In what looks to be the latest tragedy related to bullying, a 10-year-old apparently committed suicide after she complained of constant teasing at her Illinois elementary school Ashlynn Conner’s death has given us yet another reason to combat bullying. Not that anyone needed one.
Culturally, almost all of us have come to understand that bullying is unacceptable. Unlike a few decades ago (or less), when harsh schoolyard treatment was overlooked, most states now ban bullying and schools have adopted anti-bullying programs.
Obviously, it remains a problem. Part of the reason may be that the language that bans bullying tends to be vague and open for interpretation. That’s often by design. Though we can all agree that bullying is wrong, we can’t agree on exactly what it is.
Does it include hazing?
Yesterday, The Post’s Michael Alison Chandler wrote about the mixed success administrators at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School have had in trying to control a school tradition that’s become an annual hazing ritual. Where officials were increasingly concerned “Color Day” had become an excuse to demean and mistreat younger students, some students have argued that it’s merely a fun rite of passage.
Does it include sexual harassment?
A recent American Association of University Women sexual harassment study ( I wrote about it in an earlier post here) found that almost half of middle and high school respondents reported being victims of sexual harassment. But commentator Katie Roiphe wrote in the New York Times this past weekend that much of what the survey deemed sexual harassment should be considered a normal part of adolescence.
Does it include hateful speech?
Bullying became a partisan issue in Michigan in the past week. An anti-bullying bill there was altered by a Republican legislator to allow an exception for “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”
Gay and Muslim groups immediately protested the new language. Even Stephen Colbert mocked the inserted language lampooning by declaring, “Bullying is just fine, as long as you get a permission slip from God.”
In the face of the criticism (and mockery), state Sen. Rick Jones this week backed down.
So what is bullying?
DC Public Schools define it this way according to spokesman Frederick Lewis: “When someone repeatedly and purposefully hurts another person who has a difficult time defending him/herself. This is includes cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. Bullying is intentional and power based...”
Here’s the U.S. Department of Education’s definition on its Web site devoted to combatting bullying:
“Although definitions of bullying vary, most agree that bullying involves: Imbalance of Power: people who bully use their power to control or harm and the people being bullied may have a hard time defending themselves; Intent to Cause Harm: actions done by accident are not bullying; the person bullying has a goal to cause harm; Repetition: incidents of bullying happen to the same the person over and over by the same person or group.”
It goes on to list the types of bullying as: “Verbal: name-calling, teasing; Social: spreading rumors, leaving people out on purpose, breaking up friendships; Physical: hitting, punching, shoving; Cyber bullying: using the Internet, mobile phones or other digital technologies to harm others.”
How would you define bullying?