Bullying Takes Many Forms

A commentary on the forms of bullying

I (#blog, #blogger, #YA, #authors, #somseason) stumbled upon an article, Bullying can happen in many different forms, which made me reflect on my life. The article says that most people accept physical bullying (punching, pushing) as bullying (#antibullying, #bullying), but that other forms of bullying are not as wildly accepted as bullying. In my recent post, Why do Things Have to be Complicated? I suggested that we make the definition for bullying simple, suggesting;  “If someone feels unsafe or threatened by another, then they are being bullied.”  Now I think I should expand that definition to read: “If someone feels unsafe, threatened, rejected, or inferior because of another, then they are being bullied.” The article lists some kinds of bullying as:

  1. Verbal (name-calling)
  2. Physical (punching, pushing)
  3. Social (leaving someone out of a game or group on purpose)
  4. Extortion (stealing someone’s money or toys)
  5. Cyberbullying (using computers, the Internet, mobile phones, etc. to bully others)

The article says all forms of bullying are harmful, but argues verbal bullying, which includes name-calling, is the most common type of bullying. I would have to agree. Never have I had a school yard supervision without some little person running up to me saying, “____called me a ____” You fill in the blanks. Social bullying was also a common occurrence as little ones often came up to me while on supervision saying, “____won’t play with me.”

This article provides an interesting fact (although it gives no reference as to where the fact came from). The article claims, “bullying happens to someone in Canada every seven minutes on the playground.” For the author talks for my book, A Shattered New Start, I use a PREVNet statistic, which is a Canadian authority on bullying research, who say, “75% of people say they have been affected by bullying.” I suspect that number is even higher. The point is, bullying is epidemic.

Another fact the article mentions is; “Other kids are watching 85% of the time when one kid bullies another kid. Adults, like teachers or parents, hardly ever see a bully being mean to someone else.” This is true. Kids are always watching whether you are aware of it or not. For my author talks, I use some stats provided by the Canadian Red Cross, who say; “Over half of bullied children do not report being bullied to a teacher,” and “71% of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems; but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene.” The latter stat is concerning.  The truth is, kids perceive teachers as ‘not caring’ or ‘turning a blind eye.” From my experience of a 35-year veteran retired teacher, I don’t believe that is true. It is more likely teachers don’t see the bullying happening. We only hear about it after the incident.

In my last post, I Want to Know, I solicited bullying stories, and I am still doing that. I offered a free promo code to the first 15 people who sent me their bullying story, and in return they could download a digital version of my book, A Shattered New Start, from the  iTunes bookstore. My email is: authorkjsom@gmail.com. The codes are valid until June 1st, so you need to hurry. Since I am asking to hear other people’s bullying stories, it is only fair that I share more of mine, so here goes.

Have I ever been the recipient of verbal bullying?  You bet, even as a teacher. I have been told to, pardon my language, “fuck off,” a few times as a teacher.  Probably the time that stands out most was during my second or third year as a ‘rookie teacher.’  I received in the mail—it was snail mail in those days—a hand written letter from a student, or maybe a group of students, telling me to quit teaching. The author(s) of the letter called me some unkind names. As an insecure ‘rookie teacher,’ that was a blow to the self-esteem. I felt unsafe, threatened, and rejected because of this letter. What might these kids do next, and in fact, my vehicle was “keyed” (scratched by a key) or vandalized around that time, so for all I know it was the same kids.

That letter bothered me for a long time, but I accepted it was kids being kids. As the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says,

Adolescents differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions. Teenagers occasionally behave in an impulsive, irrational, or dangerous way…[they] don’t think things through or fully consider the consequences of their actions.” That doesn’t make the bullying okay, but it makes it understandable.

A home-schooling friend of ours, who recently read my book, A Shattered New Start, told me that it never occurred to her that a teacher might feel frightened by a student. I have on many occasions. My daughter, who is also a teacher, told me she has as well, and she teaches kindergarteners and grade ones. Students can be intimidating.

Have I ever been the recipient of physical bullying?  You bet. I remember in elementary school—don’t remember what grade I was in—my brother and I were walking home from school. We lived in a small town, so we had to walk to and from school. One of the town bullies was harassing my brother and I, calling us names, etc. What I remember most is the bully taking snow and rubbing it into our faces. My brother and I were scared as the bully was bigger than either of us. It was a humiliating and upsetting experience. We definitely felt unsafe and threatened by this bully.

Have I ever been the recipient of social bullying? You bet, as a non-athletic person. All throughout school, in gym class, I was always one of the last kids to be picked for a team. You remember those times because you feel unwanted and rejected. I felt inferior thinking I was not good enough to play on a team.

Have I ever bullied? I am sad to say, yes.  As a teacher, I once strapped a student. In the early part of my career, corporal punishment was the norm.  I hated it. Inflicting pain on a student felt awful.  The belief was, if you inflicted physical punishment on a kid, it would be a deterrent; ensuring they would never commit the infraction again. It seldom worked though.    I only ever did it once because it was such an unpleasant experience. There was nothing about being a bully—in my case, carrying out corporal punishment—that felt good.

So, there you have it; some more of my experiences with bullying. Please, please send me some of your bullying experiences, and don’t leave out your feelings. If you are kind enough to share your bullying experience, you’ll receive a free promo code to download a digital version of my book, A Shattered New Start, from the iTunes bookstore, but hurry, as the codes expire June 1st.

Email me at: authorkjsom@gmail.com.

Why do Things Have to be Complicated?

A commentary about what bullying is.

Adam Davies is a former member of Nova Scotia’s Chignecto-Central Regional School Board who writes commentaries. His editorial: Is the word bullying misunderstood? published in the Halifax, Nova Scotia’s (NS) Chronicle Herald asks the question: Is the word bullying maligned, misunderstood or meaningless? This is a valid question. If you google the definition of bullying on the Internet, you get 184 million hits. That is a lot of definitions, and they do vary greatly. Two people can witness the same incident, and one might say it was bullying (#antibullying, #bullying) and the other it was not. Why? Because each has a different definition of bullying.

Mr. Davies says;

Many of us know a textbook definition of the word, such as this from the provincial school code of conduct: ‘Bullying means behaviour, typically repeated, that is intended to cause or should be known to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, exclusion, distress or other harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property, and can be direct or indirect, and includes assisting or encouraging the behaviour in any way.’

However, he argues that definitions leave gaps. For example, Mr. Davies argues some bullying is dismissed as teasing or horseplay. “Clearly, bullying only means what we want it to mean,” he says. In his editorial, Mr. Davies refers to an incident that occurred in a NS High School. A CTV News report, Several students suspended after alleged assault at Cape Breton high school, describes the incident that Mr. Davies is referring to. It also has an edited video of the disturbing incident, which was a violent incident at the NS high school that was circulated on social media. It shows a grade 9 student being attacked by another student who literally throws the grade nine student across the locker room. The attacked student was hurt in the incident.

The author of the editorial argues that many news reports described the incident as an alleged assault but there were others who described it as bullying. Yahoo News’s headline, Assault caught on video at Cape Breton high school, calls it an assault, while the Halifax Chronicle Herald’s headline, Bullying incident in Coxheath shines light on complex issue, calls it bullying. So, the question is: Was it bullying or was it an assault? It’s both. An assault is a physical attack, and that clearly happened in the NS incident.

Before COVID-19, I (#blog, #blogger, #YA, #authors, #somseason) gave author talks for my book, A Shattered New Start. In that talk, I used a definition for bullying from Bullying Reporting and Prevention (BRIM), a company that develops Anti-Bullying Software. Their definition is designed for children, which is why I used it, and it says, “Bullying is when you keep picking on someone because you think you’re cooler, smarter, stronger or better than them.” Writing a post about the definition of bullying has made me realize even that definition is lacking. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) define bullying “as when there is an imbalance of power; where someone purposely and repeatedly says or does hurtful things to someone else.” Many definitions of bullying say to be bullying, it must happen more than once. The news reports fail to report whether the NS boy was repeatedly assaulted either physically (using your body or objects to cause harm), verbally (using words to hurt someone), or socially (using your friends and relationships to hurt someone). Based on my experience with school bullying, and using definitions like Oxford’s definition, “seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable,” which makes no reference to repetition, the NS youth was definitely bullied.

Mr. Davies sites a 2019 research study on student well-being and experiences at school which was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Their report, based on survey data from more than 54,000 students in Grades 4 to 12, did not use the terms bullying or bullying behaviour. Instead, students were asked if they felt unsafe or threatened at school within the past month. According to the survey, 19% of students felt unsafe or threatened at school, with 35% for students with physical disabilities, and 36% for those who identified as LGBTQ. The survey revealed that students were most worried about gossip, pranks and being left out by their friends and peers. Most disturbing to me was 61% of students surveyed reported feeling physically threatened and about half of those surveyed were concerned about cyber threats, including online gossip, hurtful messages and the spread of inappropriate photos.

The survey on student well-being and experiences at school reveals a lot of other things about school life, but the fact that 19%, or approximately one in five students, feel unsafe at school is alarming.

The Canadian Red Cross has a simple definition of bullying. It says, “bullying is a form of aggression where there is a power imbalance; the person doing the bullying has power over the person being victimized.” That is a good definition because it is simple, yet it encapsulates what bullying is. Perhaps there is an even a simpler definition of bullying? Maybe bullying should be defined as when a person is made to feel threatened or unsafe by another person. It’s simple, yet says what bullying is all about.

Bullying typically is defined by three elements: aggression, a power differential, and repetition. I have a problem with the repetition part. If a person feels threatened or unsafe, because of another person, even one time, then in my view, bullying has occurred. Under no circumstances should a person ever feel threatened or unsafe because of another individual. Many will argue that bullying is complex and you can’t define it as I just did, but perhaps that is the problem. Maybe we humans want to make everything more complicated than it has to be. To me it is simple. If a student, or anyone for that matter, feels unsafe or threatened by another, they are being bullied.

Bullying is Epidemic!

From CBC News

Earlier this month, I read a news article which I found quite disturbing, although this story not entirely surprising considering the current climate we live in. On October 7, a 14-year-old student, while his mother was with him, was fatally stabbed outside a Hamilton, Ontario, Canada High School. According to CBC News, four  teens were arrested; a 16-year-old male and a female, an 18-year-old male and a 14-year-old male, all charged with first-degree murder. Sadly, this is not the first teen killed by bullies, and then there is the problem of bullied teens committing suicide.

Global News says the family of the teen victim alleges that bullying was a persistent problem in the boy’s life and that the school never addressed the concerns. Canada News says, all five of those investigated are current or former students of the Hamilton high school. The victim’s mother claims the school and board knew about her son’s bullying, but little was done to stop it. “For a month, we’ve been trying to get this dealt with,” she said in tears. Both the school board and Hamilton police have confirmed they were notified of bullying incidents. Investigators were initially hesitant to comment on whether or not bullying and the attack were directly connected.

The Global News article, Experts say zero-tolerance policies aimed at stopping bullying aren’t working, quotes Carol Todd, an educator with a Vancouver-area school board, and whose 15-year-old daughter took her own life in response to violent bullying, said:

“We talk about bullying and we talk about how we can combat it, how can we end it. Are we doing enough to talk about the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect? Are we teaching our young people how to be respectful to other people and what to do?”

Ms. Todd is right. I’ve worked in the school system for 35 years, and I have never seen a curriculum that focuses on the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect. I taught Religious Studies in the Catholic School system, but even in the Religious Studies curriculum there was very little focus on those aspects, at least at the high school level. As Todd says,  curriculum focuses on preparing students for university and not on teaching young people about healthy human interaction.

Todd went on to say a common approach involves anti-bullying advocates making a one-time appearance in schools and delivering a lecture to students. She says, “In the school system, when you bring in an anti-bullying advocate now, kids are turning off their ears,” she said. “They’re tired of the conversation. We have to figure out different ways.” That has been my experience. Students listen to a speaker, then forget about it. I have observed little change in their attitudes or behaviour after a talk.

Debra Pepler, a psychology professor who’s done extensive research on aggression in children says,

“Schools are measured on how well they teach literacy and numeracy and science but … social emotional development should be included and it should start in…kindergarten.”

from http://www.dailymail.co.uk

She said the “zero tolerance” approach popular among many school boards involving punitive strategies do nothing to address the root causes of bullying and wind up reinforcing the kinds of behaviour they’re meant to eliminate.

I have to agree with Ms. Pepler. Every school I have taught in has had a “zero tolerance” policy regarding bullying, yet bullying was a big problem in every school I worked in. These policies are great, but virtually impossible to enforce. In my experience, bullying occurs subtly, occurring in locations teachers are rarely in—such as washrooms—or carried out discretely as to not be noticed by teachers. “Zero tolerance” policy is great, but it doesn’t work!

What is the answer then? In my opinion, there needs to be more focus on teaching students about healthy human interactions. Psych Central’s article, Bullying: A Problem That Starts and Ends at Home, says

Research shows that a harsh or negative parenting style is more likely to produce children who are bullies and victims of bullying than an emotionally warm environment with clear rules and supervision. Negative parenting includes obvious offenses like abuse and neglect, but also subtler forms of negative role modeling such as name-calling, threatening, manipulating and persistent teasing. Children learn from the way they’re treated, as well as the way their parents treat each other and the way their parents talk about other people.

Home is where empathy is learned or not learned, and school is where the lessons learned at home get played out. If relationships at home are based on fear and intimidation, children are more likely to use the same tactics with their peers. School bullies and victims are significantly more likely to report being physically hurt by a family member or witnessing violence at home than children who had not been bullied. Kids who are involved in bullying are also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and are at higher risk for depression and suicide.

Bullying is a learned behaviour, mostly learned at home, and therefore bullying can be unlearned. The ideal solution is to educate parents on bullying, but that is easier said than done. If empathy is not learned at home, then we as educators have a duty to teach it. The reality is, bullies are hurting people who need to be taught that taking their hurt out on other people is unacceptable.

STOP A BULLY  is a registered national charity in Canada, and has an anti-bullying program. Their website shows a study done by the University of British Columbia, based on 490 students (half female, half male) in Grades 8-10 in a British Columbia city in 1999, that reveals
64% of kids had been bullied at school, and that 64% of students considered bullying a normal part of school life. What I found particularly disturbing is that 61-80% said bullies are often popular and enjoy high status among their peers. I have personally seen this to be true. Regarding the ‘on-line’ world, 1 in 5 Canadian Teens have witnessed online Bullying, so it is clearly a huge problem in our world, and teen bullies typically become adult bullies. There is no shortage of bullies in governments and in our work environments. It is time to do something to address the bullying problem our world has.

Dan Pearce,  American author and blogger, says “People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” How true that is!