Bully(n): a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable (New Oxford American Dictionary). I hear of lots of kids being described as bullies, but when I investigate, I fail to hear some necessary components of a bully, like “habitual” and “use of intimidation.”
A lot of so-called bullies are better described as children who are angry, or children who lack proper social skills. They might threaten or harm other children, but they seem to do-so indiscriminately and impulsively. These children are not targeting others they think are vulnerable, they target whoever is in front of them. These people are usually not bullies.
Interestingly, in this information age, the most common “bully” I hear about turns out to be a person with a different opinion and who is not afraid to debate or argue. When I investigate I often hear that this bully, “would not agree with me even though I was right.” What this child was interpreting as intimidation actually turned out to be a contrary but legitimate opinion and an opportunity for dialogue and discussion.
So what’s the point of all this? The point is two-fold. First, I am glad that children continue to be aware of their rights to safety and are able to identify potential threats to their safety. Second, bullies are real, and a real threat to safety, so we need to be real careful we are not calling someone a bully that’s not a bully. Mislabeling children as bullies can stigmatize them and water down the authority of the term. I highly recommend parents and professionals adequately investigate these bully claims and use them as a learning opportunity for all involved. And when you discover a bullied child, please take the opportunity to teach him or her how to authoritatively and decisively address intimidation.