What is Bullying Anyway?

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Natalie Wright, P.C.
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School districts across the country are struggling with how to stop bullying in the wake of the teens who have committed suicide after being bullied.  My daughter’s school district has undertaken
that task and this year sent home information specific to bullying.  They are taking it seriously, as they should,
and I applaud the school for adopting a zero tolerance of bullying. 
But the new policy sent home with my third grader made me
question:  What is bullying anyway?
For me the classic image of the school bully is the kid that pushes other kids around whether by physical intimidation or verbal threats or
insults.  The bully isn’t always the
largest kid in the class, but the bully is someone who gets their way through threats, intimidation and fear.
That’s what I thought bullying was.
Here’s what my daughter’s school sent home about bullying:
“Students who name call, exclude
others
, tease, and/or become physical towards another student will be
written up and [the Principal] will review the situation.”  (emphasis added)
It’s that word “exclude” that caught my attention.  At first blush you may say of course,
excluding is wrong and can lead to hurt feelings so we should ban it.  But here’s my question:  Are hurt feelings or feelings of being left
out the same as bullying?
Please understand that I’m not insensitive to hurt
feelings.  I was a geeky nerd kid with
red hair – I experienced a lot of hurt feelings in my childhood.  But was it bullying for a particular girl
clique that I wanted to be a part of to say “we don’t want to play with you?”
Kids, especially very young children, have virtually no
choices in life.  Their parents and their
school decide just about everything for them. 
Even for teenagers there is a lack of freedom.  Should kids be free to choose who they play
with on the playground and who they eat lunch with and who they hang out with?
Or am I being naïve? 
With the advent of social media, I know that things have changed for
kids and now bullies, especially girl bullies, have the entire Internet and
social media web to use for their bullying. 
Have things changed so much that we must quash freedom of choice in who
we spend our time with in order to protect kids from hurt that can lead to
emotional problems and suicide?
Here’s how the Oxford American Dictionary, 2010, defines
“bully:”
n. A person who frightens or
persecutes weaker people
          v. Frighten
or persecute a weaker person
Synonyms are: 
persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, tormentor, intimidator, thug
This definition fits with how I’ve always defined a
bully.  When you imagine a bully, do
these words fit your image?
I’ve been a divorce lawyer and mediator for sixteen years
and unfortunately my work has brought me into contact with domestic violence
issues.  Domestic abusers are bullies.  Whether the abuser is a man or woman (yes,
women sometimes are the abusers though not as often as men), they use their
fists or their words (usually both) to intimidate and oppress.  Put downs and insults are the abuser’s daily
bread and butter, used to weaken the other person’s self-esteem and
resolve.  The physical violence seals the
deal so to speak and shows the other person “see, I’m stronger than you and I
can get and do what I want.”
It is my belief that bullies are made in their homes where
they likely observe bullying behavior by one or both parents.  The bully then hones their craft on the
playground, in the lunchroom, and in the corridors of the school.  By the time the bully reaches high school, he
or she has likely been bullying since pre-school and knows how to
work the system to their favor.  In fact,
I can foresee the bully using the “no exclusion” policy to bully someone into playing with them so they can bully them some more!
Bullying is very serious. 
My concern is that if we water down and broaden the definition too much it will become meaningless.  Getting
your feelings hurt because you didn’t get invited to a party sucks and dealing
with mean girls can leave a scar.  But
when someone engages in a campaign of constant insults, put downs, threats,
and/or verbal or physical intimidation is different.  The latter is bullying. Is the former bullying?
It’s no fun to be excluded by the bitchy, mean, exclusive
girls.  But are mean girls automatically
bullies?  Is it their exclusion that’s
the problem?  Or how they go about it?
Lets get some conversation going about this important
topic.  What do you think?
Is excluding bullying? 
Has bullying changed?  Do we need
to broaden the definition to encompass new forms of bullying?
Have you been bullied in your life?  How do you define bullying?
If you’re still in school, do you agree with the new
policies on bullying?  Do you think
bullying is a problem and if so, how do we fix it?

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