Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Is "bullying" the most overused word in schools today?

My pup Brooklyn has a new 'boyfriend' named Gatsby. She watches at the window and if she sees him going for a walk she cries and whines and paces. She loves him. Over Spring Break we were walking and she saw him from afar so she started her happy wiggle dance. Suddenly, Gatsby walked up to another dog and Brooklyn pulled so hard she literally ripped the leash out of my hand leaving one finger so burned and bloody it still hasn't healed. She ran up to the other dog barking and yipping. Was she bullying him? No, but oh my jealousy became her. I have never seen such jealous actions.

Why this story? Well I swear if I have one more parent complaint about "bullying" I might scream. The term bullying has somehow become synonomous with conflict, fighting, and simply not getting along. Friends fight, peers don't always like each other, and yes sometimes bullying does occur. However, when I look at the definition of bullying (is this repeated aggression? is there an imbalance of power? are the feelings from the "victim" different from those of the "aggressor"?) rarely does the reported situation meet the definition. Now, I am not saying bullying isn't a real issue- it is! However, just because two students aren't getting along it doesn't mean that one student is being bullied.

There are so many red flags that go off in my head when a report is made: the student wants to be friends with the so called "bully," they aren't sure it was actually directed at them (especially true in nonverbal situations), the "victim" wants to/is willing to do a mediation with the "bully" (a big no no in real bullying situations),  they have been friends all year and the 'bullying' report comes after they had a big falling out, the so called "bullying" is just now getting reported but we have no examples, cases, documentation, etc. that it's every happened before.

This week I started paying more attention to this phenomena. I realized that students were reporting to me that someone in their class was being a real "bully," but as we discussed it it wasn't so much bullying as a conflict among peers. I think the word has become so overused by adults and students that  my students simply say it without a second thought. As I noticed this I would simply rephrase "what I hear you saying is that you guys aren't getting along" or "sounds like their is some tension between friends right now" and every time they said "yes, that's exactly it."

The term "bully" comes with a lot of baggage. It's a powerful word full of negative connotations and legal ramifications so I think it's vital that we teach students, parents, teachers, and stakeholders what bullying is and what it is not. I think we need to model better phrasing such as "peer conflict, fighting, teasing, etc." so that students are labeled "bullies." It's a word I think we need to use more sparingly. We plaster walls with "anti-bullying" messages. They see the word everywhere, no wonder it's so ingrained in their vocabulary. Instead, I think we should plaster walls with "good friendship skills/good character" so that students can report having trouble with peers and know the important difference. Bullying is important and yes we need to do lessons on reporting it, bystander empowerment, and ending it, but we also need to know and model the difference, we need to distinguish between "lessons on bullying" and "lessons on improving peer relations" so that the term "bullying" doesn't creep into our everyday vocabulary.

So I am off my soap box to share a little newsletter I came up with for my parents. It's two pages of what bullying is, the difference between bullying and fighting, what is teasing, tips and resources for parents. I uploaded it as a google doc for you guys!
Please note that someone page 1 in the pdf is actually page 2 of the handout.
Thanks to 3amTeacher for the amazing frame used in this doc. Check out her TPT store!!

1 comment:

  1. I just stumbled upon this and couldn't agree more! Great ideas!