Not Every Bad Behavior is Bullying.

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The most overused word in education is "bullying".

People throw it around way too easily.  You can make this accusation with absolutely no proof.

And sadly, the accusation comes with a pre-determined sentence of guilt.Bullying.

Every accidental bump, look, or comment becomes "bullying".

We are losing the right to not like each other.

If I disagree with you, I’m a bully.

Before you light up my email inbox or the comment section, please read the rest of this blog.

When a parent says their child is being bullied, I always ask them to define bullying for me.

100 out of 100 times they can’t. 

What they can do and say, is the situation their child is dealing with is "bullying".

And sometimes they are correct.

Other times they are not.

The definition of bullying is… the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively impose domination over others.  The behavior is often repeated and habitual.  One essential prerequisite, by the bully or others, of an imbalance of social or physical power.  Behaviors used to assert such domination include verbal harassment or threat, physical assualt or coercion, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particulat targets.

Thanks Wikipedia.

Bullying is horrific and should never be tolerated.

But claiming "bullying" in every situation that doesn’t go our way is also wrong.

Not every fourth grader who doesn’t get to line up first or play on their friends’ team is being "bullied".

Just because someone takes your seat at the lunch table doesn’t make them a bully.

Rude, yes… but not a bully.

As usual, our society has swung too far in identifying "bullies".

For far too many years, this type of behavior was tolerated.

Then we decided it needed to stop (a little late by the way).

That’s great, but we’ve also went way overboard (as usual).

When someone cuts in front of me on the freeway or takes my parking spot, they might be a bully.

But more likely, they are just a jerk.

And that’s life.  I wish it wasn’t, but it is.

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16 Responses to “Not Every Bad Behavior is Bullying.”


  1. Eric Johnson
    on Mar 8th, 2014
    @ 6:18 pm

    Spot on! Part of the growing pains with dealing with real bullying is a common vocabulary, but we’ve gone from the extreme of never talking about bullying to everything is bullying. Bullying is a serious problem. So is poor behavior. As educators we can adress both, and do, but the players have to understand the distinction between the two behavior types. A great post to further our thinking.


  2. Art Schultz
    on Mar 8th, 2014
    @ 9:51 pm

    I’m glad you posted this. Too often, the word bullying is tossed around. Knowing the definition is important.

    But, what I believe is there has been a break down in manners. Especially when it comes to cyber bullying. Most students do not understand when they type, that the tone of what they are writing may have not been portrayed. They may have meant to write something as a joke, use of sarcasm, but, it is lost on the reader.

    I always recommend to students to use emoticons when they write short statements, to assist in the decoding of their message.

    Please, thank you, and your welcome, also helps people to decode friendly statements, which are often missing in students text-based messaging.

    Bullying does exist, but poor communication is rampant in online culture.

    Thank you for your post!


  3. Rene
    on Mar 9th, 2014
    @ 10:11 am

    Amen brother. As a fellow admin I hear parents use this word all too often.


  4. Breck Quarles
    on Mar 9th, 2014
    @ 2:18 pm

    Much needed post. As a fellow admin, I have bullying reports every day, more often from parents than kids. In most cases, it boils down to rude behavior or misunderstandings between children. In fact, in many cases, by the time the parent shows up, the children involved have already worked out their differences and moved on. Your idea to ask parents to define bullying is appreciated. While allegations need to be investigated, knowing what constitutes bullying may help reduce the reports and leave time to help true perpetrators and victims.


  5. Keith Schoch
    on Mar 9th, 2014
    @ 6:26 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with this post. I know how crazy it’s gotten with HIB reporting.

    At the same time, it does distress me that often, when genuine cases of bullying do occur, and even get investigated, parents are only told later that the “matter is resolved,” or “the case is closed,” without any further details as to what consequence befell the perpetrators.

    Little wonder that sometimes the victims and their families feel that the system isn’t working in their favor.


  6. Dave Walker
    on Mar 9th, 2014
    @ 8:08 pm

    Michael,

    Bullying in all its forms has been around since I was in school thirty years ago, but the problem as I see it is that hyper-media-sensitive parents are linking it to teen suicides and school shootings. Giving kids coping skills to deal with the everyday ‘jock’ or ‘Mean girl’ has to go farther than the perverbial “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Explaining our school’s definition to parents during the conversation helps, but we are looking at scheduling alternatives to incorporate Positive Behavior and Restorative Justice practices. And it is challenging, very challenging, to say the least.


  7. Nicole
    on Apr 4th, 2014
    @ 11:00 am

    I am a preservice teacher and found this post extremely important. I think that it’s so crucial that students have the ability to develop a thick skin. That’s not to say that bullying isn’t a serious issue, but I think that it’s important to understand what’s bullying and what isn’t. I really like your point about how parents have a tendency to victimize their child in most situations. From the perspective of being the teacher, how would you suggest that we handle situations (both actual bullying and non-bullying) with parents and their wanting to protect their child from anything and everything?


  8. Robert Clark – Reflections: Week 15
    on Apr 15th, 2014
    @ 4:39 pm

    [...] http://www.principalspage.com/theblog/archives/not-everything-is-bullying [...]


  9. Weekly Reflection » Katie Noll
    on May 11th, 2014
    @ 8:10 pm

    [...] Michael Smith’s Principals Page blog, the entry “Not Every Bad Behavior is Bullying.” Is about “bullying” today in schools.  In the first sentence he states “The most overused [...]


  10. School Management
    on May 16th, 2014
    @ 1:08 am

    I agree with you. Nowadays most of the kids complain their parents that teachers are bullying us. Parents without giving a second thought just come directly at principal office, making complain about teacher’s behavior. They don’t know exactly what is bullying? Bullying definition that you’ve defined is really helpful.


  11. Eric Johnson
    on Aug 5th, 2014
    @ 1:13 pm

    I agree with you. Nowadays most of the kids complain their parents that teachers are bullying us. Parents without giving a second thought just come directly at principal office, making complain about teacher’s behavior. They don’t know exactly what is bullying? Bullying definition that you’ve defined is really helpful.


  12. JAD
    on Aug 5th, 2014
    @ 4:21 pm

    Thanks for the definitions, Michael. As a high school teacher, I would like to know some of the incidences/behaviors in your schools that you would clearly fall under the “bullying” category. Additionally, I would like to know how your district supports teachers (and other staff) who are clearly being harassed and bullied per the above definition – especially in the digital age of smartphones, YouTube and SnapChat.


  13. J'nell Geer
    on Jun 5th, 2015
    @ 9:05 pm

    Amen! Excellent article! There are so many unnecessary cases of non bullying reported each year. When children accused of bullying that are just confident and outgoing, they actually are being bullied! When parents of more reserved children report assertive disposition as bullying they are the bully. The accused child then is hurt emotionally when they realize they are perceived as a bully by others. It is found that on many occasions, parents may also pull the “bully”card just to retaliate against a disliked parent of another child. The label of bullying has become a tool used by some parents. Sometimes children are wrongfully accused due to alterior motive by vindictive parents.


  14. Diana
    on Sep 20th, 2015
    @ 2:20 pm

    I totally agree with your article. Bullying seems to be the catch all phrase for every bad behavior out there. Thank you for the definition. Thank you for your article,


  15. Samantha Adams
    on Mar 25th, 2016
    @ 5:43 pm

    Thank you for stating what I’ve been thinking for a very long while. I have had many discussions with my students (and others) lately about the difference between “bullying” and other types of arguments, drama, altercations, etc.

    I feel like I often come off as insensitive to the situation of bullying when in reality I feel it is important to properly define it in the proper situations so that ALL disagreements between students are not labeled as bullying. If we continue to overuse the term “bullying” then the true cases of this will be lost in the masses.

    Thank you for communicating exactly what I’ve been thinking!


  16. Alex
    on Apr 5th, 2016
    @ 12:07 am

    I am a pre-service teacher, and I also agree with this post. One thing that has always gotten under my skin that I have seen first hand through my years of schooling is kids getting picked on. I have addressed things I’ve seen before in the past, but probably not nearly enough. Kids don’t realize the simple, devious things they do to one person can truly impact and effect them socially and emotionally. However, with that being said, the word is thrown around way too much. In a way, it has soften our kids; soften our roles as parents. I do not promote violence, however, we can’t teach our youth that every dilemma they face can have a name blamed to it in order to stop it. Most of these situations, like you said, aren’t in fact even bullying. Some may be mean, yes, but those are two different things. We need to seperate what can be corrected by simply ignoring or standing up to, and what needs more attention brought to it by higher power to put a stop to it and safe the word from being misunderstood.

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