DiLallo: Attention makes identifying bullying more challengingWritten by Frank DiLallo | | email@example.com
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a duck? No, but it might be bullying. Along with the current explosion of bullying awareness and information there appears to be more and more confusion about what it is and what it isn’t … exactly. Bullying seems to be a hot topic of conversation, casual and otherwise. It seems as though just about every behavior known is now somehow funneled into being labeled as “bullying.”
Don’t get me wrong. Bullying is serious epidemic not only here in the U.S. but internationally. It is a topic I take seriously both personally and professionally. I get around 30 to 100 “Google alerts” on bullying a day, which are helpful in keeping me abreast on the topic. Professionally, I am often asked to interpret and help schools and the workplace determine if incidents are truly bullying or “something else.” Personally my wife and I continuously work with our first-grade daughter on how to respond to issues like exclusion and name-calling. We want to make every situation and concern our daughter brings to us a teachable moment for her to learn and develop social skills that will equip her for a lifetime.
A good thing is that more research and educational approaches on the topic are emerging with specific strategies to help combat bullying. Most media attention on the topic is beneficial as well in creating helpful awareness and educating parents, students, teachers and employers. Celebrities including musical artists are speaking out and reaching out to make a difference. The recent release of “Bully” is an unprecedented documentary about the tragic effects. Gov. Kasich signed Ohio’s new anti-bullying law in January that is called the “Jessica Logan Act.” Even our very own Lucas County has launched a recent anti-bullying campaign initiated by University of Toledo professor Lisa Kovach.
Bullying at one time may have been a simple black-and-white issue, but the tsunami of electronic media used as a weapon to cyberbully, along with “anything goes” on TV, has created multiple shades of gray. Another downside of all of the attention given to bullying is possibly sensationalizing it and creating too much hype and excessive “media buzz.” A current concern is this plethora of information and visuals surrounding bullying will give youth numerous options and opportunities to carry out specific acts never before considered.
If a student rolls her eyes in the direction of another student is that bullying? If she decides to sit at lunch with a student other than her “best friend” is that bullying? If he tags another boy “it” too hard on the playground is that bullying? If he calls him a “moron” and smiles is that bullying? How about if he says it with an angry face? If a colleague “steals” an idea, is that bullying? At first blush most of us would say “no,” none of the above is bullying when the behavior is isolated or possibly inadvertent.
There are so many nuances to behaviors, intentions and subsequent reactions to pinpoint with 100 percent accuracy that every situation is unequivocally bullying. If all we have in our response quiver is a hammer then everything is going to look like a nail. Unfortunately almost total responsibility for determining bullying behavior by youth currently falls under the auspices of schools. Investigative procedures must be in place to explore any and all mitigating circumstances surrounding a reported behavior. This is wrought with potential backlash from parents and others because, unless one is trained in investigation, there is a great deal of subjectivity that could possibly contaminate important details in an attempt to make some kind of conclusive determination. Parents (and I am one), please work in alliance with schools on bullying and other concerns. Schools (and I consult for many of them), please do everything possible to bridge communication between the school and home.
The bottom line is bullying is a dynamic involving multiple “players.” It is not really an incident but rather a social contagion problem. Any bullying incident or behavior is usually a part of a pattern or culmination of incidents. If the behavior disrupts or inhibits student learning and/or safety or employee productivity and/or safety then it can be considered harassment, intimidation or bullying. An easy acronym that can be used to define bullying is RIP, which stands for repeated, intentional and power-based. These three key elements must be in focus when attempting to determine bullying.
This column is intended to be an interactive voice for our community to work together to find solutions to the bullying problem. Together we can create and promote civility and dignity for all together and renew our sense of pride in our schools, workplaces and community. I welcome your emails at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frank A. DiLallo is an author, counselor and consultant specializing in the prevention of bullying. He is a graduate of the University of Toledo, a licensed professional counselor and holds numerous counseling certifications in Ohio. Frank is the prevention/intervention schools consultant for the Catholic Diocese of Toledo. For more information, visit his website, www.peace2usolutions.com.