The Bully Debate: Is all bullying bad?

Bullying had been a hot topic over the past couple of years, not because it has increased in frequency, but awareness in part because of social networking and the digital age.  Kids are not only being bullied at school but now online, where there is a higher likelihood it will be seen by an adult.  With the increase in awareness, are we likely to see a decline in or elimination of bullying in the future?

It is difficult to give a hard guideline on the definition of bullying, which raises the question, “is all bullying bad?”  On one end of the spectrum, bullying may be defined as anything the makes someone else feel bad, the other end of the spectrum may call it bullying only if there is physical harm on a regular basis.  As with any two-sided debate, there is the large gray chasm in between of varying definitions.  Some kids are just naturally able to brush off teasing or ward off physical abuse, but most need some help.  The deeper the bullying hole is dug, the more difficult it will be for a child to get out, possibly leading to a school career-long stigma.

I think everyone can agree that physical threats and harm on a regular basis is definitely bullying.  But, is it bullying when one child teases another on the playground?  Is it bullying when a group of children tease one child?  The answer is not so easy to define.  Children learn at a young age how to deal with situations that may or may not be to his liking.  Learning to deal with difficult people is a life skill that carries on throughout our adult lives.  But, when the situation becomes too intense for a child to handle himself, it becomes bullying, or at least something that requires adult intervention.  Even as adults, when a situation at work becomes too intense, it becomes harassment or bullying and we often need help from outside sources such as the Human Resources department to moderate the situation.  So this is an issue for all ages.  As adults, we know when to ask for help, our children often do not.  Adults can cope to a certain point, but if difficult coworkers are not dealt with, we may show some of the same emotional signs of bullying listed below as well (hopefully not the physical!).  So to answer the question, “is bullying bad?” the answer should be, “it depends on the child or the individual.”

As it should, the answer to the question put a large responsibility on the parent to speak openly with their child and to look for signs of bullying.  If you suspect bullying, then it is imperative to support and talk with him, or you are failing to do your job as a parent.  Intervening at the instance you witness your child in a difficult situation is not good either.  Standing back to see how he handles it is necessary for his growth and offers you a great starting point for discussion.  Of course, if it seems help is needed, by all means, intervene, but with tact.  You don’t want to be seen as coming to his rescue; that will make for more bullying fodder when you’re not there.  Simply call his name and tell him it is time to go home.  That way, you don’t embarrass him and the bully is neutralized without your direct intervention.  Now you have a golden opportunity to discuss what happened.  However, often we are not there as a witness, so we as parents need to recognize some potential signs that your child is being bullied.  Some signs, according to may include:

  • Comes home with torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings
  • Has unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches
  • Has few, if any friends, with whom he or she spends time
  • Seems afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in organized activities with peers (such as clubs)
  • Takes a long, “illogical” route when walking to or from school
  • Has lost interest in school work or suddenly begins to do poorly in school
  • Appears sad, moody, teary, or depressed when he or she comes home
  • Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical ailments
  • Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams
  • Experiences a loss of appetite
  • Appears anxious and suffers from low self-esteem