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Definitions Do Matter

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a uniform definition of the word bullying to assist schools and communities in understanding when bullying occurs and to help determine if bullying prevention efforts are effective.

The CDC defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm. A young person can be a perpetrator, a victim, or both (also known as “bully/victim”).

The recently released document Bullying Surveillance Among Youths: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements goes on to say that: Bullying can occur in-person and through technology. Electronic aggression or cyber-bullying is bullying that happens through email, chat rooms, instant message, a website, text message, or social media.”

Now you may ask why yourself, “Why is this so important and how is different from past definitions?” It is important because definitions matter and common language helps dispel inaccuracies. Bullying is not every act of meanness, nor is it conflict between peers or drama. Bullying is targeted, unwanted behavior that crosses the line. Simply put, one person is exercising their power of another who clearly has a harder time defending themselves. I realize that a lot of child adolescent behavior can fall into the gray category. Is it bullying? Is it drama? Is it conflict? Is it the garden variety of social cruelty that we can not protect every kid from experiencing? I don’t have the answers to all these questions. However, I can tell you that when we have a uniform definition of bullying and when we ask the right questions to kids: we can come up with some of the answers.

In my opinion, we are too quick to lump everything in the bullying category. The media is quick to link most negative behavior to bullying. I think that does a lot of harm. When we classify all negative behavior as bullying, we run the risk of missing real incidents of bullying. We also can lose the opportunity to respond to the behavior. Remember, not everything is bullying

As a mom of two girls, ages 10 and 13, I am exposed to a lot of interesting behavior. Yes, the car pool discussions in the backseat are priceless. And yes, the drama can be exhausting. I have had to clarify what bullying is and what it isn’t with both of my daughters. I remember when my youngest, Annabelle came home and told her sister Mia that a boy bullied her. When she told the story, it went like this: “I was standing online and he poked me with a pencil. He was bullying me.” Mia responded, “Oh Annabelle, he wasn’t bullying you. He probably just wanted to get your attention. Maybe he likes you.” Then Mia asked her,”Does this happen a lot?” No, it was the first time,” Annabelle responded. Mia suggested that if it happens again that Annabelle should tell him to please stop and if it doesn’t to tell the teacher. A few days Annabelle came home and told Mia, “I think you are right. He does like me. Today he sharpened my pencil without me even asking.”

Definitions clarify the words we use. They do matter. My kids are constantly learning about the ever changing world around them. I am right there learning with them and carefully watching the words I choose to use.

Kara Santucci, MS, CAPS Bullying Prevention Specialist

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a uniform definition of the word bullying to assist schools and communities in understanding when bullying occurs and to help determine if bullying prevention efforts are effective.

The CDC defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm. A young person can be a perpetrator, a victim, or both (also known as “bully/victim”).

The recently released document Bullying Surveillance Among Youths: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements goes on to say that: Bullying can occur in-person and through technology. Electronic aggression or cyber-bullying is bullying that happens through email, chat rooms, instant message, a website, text message, or social media.”

Now you may ask why yourself, “Why is this so important and how is different from past definitions?” It is important because definitions matter and common language helps dispel inaccuracies. Bullying is not every act of meanness, nor is it conflict between peers or drama. Bullying is targeted, unwanted behavior that crosses the line. Simply put, one person is exercising their power of another who clearly has a harder time defending themselves. I realize that a lot of child adolescent behavior can fall into the gray category. Is it bullying? Is it drama? Is it conflict? Is it the garden variety of social cruelty that we can not protect every kid from experiencing? I don’t have the answers to all these questions. However, I can tell you that when we have a uniform definition of bullying and when we ask the right questions to kids: we can come up with some of the answers.

In my opinion, we are too quick to lump everything in the bullying category. The media is quick to link most negative behavior to bullying. I think that does a lot of harm. When we classify all negative behavior as bullying, we run the risk of missing real incidents of bullying. We also can lose the opportunity to respond to the behavior. Remember, not everything is bullying

As a mom of two girls, ages 10 and 13, I am exposed to a lot of interesting behavior. Yes, the car pool discussions in the backseat are priceless. And yes, the drama can be exhausting. I have had to clarify what bullying is and what it isn’t with both of my daughters. I remember when my youngest, Annabelle came home and told her sister Mia that a boy bullied her. When she told the story, it went like this: “I was standing online and he poked me with a pencil. He was bullying me.” Mia responded, “Oh Annabelle, he wasn’t bullying you. He probably just wanted to get your attention. Maybe he likes you.” Then Mia asked her,”Does this happen a lot?” No, it was the first time,” Annabelle responded. Mia suggested that if it happens again that Annabelle should tell him to please stop and if it doesn’t to tell the teacher. A few days Annabelle came home and told Mia, “I think you are right. He does like me. Today he sharpened my pencil without me even asking.”

Definitions clarify the words we use. They do matter. My kids are constantly learning about the ever changing world around them. I am right there learning with them and carefully watching the words I choose to use.

Kara Santucci, MS, CAPS Bullying Prevention Specialist

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