Bullying Definition

What is an appropriate bullying definition?

The Obama administration hosted the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in March 2011. One of their goals was seemingly simple: coming up with a bullying definition.

Yet, anti-bullying activist Kevin Epling, who was part of the panel, described how he sat in a White House office for hours because it was so difficult to come up with a definition of bullying.

Finally, the panel came up with a list of actions that count as bullying. More importantly, they determined that a bullying definition must include:

  • Aggression
  • Repetition
  • An imbalance of power.

Another bullying definition, created by elementary school students surveyed by the National Education Association, goes as follows:

Bullying is defined as the use of one’s strength or popularity to injure, threaten, or embarrass another person. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or social. It is not bullying when two students of about the same strength argue or fight.

Though Georgia was the first state to pass an anti-bullying law, it took twelve years before the law was updated to include elementary schools and  the modern understanding of bullying, which recognized that bullying need not be physical to be harmful, and could include written, verbal or other forms of harassment. The updated law also recognized that bullying could take place online.

Why was bullying so difficult to define?

Trying to determine what was an accepted practice and what was bullying was one obstacle. For example, is fraternity hazing bullying, or a time-respected tradition that bonds those who went through it? Turns out it can be a little bit of both.

Another problem is the attitude of “boys will be boys.” It took a long time to realize that bullying had serious real-life consequences. Consequences that went far deeper than a skinned knee or hurt feelings.


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