Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When does Teasing become Bullying?

Kids have had conflicts and arguments for as long as they have had opinions.  Even on that wholesome show, Little House on the Prairie, you would occasionally see children "go at it" on the playground, and sometimes even 2 girls.  Those were the good old days when the fight was between 2 people, and there were no weapons, and no one else jumped in, and a teacher or other adult would break up the fight.  Nowadays, there is no guarantee of a fair fight.  

When I was a pre-teen and an early teen, I was sometimes teased for not being as blessed in the bosom as some of the other girls in my class.  Boys called me Great Plains because of the flat lands there.  I know, stupid and not very creative nickname, right?  Did it bother me? Of course it did.  But my personality wouldn't allow me to hide and cry so instead I would come up with clever nicknames for my tormentors, make faces, and in extreme situations, stuff my size AA bra.  

Massachusetts General Laws define bullying in schools as "the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim that: (i) causes physical or emotional harm to the victim or damage to the victim’s property; (ii) places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property; (iii) creates a hostile environment at school for the victim; (iv) infringes on the rights of the victim at school; or (v) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school. For the purposes of this section, bullying shall include cyber-bullying."

So was my teasing considered bullying?  I don't think so. There is a very fine line now for what used to be considered teasing to now be a criminal offense.  I work for a criminal defense attorney, and can attest to this fact as I read police reports and Facebook pages and text messages all registered as evidence when one person doesn't like another person or has a dispute or argument.  Small things become big things many times, and these big things can leave permanent black marks on one's record, a record that is checked when someone applies for a job, when someone wants to accompany their child on a field trip, when someone wants to coach a youth sport, when someone wants to become a foster parent or adopt a child, just to name a few.

Tonight I am attending calling hours for a 14 year old boy who is rumored to have taken his life as a result of bullying at school.  I don't know whether that is true or not, and I don't want to speculate.  However, some of his grieving friends seem to believe that to be true as is evidenced on his Facebook page, and perhaps through their hurt and emotional words and musings, they too are hurting more than we know.  Are some of them being teased?  Are some of them being bullied?  What can be done to prevent another young child from feeling that his or her life is so bad that he or she just doesn't want to do it anymore?  Is a child who cries "bullying" overly sensitive?  Is it just teasing?  No matter the question, the answer is clear:  No one should be made to feel that their life is worth so little that they wouldn't be missed if they were gone.  And there are so many people who are missing this boy, remembering good times shared and expressing their sorrow, and my heart breaks not only for this boy but for those he left behind.


  1. I think the person who should make a distinction between bullying and teasing is the person being teased/bullied. It's not the person's intent but the recipient's response that makes the determination. As a person who loves to tease I have been called on the carpet a number of times for what people thought crossed the line.

  2. There's absolutely no excuse for bullying. Unfortunately, many school administrators themselves are bullies, not exactly great role models for the bullies or sympathetic ears for the victims. After what Trev went through in middle school and the early high school years, I do think there is a distinct difference between bullying and teasing - teasing is usually done with humor, rarely with malicious intent although it certainly CAN cross the line. Bullying is done with the intent to cause harm, period. Bullying makes kids feel small, insignificant, unimportant, unloved, worthless, weak, and helpless. NO ONE deserves to feel that way, no one. I have zero tolerance for bullies, whether children or adults. Great writing, Beth. Love you - I'm so sorry about this young man and my thoughts will be with you and his family and friends tonight. xoxo

  3. OH, Beth, so well said. I am so sad for this child and for his family. It is a constant struggle for me, as a teacher, to find, see, identify and work to prevent true bullying. It just isn't as obvious or as simple as we all want to think it will be. I try hard, every single day, to help my students to be more accepting, more inclusive, more kind than they tend to be. But how can I promise to prevent words and actions that happen just outside of my careful gaze? I think that we ALL share the blame for this. Turn on your TV, and listen to the disrespectful, belittling language that pervades our "sitcoms". Maybe we all need to speak out against this kind of language. Maybe we all need to take a strong stand against humiliation, aggression and teasing.
    I try very, very hard, but teachers like me can't do it by ourselves.

  4. I agree with you all. I do believe that a person has to determine if the teasing crosses the line to be considered bullying, but I also believe that it is the malicious intent and the hurtful intent that makes something bullying. Karen, I don't envy you at all. And schools are on the hook now too for not identifying bullying and stopping it. So now you have to watch for neglect, abuse and bullying and not only watch it but be proactive in stopping it. Tough job for sure, and I for one appreciate your dedication and the dedication of other good teachers like you.