Teasing, Bullying and Conflict
by Dawn Barber, K-7 Counselor
Often you will hear these words used together when discussing problems among school children but the words are not interchangeable and actually have very different meanings. The biggest difference has to do with the balance of power.
Conflict occurs between two people on fairly equal footing. Each person contributes to the problem and to the solution.
Teasing is also usually a two-way street in which both parties are taking and dishing out. Many times our children will come home from school and complain of being teased, "Suzy said I was dumb." As parents, our protective instincts kick in immediately. We want to run over to Suzy's house and confront her parents or call the school and demand that something be done about what we perceive as bullying. Often times we fail to get the other side of the story, which is that our little Johnny called Suzy "a loser" in that same scenario. Suzy and Johnny are on equal ground. In this situation, both Johnny and Suzy need to learn about respect and empathy. They also need to learn strategies to deal with teasing rather than just biting back.
Bullying occurs when there is an imbalance of power. The more powerful person uses his/her power to hurt or control another person. Bullying is deliberate, often repeated behavior intended to harm others. It can include physical aggression, verbal taunts, put-downs and name-calling as well as intimidation, and exclusion from the peer group. This last tactic is often seen among girls. The consequences of this type of relational aggression can be dire as seen in recent national news stories.
Why Should We Care?
ØChildren involved in bullying (bullies and victims) are at risk for a variety of interpersonal relationship, behavioral, and mental health problems. (Vossekuil et al., 2002)
ØBullying creates a hostile school environment, violates the rights of students, is a gateway act of violence, and can generate serious and costly consequences for a school community. (The California School/Law Enforcement Partnership, 2009)
ØBullies are more likely to skip school, drop out of school, smoke, drink alcohol, get into fights and be arrested at some point in their life. (Love Our Children USA, 2008)
ØIt is estimated that as many as 160,000 students nationwide stay home on any given day because they are afraid of their bullies. When they do come to school they may experience anxiety, depression, loneliness, fear, physical illness or suicidal thoughts. (Love Our Children USA, 2008)
So, while school districts are forced to cut back in staffing and resources and focus on teaching core academics, there are students who are sitting in classrooms unable to learn due to school bullying. Anxiety causes a "fight or flight" stress response in which non-critical information is tuned out and the student is less able to use "higher order" thinking skills.
What Can We Do?
Research shows that a strong bond with school is the
single most effective factor in bullying prevention!
Programs that provide praise for positive behaviors and teach character traits such as empathy and respect are integral elements that districts must find creative ways to continue funding along with ongoing training for all staff. This includes support staff, often the first-responders in bullying incidents. Time needs to be carved out of the day to talk about bullying with students. This includes encouraging bystanders to report incidents and supporting victims and bullies with individual help.
Creating a positive school culture does not happen overnight and requires the support of all stakeholders including school board, administration, staff, parents and community business partners. A basic bullying policy must be enforced consistently at school and parental support for school policy is critical when Johnny or Suzy receive a consequence for bullying behaviors.
Recently, some parents in South Hadley, Massachusetts have blamed the local high school for the tragic death of 15-year old Phoebe Prince who was experiencing relentless taunting and physical threats at the hands of her classmates. You have probably heard the old adage, "It takes a village to raise a child." It is beneficial to consider that quote when contemplating that bullying at school is not solely a school problem. It truly takes our combined communities of Almond-Bancroft to demonstrate to our children that bullying will not be tolerated in our schools.
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Bonnie Jean Wasmund