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Michael Walters Jun 27, 2011

Dispel the Myth: Bullying Is Just a Rite of Passage

In a recent online video, President Barack Obama said, “We’ve got to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.” I agree. As adults, parents, counselors, and teachers, we can truly make a difference. How? Before answering the question, let’s look at a widely agreed upon definition of bullying and let’s look at a short history of bullying prevention.

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 person over and over by the same person or group

Now, here is a short history of bullying prevention. In the 1950s the notion of bullying prevention was something like this: Kids are cruel…that’s life; just deal with it. In the 1970s the notion of bullying prevention was something like this: Just build self-esteem…tell them they are nice and they will act that way. In the 1980s, the notion of bullying prevention was something like this: Tell youth bullying is hurtful and it will stop. Tell mistreated youth what they should do. In the 1990s, the notion of bullying prevention started to make parallels with domestic violence. The issue of bullying is about an imbalance of power.

Today, bullying is viewed from the perspective of an imbalance of power that can lead to violence. That is, violence exists on a continuum of disrespect. For example, bullying may begin with eye rolling, dirty looks, sarcasm, excluding from activities, name calling, rumors, social alienation, gossiping, teasing/harassing, stealing, and intimidation, which then may lead to destruction of property, fighting, threatening with a weapon, and assaulting with a weapon. And with today’s social media environment, new dangers and pressures are encountered by teens. Bullying is no longer confined to the playground. Teenagers can be harassed through almost every social media venue that exists. In fact, digital bullying can contribute to the feeling among many teens that harassment is inescapable.

So, let’s dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage. As adults, parents, counselors, and teachers, what can we do to decrease bullying and support teens? To start, here are a few suggestions:

1.We can model the behaviors we are trying to teach.
2.We can talk with our teens about what is happening at school and in the community.
3.We can help teens access support from peers and adults.
4.We can help create communities that change cultural norms related to bullying.
5.We can teach teens to be proactive bystanders that prevent bullying.
6.We can provide resources where teens can turn for support, such as the resource below.

Please let me know your suggestions and comments.

Michael Walters is a high school counselor and a licensed professional counselor. He has a special interest in strengthening family relationships and empowering individuals to reach their goals.

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