WHAT BULLYING IS NOT

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Parents do not like to see their children distressed or unhappy. However, most parents would agree that children need to learn to work through some challenging feelings to develop into adulthood with resilience and sound coping mechanisms.

This issue is commonly brought under the spotlight when we talk about bullying; it is important to draw some parameters around what bullying is, and what bullying is not.

“There is a growing confusion regarding what is bullying and other forms of relating” says Nexus psychologist and school counsellor Boyd Cowley, who attended the National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) Conference held in Melbourne in July.

“Bullying is starting to become an overused word to describe many different forms of child interactions.  Children will experience a wide range of unpleasant interactions with their peers that are not bullying, and these experiences give them the opportunity to develop resilience, coping skills and learn to manage conflict” explains Cowley.

To address what bullying is, the past three decades has seen much research conducted to determine both the extent to which bullying occurs and to understand the harmful effects of it.

Accordingly, the NCAB provides a raft of resources to help parents and schools understand what is now a wide digital and physical problem. They offer professional resources such as The Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, to expert Ken Rigby’s work with the University of South Australia on school-specific bullying using a Method of Shared Concern approach, right through to general advice for parents.

As a result, the NCAB estimates half the students attending school have experienced bullying, with one in six bullied on a weekly basis. .The government’s bullying-no-way site also offers sound resource and sums up bullying as Australian schools understand it:

Bullying is an ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power over one or more persons. Bullying can happen in person or online, and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert).

It is most helpful to children when adults learn to apply this definition accurately, says Cowley.

“Too often these types of behaviours are categorized as bullying and a variety of accusations are often made and labels given to students.  Misinterpretation of the interaction means that adults accidently give children incorrect messages and provide them with strategies that are not appropriate for the situation.  If a normal disagreement is viewed as bullying, and managed in that manner, a child learns that conflict is abnormal, and that it is unacceptable if some disagrees with them. “

The NCAB is helpful in defining what bullying is not:

  • single episodes of social rejection or dislike
  • single episode acts of nastiness or spite
  • random acts of aggression or intimidation
  • mutual arguments, disagreements or fights

“Children are developing beings learning a large range of social and emotional skills, and they learn by making mistakes. A common social skill is to learn how to end a friendship. Often children may do this inappropriately, by been rude or blunt, however this type of rejection is not bullying. This is the opportunity for both to learn a range of emotional and social skills such as dealing with loss, empathy and clarity in communication.”

If you have concerns that your child is either being bullied, or struggling to cope with distressing social situations, feel free to contact the Nexus reception and ask for an appointment with either Boyd Cowley or one of our other experienced psychologists whose profiles can be viewed here.

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