Meanness and Bullying

Signe Whitson’s article in the Huffington Post describes the above title as follows:

Mean- Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once maybe twice.

We have all heard kids say to their teachers as well as their parents that someone is being mean or has been mean to them. In my experience every child does it at one time or another. Some have been made fun of for their clothing, looks, intelligence or been told their not invited to their birthday party. A child may say mean things to hurt another child’s feeling because they may also be hurting or upset about something that day. They hurt because they have been laughed at, excluded from an activity, someone refused to give them something they wanted, or felt that their best friend is now playing with another child and that child is now the enemy. Being mean and lashing out at another child can be very hurtful to the child it’s directed towards and it is our job as the adults in their lives to talk to the child that is being mean to hold him accountable when it occurs. Talking to him and helping him to see that if the shoe was on the other foot, how would they feel if someone hurt their feelings in that same way.

Bullying- Intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of Power.

Whitson identifies three key elements; an intent to do bodily or emotional harm, taking advantage of a power imbalance, and repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior. This can be physical, verbal, and relational or carried out through technology. The actions of the child doing the bullying is always intentional and repeated without any remorse or regrets. He or she will not stop the bullying even when the targeted child is asking him to stop. Physical bullying includes hitting, punching, kicking, hair pulling etc. Bullying can also be verbal, which involves plenty of name calling and saying hateful and hurtful things. It can also be relational, this involves using friendships to hurt another person or exclude them from social activities and spread rumors about them. Cyberbullying is bullying through the use of technology. At a klick of a button through the use of a cell phone or a computer, a person’s whole life can be shattered. The purpose of the Huffington Post article was to make sure that kids, parents, teachers, administration and the police do not confuse being mean as bullying. It is to help us know what to look for and when to intervene because a child’s future may be affected if the adults can’t properly determine the difference between mean vs bullying.

Signe Whitson is a social worker, school counselor, an author and a COO of Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute. You can read her blog on 5 Does and Don’ts of Helping Kids Handle Bullying at

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