If you look up a definition on bullying you will find a lot of different definitions more or less stating the same; that bullying is concerning systematical negative acts directed towards an individual by one or more people. Furthermore you will also find all the different ways in which bullying is being expressed (psysically and emotionally).
I don’t think a lot of people have any doubts about what the term bullying means and what bullying may look like. But in spite of that bullying can still be quite difficult to recognise in real life. Why is that?
According to a Danish scientist on bullying from Aarhus University, Helle Rabøl Hansen, adults often associate bullying with concrete actions such as psysical or verbal doings (pushing, calling each other names etc.). But this is a very old school understanding of bullying, she says. Bullying is not necessarily a concrete action. It also includes being excluded from a group, not talked to in a week or other more “invisible” things. If adults are only looking for psysical actions it can be complicated to spot bullying in real life.
Therefore I think it is needed to take a look at the way we define bullying, so it gets easier to recognise. When I say this I want to emphasise that I do not think the main problem with bullying is a question about recognising it. But nevertheless this still happens quite often, and I want to adress it by looking at the way we define and understand bullying.
I think most teachers, nursery assistants, pedagogues and other professionals around children and pupils have tried misinterpreted situations where it either looks like some one is being bullied when he or she is actually not, or the opposite where you do not recognise bullying taking place, but just think it is a jargon or a banter among the students. And by reading the American posts this could seem like an international problem (see post).
In my four years of working at a primary school I have experienced this several times, but if any doubts this has been confronted and the pupils asked what happend in the situation. In these kinds of evaluations of the situations with the pupils it shines through that the pupil’s perceptions of the situation are crucial – and this is exactly what I think the different definitions on bullying miss; the perceptional part.
Bullying can not be seen as something objective, but is in deed very subjective. If a pupil feels bullied this is what counts – whether the adults recognise it or not. So when professionals around pupils say that bullying can be difficult to recognise in real life I think they need to be aware of the fact that bullying is not always visible.
Of course bullying can be psysical, but I do believe the emotional and the perceptional part is important to pay attention to, before the victims of bullying can be found.