How do we define bullying?

When does a simple disagreement between students turn into an act of bullying? How do we recognize this shift? What can we do when this happens? These are just some of the questions that educators have about tackling the subject of bullying in a classroom environment.

The two clips below shed some light on these issues. The first clip, from the film BULLY, highlights Alex, a teenager who has been the victim of bullying, and his thoughts on what it is like to be bullied. The second clip shows a Facing History and Ourselves classroom environment where students work together to brainstorm ideas for conquering bullying in their schools.

When you are finished watching the clips, view some sample responses that educators have contributed about how to define bullying in progress.

Alex from the film BULLY

In this clip from the film BULLY, Alex describes what it was like for him to be bullied.

Bully Zones

Students at a high school in Ohio raise awareness about bullying by mapping the spaces in their school where bullying takes place.

What is Bullying? Sample Discussion Responses

Staci Tedrow: When I think about how to define bullying, I think back to how I felt when I was bullied as a kid. The teasing turned into torture, repeated offenses that just didn’t seem to stop, the sinking feeling of that person or group when I saw them, knowing that I was going to be made fun of or pushed into the wall again. Most of the time, it was done out of ear shot of adults, but as I got older, the bullies didn’t care and harassed me in front of adults; sometimes I had adults nearby that stood up for me, and other times I was not as fortunate. Bullying became more of a ‘mob mentality’ in the older grades, especially for girls who preyed on victims in large groups. So some of the qualities I use in my definiton of bullying are repeated offenses, verbal taunting, physical assault, intent to hurt or isolate, and using a power dynamic to assert control over someone who has no power or shows fear.

Jean Mara: Bullying is the repeated acts to manipulate and intimadation of another. It takes away their dignity and hurts the victim either emotionally or physically. I think sometimes bullies unconsiously continue this act out of a power need.

Kristen Pariseau: What I worry about most is not the time in my classroom that I have control over. It is the time the students are without a watchful adult around. Gym locker room, lunch, and outside time can be very stressful for kids who are bullied. 

Leslie Foster: Bullying can come in many forms...physical, emotional, cyber, verbal, etc. When a person feels threatened, intimidated, humiliated, or scared, that is bullying. If the acts are repeated, it is bullying. Bullying is also intentional...purposefully causing some kind of harm to the victim.

Emily Hewitt: I have worked with an amazing group in Boston with my students called Urban Improv. They do conflict resolution interactive theatre with young people. They have given my students so much... Including the words and the route to power to name and address what they see as bullying or what they experience as bullying... I believe you have to have the language to name it before you are able to fight back, and then the language to fight back/prevent it. A community like a school should have shared language to address this problem, but I see less and less emphasis on developing this kind of community and more emphasis on the passing of standardized tests.

Vaughan Danvers: Most of my students don’t consider it bullying if there is no physical altercation. Most believe that words are just words. They get involved in “Your mama” jokes and the like, which alone do not equal bullying. However, where the jokes are always aimed at the same person or group of people, and the aggressors have “everyone” on their side, it’s bullying. Also, we take our victims as we find them. What rolls off one kid’s back may keep another from returning to school. It’s almost a situation where I may not be able to adequately define it, but I sure do know it when I see it.

Lesa Thompson: My own opinions have been changing since I started this workshop. At one point, I would have said that bullying is something overt, something “big,” but I’m learning that even “small” things count, and when I really think about it, there’s nothing “small” about making someone else feel bad.

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