Recently a friend of mine confided in me that his daughter was labeled a “bully” by a fellow student because she was being aggressive on the basketball court.
Today the word bullying is being used so liberally that every disagreement, fight or altercation is being labeled bullying.
There is a difference between bullying and conflict and everyone needs to be educated as to the differences. Bullying is a form of abuse.
Labeling or stereotyping can be a form of bullying. Grouping races or individuals together and making a judgment about them without knowing them, is an example of stereotyping. Labeling a child a bully, a victim or a bystander is oversimplifying a complex issue. The truth of the matter is we have all displayed bullying behavior and all of us have been targets and bystanders at some time. Many kids that display bullying behavior have been targets either in school, on-line or at home. The case of Richard Gale, a twelve year old boy who was body slammed by Casey Haynes comes to mind. The video was captured on a cell phone and then went viral. We see what appears to be a boy standing up to a bully. Further examination reveals a more complex dynamic. My concern is that the current bullying rhetoric will escalate labeling children and increase their aggression. Once a child has been given a label it can follow them their whole life. The more we label a child the more likely he/she will feel that’s what they are and that they can’t change.
One thing is clear. Both boys are hurting, both boys need help and their families are deeply troubled and upset by the incident. When children are involved in a bullying incident we need to make an effort to understand what led up to the incident and the reaction of all parties. Only then can we deal with the situation in a manner to prevent it from happening again.
We can empower children to make the “right choices” by shifting the discussion to the behavior itself and focusing on changing those behaviors. We need to advocate for children by getting them the services they need before their behaviors become lifelong patterns that have life-altering effects.
Utterly Global offers professional development workshops enabling teachers to take a more pragmatic approach to understanding and dealing with bullying behaviors.