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7 Traps in failing to recognise bullying behaviour

One of the tricky parts of recognising if a behaviour is bullying behaviour is that we all have different views and perceptions. This can lead to one person thinking the behaviour is okay while another to see it as inappropriate. Mishna (2012) outlines 7 factors effecting our perceptions on bullying behaviour which are summarised below.
Our definition of what bullying behaviour is.
This is based on beliefs and attitudes. It can be difficult to separate the difference between joking about and bullying behaviour. Our past experiences can lead us to believe that some behaviours are normal and suitable. In other cases the stereotypes of bullying behaviour may cause people to not recognise it is bullying behaviour. For example being excluded from a group is not bullying behaviour because they do not use name calling or physically attacks.

If the user of the behaviour is a friend.
When someone who is a friend uses bullying behaviour we might not recongise or want to recognise it for what it is. We can justify it as them joking around. Or we might not realise this type of behaviour is not what friends do due to our upbringing. Of course we can also be more inclined to support a friend even if they are doing the wrong thing because of that willingness to want to remain friends.

How the target matches our expectation about how targets present and react
We all have our own vision or stereotype of what a person targeted by bullying behaviour looks like and how they react to the behaviour. If the target does not seem to mind or say anything people can assume that the behaviour is not hurtful. We can tend to think of targets as the outcasts but even popular and the socially adept can be targets. Because they do not fit our view of what target should look like, we fail to recongise the behaviour.

Is the target seen as being responsible for the way they are treated
At times targets can behaviour in a way that can make others think that they deserve what they get. Being provocative can therefore lead us to overlook that the response is inappropriate and blame the victim for their misfortune. Two wrongs do not make a right as the saying goes.

Empathy for the target
How we feel towards the target is important in us deciding what we think about the behaviour shown towards them. If we like them we show more empathy and try to help them more. But if they have done something wrong in the past or we see them as troublemakers we tend to side with those using bullying behaviour. Another obstacle is getting past the perception of the target exaggerating about the problem behaviour. This can lead to the issue being downplayed or minimised.

Is the behaviour characterised as normal
One of the primary reasons we do not recognise bullying is that it can be labeled as "normal" or seen as a conflict. For children it might be called "just a part of growing up" or part of the rites of passage in childhood development. The only reason it can be called "normal" is because of our expectations that it will occur no matter what. We need to understand that we all should have expectations that bullying behaviour is not okay and needs to be addressed when it occurs.

Users presentation and features
Stereotypes can impact on how we view a suspected user of bullying behaviour. If the stereotype is older verse younger, taller verse shorter, loner verse popular etc we can fail to see the behaviours of those that are opposite to our expectations. The successful sports athlete with lots of friends can be using bullying behaviour but because they are not the usual suspect this is discounted or overlooked.

Mishna, Faye (2012). Bullying: A Guide to Research, Intervention and Prevention. New York: Oxford University Press
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