What is the Definition of Bullying?
For more bullying tips, listen to our podcast episode Bullying.
Parents often ask me about how to help their child who is being bullied, about how and when to step in. The first, very important, step is to understand exactly what bullying is, and isn’t. Regardless, behavior that is mean, rude or condescending is never acceptable, whether or not it technically falls into the bullying category.
First, I will cover the definition of bullying, then I will discuss normal conflict you can expect to see during each developmental stage.
In order to be considered bullying, behavior must fulfill 3 criteria. It must be:
- Intentional – meaning intended to hurt or do harm to the other.
- Repeated – the behavior intended to hurt another is perpetuated 2 or more times
- Power Differential – the power differential can take place in 3 different ways
- Numbers – such as 2 or more on 1
- Status – more popular kid targeting the child with special needs or introverted kid
- Physical Size
So if all 3 of these are in place, behavior that is intentional, repeated with a power differential, it is bullying. As opposed to…
Preschool (Ages 0-5)
In preschool, grabbing, biting, pinching, hitting, etc are common behaviors because kids this age are just developing language and social skills. They tend to react when they want something or are unhappy. This doesn’t mean we let them get away with it, but we expect it as we work with them to find better ways of communicating tough emotions. Because hurting another person is never the intention when grabbing the truck, or even hitting out of anger, it cannot be considered bullying at this age.
Elementary (Ages 5-10)
In elementary ages boys tend to be more physical in both play and even in working out conflict. Again, this doesn’t mean that hitting someone to resolve differences should be accepted. But it also doesn’t mean that if your kid comes home with a black eye, that you can automatically assume he’s being bullied. It means working with your child to learn about what is happening. Also keep in mind, that it is VERY common for kids to say whatever they need to keep from getting in trouble. Learn how to inquire without any leading questions. I give very detailed instructions on how to do to this in the class on bullying. I also cover exactly what to do, if you learn your child is, in fact, being bullied.
For both boys and girls, serial best friends are common, which means one child feeling excluded is very commonplace. We need to work with kids on how to be more inclusive, especially while they are at school and teach them empathy about what it feels like to be excluded. Bullying comes in to the equation socially when a group of 2 or more are purposefully excluding another, discussing events the other is not invited to in front of the excludee (is that a word?!) and/or name calling, insulting, or teasing the one left out. This is bullying and needs to be dealt with swiftly. For more on how to do this and empower your child, see the class on bullying.
Also because during these years, kids are developing their own interests and opinions that can vary from their peers, conflicts and disagreements can often arise around movies, sports, pop culture and more.
Middle School (Ages 11-13)
In middle school feelings of belonging are very important. At the same time, interests are changing. So kids who were close all through elementary may deal with some growing pains as they find their interests are pulling them to new friendships and groups. Lastly, conflicts can arise around the mixing of romantic feelings and friendship, either by attraction to a friend and not knowing how to handle it, or two friends interested in the same person romantically.
High School (Ages 14-17)
In the high school years, kids become more introspective about who they are, their beliefs, values and morals and how they want to make their mark in the world, so internal conflict becomes more common. Also, because of these internal thoughts and feelings, and many times testing the boundaries against the family/societal/cultural belief systems, as well as the increased development of independence, these often result in teen-parent, teen-teen and teen-teacher conflicts.
Lastly, because technology is so common in everyone’s but especially teens’ lives, conflict can easily arise over miscommunication on texting or social media.