BullyingWhen does banter become bullying and isn’t it all part of growing up?

The word ‘bully’ can be traced back to the 16th century although back then its definition was quite different. It was only from the early 18th century that the verb to bully gained its current meaning.

So bullying, like many of our social shortcomings, has been around for centuries however it remains one of the few aspects of our behaviour that is not governed by a specific law.

There was an e-petition started by James Christopher Maxwell lobbying for a change in the law but the petition closed on 4 October 2012 with just 59 signatures. However, this is more likely due to the inadequate e-petition system rather than being representative of public feeling (I discussed the deficiencies of the system in my January 2013 feature).

Campaigns & charities

It is as recently as 2002 that the UK started to take action when the Anti-Bullying Alliance was established by the NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau (NCB):
“… we believe that bullying is a behaviour choice …”

Campaigner Louise Burfitt-Dons formed the charity Act Against Bullying to highlight the effect it was having on children.

There are now several organisations that promote awareness amongst children and adults and advise how to deal with the problem.

But what is bullying and when does playground banter become something more sinister and threatening? If the behaviour has been around for centuries, isn’t it part of growing up and therefore ‘character building’?

According to ‘Beat Bullying’ each year there are 20+ UK children and teenagers who kill
themselves because they have been bullied.

There is no legal definition of bullying; the Gov.uk website states that whilst bullying is not illegal, under the Equality Act 2010 harassment is, but when does bullying become harassment and who decides?

There are several types of bullying including:

  • Homophobic
  • Racist
  • Sexist
  • Sizeist
  • Cyber

Bullying tactics include:

  • Picking on you
  • Excluding you from events
  • Removing, hiding or damaging your belongings
  • Name calling
  • Undermining your decisions

Girls & boys come out to play

In March 1999, a study by London, Southampton and Swedish universities concluded that aggressive behaviour can be genetically inherited more so by girls than boys (it was environmental factors that had a greater impact on boys).

But isn’t there an essential human element of deciding the pecking order that naturally manifests itself in the playground? Don’t children have to learn about their own strengths and weaknesses?

Should the question be ‘how do I stop my child from bullying’ or ‘how do I protect my child from being bullied’?

Youngminds.org estimate 70% of young people have been bullied at some time in their life and
1 million children are bullied every week.
GoodTherapy.org reported 40% of youths admitted to bullying.

The Gov.uk site states: ‘By law all state (not private) schools must have a behaviour policy in place that includes measures to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils’

Given that most anti-social behaviour has its roots in childhood, then school would seem to be a good place to start, but if the child comes from a household where bullying and intimidation are the norm, is there likely to be any value in school trying to re-educate an established mind-set?

Victims can feel shame and humiliation and may think they are partly to blame for their treatment and consequently fail to raise the alarm – sound familiar?

Adults too

But it is not restricted to schools and bullying in the workplace is as common now as it was 50 years ago. The victim may fear reprisals or being labelled a trouble maker and uncooperative, there is also a low expectation that anything will be done to remedy the situation, so the bullying goes unreported and unchallenged and the victim remains silent or resigns.

Electronic bullies

Cyber bullying has become the biggest concern amongst anti-bullying charities. With the growing number of social media sites, the Internet ‘meme’ (a method of spreading news electronically) has become simple and fast.

‘Slut shaming’ is a growing cult amongst young girls where the accuser takes the moral high ground and publicises their view of another girl’s sexual activity.

Another recent phenomena is ‘happy slapping’ when the attack on the victim is filmed on a mobile camera phone and circulated.

Children become adults

Victims of childhood bullying can very often carry the emotional strain into their adult life causing social and behavioural problems that may in turn lead to more intimidation and low self-esteem.

Whilst the feelings of fear and vulnerability have subsided, for many it has left them feeling bitter and resentful, angry that they were stopped from realising their true potential when it mattered most. They may also find it difficult to trust others, and become focussed on failure rather than success. For some, the memories are so debilitating they take their own lives.

So the next time you see someone being picked on, whether it’s in the playground or the workplace, don’t turn a blind eye, who knows, you may be saving their life.

The symptom or the cause

So given the centuries old behaviour along with the uncertainty of its legal status, perhaps we should forget about trying to change the bully’s behaviour. Would our time be better spent teaching children self-confidence and assertiveness to give them the psychological strength to defend themselves?


Anti-Bullying Alliance www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk.

Beat Bullying www.beatbullying.org.

Kidscape www.kidscape.org.uk.

The Playground, Cyber & Corporate Bully

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