Sunday, October 28, 2007

Exaggerating Bullying ... Or Minimizing Its Reality

Some genius in the UK figures that bullying is "normal" behaviour among children.

To a degree, he has a point. There are stages in life where children are learning social rules and interactions, and we would expect a certain amount of cruelty in those interactions.

If that were all that bullying was, it would not be the problem that it is today.

Most people can deal with one or two harshly worded interactions with others and shrug it off. But those are not by any means "bullying" in their own right. Bullying is more appropriately described as a pattern of hostile behaviour, often focused on an individual. It is often over a protracted period of time, and will involve a mixture of verbal abuse, threats and physical abuse. No one incident constitutes bullying, but when there is a pattern, there is a price.

I had my share of experiences with bullying while I was growing up, and I've witnessed it in the workplace as an adult. It has an undeniable price for its victims. Self esteem is the first thing to be diminished (not surprising when some two bit thug is busy denigrating you to your face day after day), people will disengage from a situation they are forced to contend with regularly, and eventually a form of hopelessness sets in.

Getting out of the situation is the first and most important thing to do - the pattern has to be broken.

The timing of this article is interesting to me - a friend of mine recently discovered that their son was being regularly harassed at school. Previously an "A" student in key subjects, the child had stopped handing in assignments and was now doing poorly on tests. Fortunately for this child, teachers noticed the change and investigated what was happening and took steps to remediate the situation. A similar situation a few years earlier had resulted in the school denying that there was a bullying problem. (I've heard that before)

What is the line between schoolyard taunting and bullying? It's hard to say - everybody has different tolerances. If you can establish a pattern, and the target of that pattern is showing signs of changed behaviour, then action should be taken.

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