Take for example, a recent trip I made to two seventh grade classes in a relatively small Catholic school. The mission was to conduct a survey on bullying. It was a set of 10 simple questions, including "Have you ever been bullied?" and "Have you ever seen other students bullied at school?"
Although I'm tallying the answers right now and it's extremely interesting, the most eye opening part was the short discussion BEFORE taking the survey. I asked them, "What IS bullying?"
Hands popped up.
"When you kick someone."
"When you take something of someone's."
"When you spread rumors."
"When you punch someone."
"When you gang up on someone."
What they didn't say:
"When you ignore someone, including not giving them eye contact."
"When you exclude someone."
"When you tease someone. Not in fun but to make fun of."
"When you gossip."
"When you whisper in front of them."
"When your text is mean."
"When you're mean online."
"When you say or do anything meant to hurt someone's feelings."
"When you use a few ways to make someone feel bad."
How often does this simple conversation happen? Kids don't often label the things they do as "bullying." It's "I was JUST teasing," "He got in my way," or "She's not my friend. Nobody likes her. I don't have to have her part of my group."
Being more specific can go a long way to helping the situation.
Maybe I'll experiment next time I give this survey. It would be interesting to give the survey without discussing what bullying is, then after collecting the survey, discuss what bullying means. Then give the survey again. I would venture to guess that the answers to some of the questions will be very different, including, "Have you ever bullied someone else?"
And I'll go a step further to say that most parents and most teachers don't know what it is, either. And I don't blame them. Things have changed. Especially with the online and texting component.
In a nutshell, bullying is mean, repeated behavior intended to make someone feel bad. It's ALL those things mentioned above and probably a few I left out.
When it's really bad, it's "peer to peer abuse." Plain and simple.
Not every school has the money or the time to bring in formal bullying prevention programs but encouraging this simple conversation between adult and child on what it means is an effective way to start the process. It's equally important to do this at home.