April 2015

A Definition of Bullying

Recently, I read a journal article looking at defining what bullying is. In my opinion, in a world where bullying is a hot topic in schools and in the workplace, it is surprising that the definition of bullying continues to be debated. Some recent scholars came to a general consensus that there is no adequate definition of bullying. One new definition states that “Bullying is a goal-directed behaviour that causes significant harm to another individual in the context of a power imbalance.” The definition shows three key elements that need to be addressed when dealing with bullying: goal-directedness, a power imbalance and harm.

With this redefinition of bullying, harm equals frequency multiplied by intensity. This is a shift in understanding that a single event can be as damaging and as devastating as repetitive bullying.

People bully because they receive some benefit from it. So, why we are not all bullies? We are not all bullies, because we get our successes and benefits in different ways.  Our experiences and opportunities give us the values and positive social interactions that we don’t need the benefits of that come from bullying.

People bully to improve their reputation, to increase their resources or improve their status with the opposite gender. The bully gets what he/she wants so why change? Bullying occurs because the cost of the act is relatively low verses the benefits.  If the costs were raised, then the choice to bullying would decrease. Anti-bullying interventions become more effective when there is a raised cost. Two suggestions are meeting the bully with an assertive response or by telling an adult. These two options raise the cost of bullying, but might not stop the bullying. They both could cause further damage as the stakes are raised. Anti-bullying interventions have to address the goal-seeking of the bully.

Bullying is an intentional act. Care, trust, respect and optimism in the classroom and at home also are intentional acts. In my opinion, we can help change the intentional act of bullying by being intentional in the classroom and the home by working at creating a vision of a “Happy School” or the “Best Home” through a continuity of caring relationships. Writer and scholar Nel Nodding noted that teachers and parents need to attend to and to continuously evaluate both inferred and expressed needs of children. In my opinion, if schools want to eliminate bullying, they have to be invested in community building within the classroom and across the school. I believe that teachers need to change their teaching practices to include student voice and student choice. Community building would also address the important role of the bullying audience/the bystander. I think that in a classroom community in which students share stories with a talking circle or work in class tribes would lead to opportunities for bullying to decrease, because learners would know each other better and would then not condone bullying practices.

Dealing with bullying is not a single act focused on punishment. Both the person who did the harm and the person who was harmed need equal attention by the adults involved and the peers in the school. Both need to be brought back into the community and together explore how to make things right again.

This page can be found at http://kidscorner.reframemedia.com/parents/article/january-2011-parent-article