What Is Bullying?

Learn how to identify bullying

Girl being bullied by others

When it comes to identifying bullying, it helps to have a clear definition in mind. For instance, not every mean action is bullying. In fact, some people have a tendency to label every rude thing a child says or does as bullying. The danger with this belief is that it can dilute the message about bullying. When that happens, people become immune to the severity of bullying and the problem escalates.

Meanwhile, other people do not realize that there are several types of bullying. As a result, they may believe that only physical aggression constitutes bullying and forget about the other forms such as relational aggression, cyberbullying, verbal bullying and sexual bullying.

When it comes to defining bullying, the best alternative is to look for the three most common components of bullying such as power imbalances, repetitive actions and intentional acts. It’s also important to know what tactics or forms of bullying that bullies use when targeting other people. Here is an overview of what constitutes bullying.

What are the three components of bullying?

Most bullying experts agree that what sets bullying apart from mean behavior is that bullies intend to harm their targets. There is also an imbalance of power and the acts are usually repeated. Bullying is usually not a one-time act but an ongoing pattern of behavior.

Power imbalance. When there is an imbalance of power, it is hard for the target to defend himself against the bully’s attacks. This difference in power can be physical or psychological. For instance, in cases of physical imbalances, the bully may be older, larger or stronger. Or, there may be a gang of bullies targeting the victim.

Meanwhile, psychological imbalances are harder to distinguish. But examples include having a higher social status, a sharper tongue or more influence at school. The result of any power imbalance is that the target of the bullying feels weak, oppressed, threatened and vulnerable.

Repetitive actions. Typically, bullying is not a single act of meanness or rude behavior. Instead, it is usually ongoing and sustained. Bullies often target their victims multiple times. Sometimes the bullying will be the same act over and over like demanding a child’s homework or lunch money. Other times, it will include a variety of actions such as calling the target names, tripping them in the halls and posting mean comments online. Even patterns of relational aggression are repeat over time. This can include excluding a person from activities, posting mean things online, spreading rumors and other subtle methods of emotional bullying. The point is, that kids can say and do mean things, but an isolated incident does not constitute bullying.

A situation becomes bullying when the torment is consistent and happens more than once.

Intentional actions. Another aspect that sets bullying apart from other mean or rude behaviors is that the bully intends to harm the target. Bullies harass other people on purpose. Their behavior is not accidental and it is not a “joke.” There is nothing funny about bullying for the victim. Instead, the consequences of bullying are steep. Victims may feel embarrassed, ashamed, upset, afraid, sad or even angry. Additionally, bullying can become so mean that the target can begin to feel anxious and worry about going to school.

What tactics do bullies use to attack others?

There are many different ways bullies harm other people. But these incidents can be divided into several categories including physical bullying, verbal bullying, relational aggression, sexual bullying, prejudicial bullying and cyberbullying.

Physcial bullying. This form of bullying is often the easiest to identify because it often involves some sort of physical act like hitting, shoving, kicking, destroying property or stealing property. Physical bullying also includes threats of violence as well.

Verbal bullying. Instead of hitting with hands, fists or feet, the bully will hurt another person with words. This type of bullying includes name-calling, insulting, threatening, mocking, intimidating and taunting. Even making racist remarks and sexist comments is considered bullying. For many people, it is hard to distinguish between teasing and bullying. But one good rule of thumb is if the target is not laughing or having fun then it is bullying.

Relational aggression. This type of bullying is insidious and uses relationships to control or hurt another person. Some common tactics of relational aggression including excluding or ostracizing other people, talking behind another person’s back, spreading rumors and lies and participating in gossip. Relational aggression is especially hurtful because it deprives kids of the opportunity to form meaningful connections with their peers – something that is especially important during the tween and teen years.

Cyberbullying. This type of bullying usually takes place off of school grounds by utilizing technology. Some common tools of technology include cell phones, instant messaging, YouTube, social networking, e-mail, chat rooms, blogs and so on. These tools are used as a way to engage in relational aggression and verbal bullying. Bullies insult, harass, spread rumors and impersonate other people. They may even threaten to physically harm other people. The challenge with cyberbullying is that it can take place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And it is done at time anonymously. As a result, the effects of cyberbullying are significant.

Sexual bullying. This type of bullying involves humiliating words and actions that target a person sexually. For instance, slut shaming is relatively common form of sexual bullying. Other examples of sexual bullying include making crude comments, vulgar gestures and propositioning. Even uninvited touching, exposure to pornographic materials and sexual name-calling are considered forms of sexual bullying. In most cases of sexual bullying, it involves boys bullying girls or girls bullying girls. In rare cases, girls will bully boys sexually. For instance, a boy might make a crude comment about a girl's body while a girl might spread rumors about another girl's sexual activity.

Prejudicial bullying. When kids have prejudices over different races, religions or sexual orientations, then prejudicial bullying usually takes place. In these cases kids are targeting another person because they are different in some way. They also may use other tactics to accomplish their goal such as verbal bullying, physical bullying and cyberbullying. While some races, religions and sexual orientations are targeted more than others, it is important to recognize that anyone can be bullied for being different.

How do you spot bullying in your child's life?

When it comes to spotting bullying in your child's life, remember that most kids do not readily talk about bullying. Instead, they keep the details to themselves and try to handle it on their own. Consequently, it is essential that parents be able to identify the warning signs that bullying is taking place.

Some things to look for include changes in mood, eating habits and sleep schedules as well as a loss of interest in normal activities. Many victims of bullying will complain of headaches and stomachaches and  ask to skip school. There also may be a noticeable drop in grades, changes in friendships and missing possessions.

If you notice any of these things, be sure you start a conversation with your child. Then, stop and listen. Let your child do most of the talking and only ask questions if you need to clarify something. Make sure your child knows that you are proud of him for sharing with you. And remind him that it took courage to talk about bullying. Then work together to address the situation including reporting the bullying to the school.

Important reminders about bullying

Remember, bullying can happen to anyone and at any age. It is not just limited to middle school and high school. In fact, many people experience bullying in college and in the workplace.

If your child is experiencing bullying at school or you are experiencing bullying at work, it is important to take steps to bring it an end. Contrary to what some believe, bullying does not go away on its own and it does not make a person stronger. Intervention is needed to resolve the situation and to begin the healing process. But it can be done and soon bullying will be a thing of the past.

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