Bullying vs. mean words: Why it matters to know the difference


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The complicated issue of bullying usually gets oversimplified or misidentified.

Who is the bully, Student A who says mean things to almost everyone or Student B who constantly makes fun of Student A online?

It’s sometimes difficult to tell, especially online, but it’s important for students and adults to understand there is a difference between a bully and a mean/bossy/angry acquaintance or stranger.

“Bullying has a very definite definition,” says Kathryn Everest, the Fort Worth school district’s director of guidance and counseling. “It’s targeted. It’s pervasive. It’s severe. It’s repeatedly.”

It means “I’m afraid to go to school” or “my schooling is being affected,” not “we disagree with each other” or “we are having mean conflict [within] a group,” Everest said.

Internet users deal with annoying and hateful people, or trolls, online every day.

These trolls usually harass people whose opinion differs from theirs. It’s an unfortunate reality of using social media outlets, most notably Twitter — but it is usually not considered cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying, like in-person bullying, involves targeted, repeated attacks on a person, which can cause significant emotional damage.

“You have to know the difference to exist in today’s world,” Everest says.

Five years ago, FWISD went to its students for ideas and solutions to be used against cyberbullying. The district created a student-led initiative, It’s Not Okay, which promotes “digital citizenship.”

This approach teaches about the consequences of a negative digital footprint and urges respect for fellow schoolmates, an attempt to stop cyberbullying before it happens.

FWISD’s newest avenue is the Speak Out app, rolling out soon, which will give parents a way to speak up if their child is a victim of bullying.

Students already have multiple ways to report bullying, including the Campus Crime Stoppers Friends for Life program.

A majority of Tarrant County school districts participate in Friends for Life.

Everest says students can also turn to a caring adult. She teaches campus adults to not turn a blind eye.

It’s not the place of school faculty and staff to determine how a student should feel, but they must make sure that the student is heard and that what they say is reported.

Once it is reported, an investigation is required within 10 days. Intervention specialists then create support plans for victim and bully.

“Children who bully are often victims themselves,” Everest says.

Trying to tackle bullying, especially online, can be difficult. It helps to understand the difference between constant online berating from a schoolmate and a heated Twitter argument that has gotten out of hand.

It’s vital to teach students how to spot and report the real bullies in schoolyard situations and to learn coping mechanisms to deal with mean comments.