You know, a lot of people refer to Operation Respect as an anti-bullying organization, and, in some ways, we are. Yet, here we are 14 lessons into our Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum, and we are just now getting to one called Understanding Bullying! That is because we strongly believe that bullying is a symptom of a much broader problem in a school’s or community’s culture. We begin our Don’t Laugh at Me work with expressing feelings and then move on to building community so that we lay the groundwork to take on this most damaging form of conflict only after we have some new skills in place.
Bullying is different than conflict and occurs far less often.
Conflict can range from a disagreement to a clash between two opposing sides or points of view. Bullying hurts more. It’s more damaging.
Bullying often lasts longer than conflict and requires specific intervention because often the person who is targeted by bullying needs support to make it stop.
Bullying is intentional so we must be intentional in how we respond.
Our empathy and understanding of the differences between the two make all the difference.
While bullying occurs less often than conflict, knowing what each of them is helps us as caring adults decide what to do. Students can learn to resolve conflict on their own and Operation Respect often helps schools organize peer mediation programs as an effective way to empower young people in the process.
But when we identify bullying, we all need to do what it takes to stop it. We don’t mean that one person can immediately stop bullying. We mean that one person can involve others to do what it takes to stop it. As adults we need to assure children and young people that we will do what it takes to stop it. We need to assure them that they are not alone.
This lesson introduces the acronym PAIN to help ourselves and our students remember the definition. We wrote about this last spring as well, but now is a good time to review.
P – Bullying takes place when there is an imbalance of POWER. The person engaged in bullying has a real or perceived power over the person being bullied. This could be age, size, role, popularity, social group, or any number of characteristics and qualities which imbue power.
A – Bullying is AGGRESSIVE. Sometimes it’s physical, sometimes it’s emotional, sometimes it’s relational.
I – Bullying is INTENTIONAL. Here’s a sure sign: if the person who is being bullied walks away and is pursued, that’s intentional!
N – Bullying occurs NUMEROUS times. It’s not an isolated incident of cruelty (again, that is a different issue and one we will talk about later this month), but happens repeatedly
With each letter of the acronym, questions come up for us as adults responding to incidents of bullying and as a way of assessing the aspects of our culture which might be leading to these acts. Two of the most important elements to consider are power and intentionality. For example, how, when, and why might some students have more power than others? Children and young people we work with often tell us that power can come from popularity or being stylish or that often intangible “cool” factor. They also remind us that power comes from groups when one is alone physically or socially. As adults, we need to determine not only where, when, and how power imbalances occur in our schools, but how we may be contributing to them. Power can come in areas of the school or community which are poorly supervised, from unintended positive bias by adults suggesting any one student “should be more like” another, and from the privilege that comes with being in a majority.
How do you know whether an act is intentional? We often tell kids to walk away when someone is “picking” on them. Well, that turns out to be a pretty good test of intentionality. If a student walks away, and the person who is bullying them continues to do it, it is intentional. Simple as that.
This lesson concludes with one of our most powerful activities, called “The Heart of the Matter.” In its essence, it looks at the person who is being bullied, the person who is bullying and those who are witnessing the bullying and asks the question, who of these has a choice? The realization that someone who is being bullied does not have a choice, but all the others have a choice can be revealing. And what follows in this lesson and the next one in this section is, what can we do? How can we make a difference?
As always, you help us make these lessons better by sharing your experiences with us. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell you how this lesson works (or doesn’t!) in your classroom or post your stories to our Facebook page.