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Bullying: When push comes to shove

There was a time when bullying was considered one of life's earliest lessons in the importance of self-assertion. But its negative impact has since taken center stage in the media, with new reports linking suicides and murders with schoolyard bullying cropping up all the time. Here's what our panel had to say about this pervasive kid issue.
October 1, 2002

There was a time when bullying was considered one of life’s earliest lessons in the importance of self-assertion. But its negative impact has since taken center stage in the media, with new reports linking suicides and murders with schoolyard bullying cropping up all the time. Here’s what our panel had to say about this pervasive kid issue.

What we found: What is merely teasing and what is bullying? Many of the Reactorz members didn’t see a distinction or felt that both are harmful. If a distinction had to be made, teasing was verbal, and bullying was physical. But the kids felt strongly that anything that causes a person to feel bad about themselves, whether it’s called teasing or bullying, is wrong.

What to do about it? Most kids decided that telling an adult they trust is a good way to handle bullying, though this option got the most support from the younger kids. Tweens and early teenagers are more independent and more likely to advocate another popular tactic: saying ‘no’ firmly, and calmly withdrawing from the situation. Expert advice urges kids to give up their stuff when confronted by a bully because things can easily be replaced, but not a single Reactorz panelist advocated following that advice. In fact, while fighting back was dismissed as an inappropriate response, kids did express a strong desire to defend self and property from a bully in order to not look ‘silly’ or give the bully a reason to return for more.

What about the bullies? We were told that kids quite often play both roles at different times and in different situations during their lives, which deepens their understanding of the issue. It isn’t as clear-cut as a battle between good and evil when the players could be bully, victim or bystander at any given time.

Kid Insight!

Bullying is considered to be a lot more than threats of physical violence. Using that broader definition, bullying is probably more widespread than the current quantitative research suggests. Advice on how to deal with bullying needs to consider both the broader definition and kids’ desire to maintain their self-esteem in any confrontation. The schoolyard is a complex world, and a child’s place in it isn’t static.

What kids said about bullying:

‘Lots of people don’t realize that bullying isn’t only physical; it is anything that you do to make someone feel bad about themselves. Teasing and putting people down are the same as bullying.’ (girl, 12)

‘I have been bullied in the past, and it really helped when I talked to my mom about it.’ (boy, 10)

‘You should try to stay calm, and then tell an adult. And also try to avoid the situation – I don’t mean switching schools, just lunch tables.’ (girl, 12)

‘I think you should fight back; don’t let them make you look silly.’ (boy, 15)

‘I think everybody has been bullied at some point in their school life, and I think everybody has been a bully at some point too. How you handle it is up to you.’ (girl, 17)

‘I am not a fighter, but two days before my 13th birthday I was suspended from school for two days for pounding out one of those name-callers. I just couldn’t take it anymore. My friends are also being called names by the ‘cool kids’ at school. You know – the kids who think they are better than the rest because they have better outfits and shoes and richer parents.’ (boy, 13)

The topics explored in this monthly column will be generated by the members of Reactorz, the youth-powered research engine of Big Orbit Inc. that helps companies find out what kids and young people ages seven to 22 are thinking, feeling and talking about. For more information about how Reactorz Research can help your business, please visit www.ReactorzResearch.com or contact Sean Bittle or Kelly Lynne Ashton at 416-516-0705 (by e-mail at business@reactorz.com).

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