- An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
- Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once
Bullying, therefore, is different from a single incident of teasing. It is, in fact, an abuse of power. Bullying also differs from play, and from the normal conflicts of childhood. When two children of approximately equal strength or power are engaged in a fight, it is not bullying. Thus, although all acts of bullying are aggressive, not all aggressive acts are bullying. Bullying can occur face to face or it can happen behind one's back, especially through cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying is defined as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the medium of any electronic devices. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. In short, cyber-bullying is enabled, enhanced, or in some way mediated through technology.
Bullying can be short-term or it can last a long time. Bullying can be done by an individual or by a group. If a student feels that s/he is being bullied, it is important to tell a trusted adult, a parent, teacher, counselor, principal, or nurse, who can help him/her. In accordance with M.G.L: Chapter 92 of the Acts Relative to Bullying in Schools, John Glenn Middle School has a comprehensive bullying prevention protocol which is outlined in our Middle School Student Handbook. Parents are also encouraged to visit the website stopbullying.gov which provides tips for parents and students to identify and address cyber-bullying.
The below examples are just a few types of unsafe social networking behaviors by students. While admittedly shocking, the examples below are intended to be a reference for parents. They originated from the book, Outsmarting Your Kids Online: A Safety Handbook for Overwhelmed Parents, written by Amber Mac and Michael Bazzell.
Exclusion: Exclusion is when a person or a group of people decide to leave another individual out of a conversation or chat. This is a pattern of rejection from online activities.
Outing: While some students assume that chatting when using ephemeral messaging services such as Shapchat is private, it is however possible to take a screenshot of what is assumed to be a private online conversation. Many times a personal message is then shared with other people, not originally intended to read the content.
Masquerading: An elaborate form of unsafe social networking when an individual pretends to be someone else. This can include creating a false email address and fake social media accounts.
Flaming: Is written, verbal or emotional abuse. The person doing the flaming will purposefully write things to torment his or her target. In most cases, they are looking for a reaction. It is good advice for the person being flamed to simply ignore this behavior.
Sexting: Refers to sexually-inappropriate, suggestive, or nude, digital photos taken with a cellular phone and then shared online. When minors are involved, sexual-exploitation and child-pornography laws become relevant. For example, if a 15-year-old-girl sends a nude photo of herself to a 15-year-old boy (of vice-versa), they both have committed crimes. Regardless of the criminal implications, there can be significant psychological consequences. The below websites and documents offer some information for parents to address sexting:
- National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) 'How Parents Can Keep Kids Safe'
- Effective Responses to Teen Sexting
- DoSomething.org '11 facts about sexting'
- A thin line - digital disrespect and sexting
Sextortion: This term generally refers to the crime of extortion, involving sexually-inappropriate digital photographs. When digital photo are involved, the threat is often embarrassment or reputation damage through exposure or distribution of the person's photos. The FBI offers additional details.
It is important to note that some parents can become frustrated when they report an incident of cyber-bullying to police, especially when nothing can be done legally about the situation. According to Amber Mac and Michael Bazzell, this happens often when one student harasses another child online, but does not cross the line of criminal activity. While creating a fake social networking page, posting slanderous statements online and sending numerous unwanted messages to the victim are mean and inappropriate, they are not illegal in most states. The authors concluded that overall there is a line that must be crossed in order to separate hateful online conversation from criminal activity. Nevertheless, you have the right as a parent to report any concerning online activities to the police and school.
Bullying is a legitimate problem. However, it’s also become a misunderstood buzzword that can be incorrectly applied to run-of-the-mill teenage drama. So as your kids start school and inevitably run into these problems, it’s important to know the definitions of bullying and drama so you can better handle them both.
According to Rosalind Wiseman,a New York Times bestselling author, drama is a conflict between two or more people, but it’s a two-way street without victims or aggressors. Drama can be serious and hurtful, but it’s often a one-time event that is ultimately smoothed over by the students themselves.
Bullying, on the other hand, is when one person repeatedly uses (or threatens to use) power over someone else who doesn’t have any. The actions are premeditated and one-sided, Wiseman said, and take place over a period of time for the sole purpose of humiliation and intimidation. Bullying usually requires intervention before long-term damage is done.
It can get confusing and there’s often overlap, but it’s vital to know the difference because drama and bullying should be handled in different ways, depending on the circumstances. Here are a few pointers on how to tell the difference between the two, as well as tips for dealing with each.
Is it disgust or dehumanizing?
If you’re hearing about conflict where “Suzy did this” and then “I did that” and “OMG, how could she say that,” you’re likely in the drama zone. In that case, it’s important to talk things out in a way that helps your child come up with a solution they can implement on their own, Wiseman said. But if a child reports being the victim of constant verbal or physical attacks for something about him or her as a person and not a specific conflict, that is likely bullying and will require outside help.
Is it “cyberbullying” or drama?
Let’s say your daughter usually hangs out with a group of kids, but one day she isn’t invited. She looks on Instagram and finds a picture of all her friends with the caption “Here with all my besties!” and she’s hurt because she wasn’t asked to attend. “She has every right to be upset because she’s not feeling included, but this is not necessarily bullying,” Wiseman said. In a situation like this where neither adults nor the school has to get involved, it’s best to listen to her complaints and support your daughter, however she chooses to handle it.
If it’s drama or bullying, don’t escalate the situation.
Parents love their kids a lot, so it’s tempting for them to freak out if they discover their children are the subjects of bullying. Avoid that temptation. “If parents overreact, many kids will shut down and they’ll be much less likely to talk with you about problems in the future,” Wiseman said. Even if you think your child has told you the whole story, remember the blame is seldom 100 percent on one person. Start by thanking them for coming to you in the first place, and then calmly let them know you’ll work together to figure out a solution in which they feel more control.
If it’s drama, don’t be overbearing.
If you’ve determined it is regular drama, don’t resort to platitudes and clichés. Too many parents automatically launch into advice and start fixing problems for their kids. However, the goal is to enable them with the tools to solve the problem themselves. “If you get your kids to talk to you, don’t insinuate that they have to do everything you’re advising just to please you,” Wiseman said. “That can be a huge and unrealistic hurdle for kids. Instead, let them know they already did a great job in coming to you, and they don’t have to follow your advice for you to be proud of how they’re handling things.”