Nothing gets me more upset, than when I hear kids are being bullied.
When it comes to bullying I think there are three important questions:
- What is bullying and what is just "kids being kids"?
- Where and when does it happen?
- What can we do about it?
1. What is bullying and what is just "kids being kids"?
First of all bullying is different than teasing and it's different than abuse. The definitions are shifting with time, but what is definite about bullying is that it's the repetitive targeting of an individual or individuals with some behavior that makes them feel uncomfortable.
It could be something as "innocent" as walking past a student in the aisle, and giving them a little elbow.... over and over and over. That's bullying. It could be something as egregious as inappropriate touching, name-calling and/or teasing in a way that relentlessly and repetitively focuses on the same target over time. That's also bullying.
2. Where and when does bullying happen?
Most often, the bully knows how to slip-in, most often targeting kids in the in-between moments; transitions between classes, recess, lunchtime, dismissal, the bathroom, on the bus, during unsupervised times, and unfortunately, bullies don't keep it reserved for school. Bullying occurs in our communities, in the park, in synagogues, churches, and mosques. And of course, it can occur online in the shadows of social media.
3. What to do about bullying?
OPTION A: Empower the bullied
Too often we turn to the targeted kids - the ones being "bullied" - and we put the onus of responsibility on them. We tell our kids to fight back, speak-up for themselves, ignore... But, often the bullied kids (especially the ones with communication challenges) can't do it. If they could speak-up for themselves, they would. Sometimes, facing a bully can be legitimately challenging, scary and ineffective. And sometimes, it can be more trouble than it''s worth!
OPTION B: Confront the bully
Often the bully is unresponsive to other adults intervention, and too often, even speaking to the parents of the bully is less-than we wish it would be.
OPTION C: Activating the community - adults and young people together
What is proven to be effective is engaging the responsible adults in that space; whether it's teachers at school or people in your community. The shared interest is to ensure that all children are in a safe environment, where all children are safe to grow to learn and to flourish.
There is also another overlooked resource against bullying. That is all the "other kids." Not the ones who are bullying and not the ones being bullied, but all those kids who are watching it happen day-in and day-out. By observing this behavior and standing-by passively, these "other kids" are giving permission and even approval to the bully's behavior!
So, if we engage all the students in class, and the young people in our communities to be "good samaritans" then they play an active part in creating a bully-free environment.