Several years ago, Lyn Mikel Brown offered the educational community10 ways to improve our bully intervention and education efforts. These 10 points are the focus of the blog for the next several weeks. Brown was the co-founder of a nonprofit organization created to provide a safe space for young girls to learn and grow with the emphasis being on developing resiliency to thrive in the complex social fabric of the 21st century.
Point #2 - Talk accurately about behavior. “If it’s sexual harassment, call it sexual harassment; if it’s homophobia, call it homophobia; and so forth. To lump disparate behaviors under the generic “bullying” is to efface real differences that affect young people’s lives. Bullying is a broad term that de-genders, de-races, de-everythings school safety. Because of this, as the sexual-harassment expert Nan Stein has noted, embracing anti-bullying legislation can actually undermine the legal rights and protections offered by anti-harassment laws. Calling behaviors what they are helps us educate children about their rights, affirms their realities, encourages more-complex and meaningful solutions, opens up a dialogue, invites children to participate in social change, and ultimately protects them.”
Arnie Duncan and the crew at the Department of Education tell us that they’re working on a national definition of bullying but at this point it’s more of a catch all. This is a major problem and not just for the reasons noted by Brown. When we lump everyone together, we lose the ability to effectively intervene and protect students from the myriad of social issues that occur in school.
I dealt with a similar situation when I taught Domestic Violence Batterer's Treatment classes for individuals who were convicted of domestic abuse. All of the individuals I worked with needed some form of intervention to be sure. But the information provided by the class only dealt with the most severe definition and characteristics of the domestically violent and very few of the people who were mandated to the class met that definition or needed that level of intervention.
If you Google “types of bullies” on the internet you’ll find sites that list as few as 3 and as many as 17 different classifications of bullying. Bullies are described as physical, verbal, relational, reactive, impulsive, serial, imitative and environmental bullies. Each of these categories list different personality traits and life experiences of the perpetrator which indicates that different interventions are needed for each instance.
When we lump all negative interaction under the generic heading of bullying, we miss the opportunity to deal with each situation intelligently. Would the intervention for a kindergarten child who bites be the same as the one for the middle school student who is being victimized at home or the high school sports star who’s become accustomed to getting their way because of their athletic prowess?
As coaches, counselors, teachers and parents, we need to accurately define exactly what’s going on and have a better understanding of the individuals involved in order to intervene effectively. All instances of bullying are not the same and until we begin to talk accurately about exactly what the problem is, we’ll continue to react instead of act in a coordinated and meaningful way.