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Bullying: Complex Problem with No Simple Solution

Could the increase in bullying be something other than an increase in the number of cases?

Bullying is a growing phenomenon that our schools and society must deal with.

The media have focused on bullying recently, in part due to the rise in school violence, cyberbullying and varying responses such as the passage of new laws  in New Jersey.

It is possible that the seemingly larger number of cases could in part be due to an expansion of the definition of bullying. No more is it considered the repeated abuse of one who is less powerful by one that has more power. It now seems to include areas once considered “normal” childhood behaviors. Social exclusion, name calling, teasing, unfriendly behavior and sarcasm are definitely mean and meanspirited but are they in fact bullying?

In an effort to protect our children from toxic behavior, it seems that we are quick to  brand someone a bully, handing out a label that can be hard to overcome.

Sometimes an instance seen as bullying may in fact be behavior that is somewhat developmentally appropriate. It may indicate a lack of impulse control, underdeveloped empathy and poor judgment. However with education and appropriately scaffolded social/emotional development, children can learn how their actions and words have consequences and affect how other children feel. Prevention programs can be a way of helping children to learn that their behaviors have important consequences.

My hope is that we mental health professionals, parents and teachers can facilitate growth and help children to develop more appropriate ways of interacting with one another, rather than simply using the label “bully” without further explanation. This label is hard to overcome and thus many with this label assume the characteristics and continue to engage in these negative behaviors to their and their victims’ detriment. Children should be allowed to make mistakes and learn and grow from them. That is the purpose of education.

The label of “victim” may also not be helpful. Those who are mistreated should also be seen as having the ability to grow and learn how not to be a victim. Children are permitted to make mistakes in math and history—why not in interpersonal relationships? A growth concept should exist rather than a punitive, zero tolerance mindset.

A code of conduct as proposed by Susan Porter in her Independent School Magazine article, “Why Our Approach to Bullying is Bad for Kids” is a good model.  It emphasizes the positive approach and includes principles for students based on supporting the development of children’s well-being and health. This approach includes challenging the community to understand the social and emotional development of children and adolescents.  The school should recognize the physical, psychological and emotional growth and change that comes about through education and development.

Another related issue is the area of socially acceptable bullying. In our society, especially in the sports world, the institution of “hazing” has been tacitly accepted. At the college level, initiation activities in fraternities and sororities are joked about, looked at as a badge of courage, and projected in the media as popular and a natural part of collegiate society. This can make it difficult for children to discern when, where and how certain behaviors are or aren’t malevolent.

As adult role models, I believe it is our responsibility to critically examine both society’s definition of, and our acceptance of, the phenomenon of bullying. Only after that moral assessment will we be able to conjure up a more complex, comprehensive and valid plan to help identify, prevent and eliminate bullying.

To learn more about bullying and other complex issues, please visit our blog!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

g March 08, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Why is it that children who are bullied or sexually harassed never seem to report the bullying or harassment until it is too late. So any school shooting happen because the shooter has been bullied and he can't stop it. Females are forced to fight another student, and unless a video of the fight is taken nobody believes the victim. Why can't all schools have a secured mail box that a student who is bullied or sexually harassed can mail a letter postage free detailing the problem. The letter can be reviewed by the principal, a teacher, a parent , a lawyer,and pastor. A determination can be made to investigate the problem, with the caveat that the child will not be exposed until all persons who review the problem can determine that the problem is true. I think this is a better way than a shooting.
Robert Jamieson March 08, 2013 at 07:13 PM
Ok. Got it. I thought the problem happened at school - not at home.
Robert Jamieson March 08, 2013 at 07:15 PM
That's terrible. I went to school at Eastlake, Brooklawn, and Par Hills and never had any of those experiences myself. I also do not know any friends that did, or was in a class where a teacher said those things.
g March 09, 2013 at 04:12 AM
Bullying in schools seems to start with educators. Why??? An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic. There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators - nearly three for every school day - speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims. Most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can't be proven, and many abusers have several victims.
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