turn, I teased and ridiculed her... I did see the error of my ways, and knew it was wrong even when I was doing it - I was a rational child, and was sure not to repeat that behaviour ever again. So I can't help but think, if something was done, if somehow those horrible kids who were continually picking on me, making me feel small, belittling me.. if they were pulled aside and taught taht it was NOT ON, maybe, things would have been different.

  30. I think it has gone to the extreme because so many of us that were endlessly bulled as kids are now parents. We, that were endlessly bullied while the teachers turned their backs and did nothing even though they had knowledge of it. We do not want our kids to experience the same thing.
    I also feel bullying has become worse with more deaths due to bullies because of the easy access to weapons.

    Sometimes, when you do not cut off the bully at the first sign of meanness, then it gets much worse before anything is done.

    Why can we not prevent rather then waiting for more children to die in order to do something about a bully?

    I get that you are saying that some children have squabbles and they do definitely need to learn to work those things out on their own. But that can be done through words. I'm sorry, but if my child were stabbed with a fork, I would have handled it much differently then you did. Once weapons and that kind of intent is involved, in my opinion, it has escalated to the potential bullying level.

    We take vitamins and eat healthy foods in order to prevent bad things happening to us in the future.

    Why can we not start taking preventive measures to stop children from even becoming bullies at all?

    BTW, this comes from a mother who has a child with disabilities that are not very "visual." His disabilities are definitely ones that he could be made fun of because he is different.

  31. I did read the post, and love your blog. Because I respectfully disagree doesn't make me unable to understand what you are writing. I just think that intervention to prevent a good kid from becoming a bully is much more preferable than trying to figure out what to do with a kid who regularly tortures others for pleasure. I agree with Missy and Natasha in saying that a bully doesn't spontaneously occur, their behavior magnifies over time - where a mean comment or action doesn't get punished, but rewarded with laughter or what they see as vindication.

    I don't think a 'bully' is a horrible person either. I think that they're largely unaware of the damage they're doing to the kid they're bullying. Who wants to be remembered as the school jerk?

    My friend who was bullied was targeted by a specific group of older girls, but over the course of the year many others joined in one or two times only. They did not bully her over the long term, but I'm pretty sure that the culmination of each child's one-time-only exchange with her left a similar impression to the one made by the group of mean girls.

    Even though I disagree with you doesn't mean that I don't like you or your blog, it means that I wanted to contribute honestly to feedback Friday. This is why I think schools have such a hard time making policies in areas like this. It is not usually black and white - but when it gets to a point where it is black and white - we usually wonder why nothing was done earlier.

  32. As a teacher, the professional development I've received about bullying is mostly about focusing not on the "bully" or the "victim" but the bystanders. I have never been told to automatically step in at any point of conflict. I have never been told to tell kids to "just ignore it."

    The aim is to empower kids not only stick up for themselves, but also others. Kids WILL NOT do this naturally. If the bystanders are silent, the "bully" is in power. I teach my students to be vocal and respectfully tell the other person how what they are doing is making them feel. I don't think any campaign against bullying would be against that, would they??

  33. Also, after reading all of the comments, I am surprised at your defensiveness to the opinions of readers that aren't agreeing with you. After all, you have called it feedback Friday and even "feel free to slam me for that opinion."

    And to Krista, "I see this "blanket definition" of bullying as yet another example of how our schools are taking the easy way out." Please don't make blanket statements about school systems, which are made up of many individuals, most of which are selfless individuals. They don't expect your appreciation, but they don't deserve to be blamed for societies problems.

  34. Megan, I'm sure you are aware that "school policy" by definition is a blanket statement made BY said school. I make no such "blanket statement " of my own, I am simply repeating what the school themselves have stated as policy. "Blanket definitions" are dangerous and contradict the teaching process. If you, as a teacher do not follow such policies that are set forth, or follow bad policy without question, that's a whole new can of worms.
    Because I only know what policies are in place for our school and the surrounding districts, I can't judge if your school has such blanket definitions in place.

  35. There is and will always be a problem with bullies. Unfortunately, it happens and has to be dealt with.

    What I get sick of is seeing Justin Bieber all over the news talking about how he stood up to a bully at lazer tag place. Whoopty-freaking-do. And now Demi Lovato has left her tour because she got into a fight with one of the back-up dancers and now says that she was bullied in middle school. What the hell. Oh, and let's not forget the woman I used to work with who contacted a workplace bullying institute to give her advice about a co-worker.

    LOL. Like I said, it's hard to avoid. I think we need to help our children deal with it. But overall, with these celebrities acting like they are - it's almost like it is cool to get bullied and then stand up to it now.


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