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It's not bullying, but it is bullying behaviour

I have been reading quite a lot at the moment regarding the problem of "bullying". A quick count of my personal library of books is up to 13, plus of course there is also articles, websites and downloads. Some of the way the subject is discussed concerns me because I come from a strength based approach. Using the label "bullying" can be counter productive.
My main concern is that labelling someone a bully places the behaviour within the person as if it is apart of their personality. I discussed this issue in my blog post not the person but the behaviour because this makes problems harder to deal with. The person will resist the label and not try and make change because it is hard to change your personality.

But there are other problems too. The range of behaviour that can be called bullying is huge. From ignoring people, gossiping to damaging property, physical aggression and extorting belongings. This leads people to generalise and use preconceptions about what the term "bully" means which is unhelpful. They think about the worse case examples and tend to forget or disregard the less serious cases such as ignoring or name calling. It can make policy makers try and make rules and consequences based on a one size fits all approach. If it is "bullying" then this is what you have to do and treats name calling the same as threats to physically harm.

Labelling can be damaging for the user of the behaviour. It can create a mindset of "Once a bully always a bully" (Swearer, Espelage & Napolitano, 2009) and this stigmatises the person unfairly. This can create ongoing issues and of course self for filling prophesies. Sullivan (2011) p39 suggests that "… in dealing with bullying, it is important to focus on changing behaviour and to avoid labelling the participants." I agree with this and of course effects both the terms used for “bully" and "victim". "Victim" suggests total powerlessness and that they have no options available to them other than to suffer the behaviour. Caponecchia & Wyatt (2011) suggest using the term a “target of bullying behaviour” (p.2).

Imagine the reaction of parents when told their child is "a bully" or a "victim". It is better to communicate that a child has been "using some bullying behaviours" or "has been the target of bullying behaviour". This is a far better description of the actual situation and helps decrease resistance for parents to accept that this problem is an issue and that the solution is changing behaviour.

This is not just an issue in schools, but is relevant for in the home, workplace and sporting clubs. Even those that recognise the issue of labelling continue to use labels as they discuss the subject, which I believe continues to perpetuate the problem. We love short cuts and a label is an easy one to take. You can avoid this by talking about "bullying behaviours", "users of bullying behaviours" and "the targets" of those behaviours.

Caponecchia, Carlo & Wyatt, Anne. (2011). Preventing Workplace Bullying: An Evidence=Based Guide for Managers and Employees. Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin

Sullivan, Keith. (2011). The Anti-Bullying Handbook. 2nd Edition. London: Sage Publications

Swearer, S.M., Espelage, D.L. & Napolitano, S.A. (2009). Bullying Prevention and Intervention: Realistic Strategies for Schools. New York: Guildford cited in Sullivan, Keith. (2011). The Anti-Bullying Handbook. 2nd Edition. London: Sage Publications
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