Bullying or Just Plain Mean?
Does it Matter?
“Does anyone have an iPad charger I can borrow?” he asked.
“Yes, but not for you,” she quipped.
This brief conversation took place on a Friday afternoon during a class of 9th graders, words spoken in front of all their peers.
Such a simple conversation, yet no hesitation that those words can hurt. The young boy did an immediate about face and left the classroom.
Our school had implemented a new character education program at the beginning of this academic year entitled Rachel’s Challenge. Rachel Scott was an amazing young lady who treated everyone with kindness and knew she would someday have an impact upon the world. Her life ended abruptly when she was the first of several shot and killed in the Columbine School Shooting on April 20, 1999. At the school in which I teach, we have been discussing how words can affect others, how we don’t always see the wound they leave within someone’s heart. During these lessons, students seem to understand the concept. Yet, it’s only theoretical. When they move to their next class, many of the students don’t think before they speak and act. They immediately revert to their own habits of how they treat one another.
There IS a legal definition of bullying.
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power — such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity — to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
Yet, what if the words and actions aren’t necessarily repeated by the same person on a regular basis? Then, this definition doesn’t fit. It’s just considered “mean”. Why be mean? It’s still aggressive. Pain is still inflicted.
Teaching students the importance of kindness, tolerance, and acceptance continually becomes more and more arduous. Our children are bombarded with examples of the opposite…from politicians to protests done inappropriately to “reality” TV to their parents. Yes, their parents and other adults they encounter during their lives. They observe how we handle conflict, how we talk about others, how we behave. They learn by example. Changing the behavior of our youth will be a slow process, yet one that is feasible. Begin with yourself. Don’t rationalize bad behavior. There is always a more apt way to respond. Yes, we may slip up; no one’s perfect. However, we can still model how to remedy the situation instead of letting it remain as is. Let them see us sincerely apologize to another and atone for our words and actions.
Call to Action:
- Think before you speak and act.
- Live mindfully. You are modeling how we want our youth to conduct themselves.