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4.1. BULLYING

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  • Bullying is a group phenomenon. Bullying occurs within and around a group where several participants have roles of varying visibility (victim, bully, observers, defender).
  • Bullying is systematic. The activities repeat or are part of a pattern, taking place during a longer period.
  • Bullying is intentional. The activities are consciously arranged in a way that makes the victim feel bad. They are not isolated cases that occur spontaneously.
  • Bullying involves unequal positions of power. A prerequisite for bullying is a situation where power relations are not balanced.
  • Bullying can be visible or hidden. On the one hand, bullying can include teasing or physical violence. On the other hand, it can occur in a more concealed manner, e.g., by ignoring or excluding someone and by spreading rumours about them. This makes bullying more difficult to discover.
  • Bullying occurs in a social situation where the child or the youth is incapable of leaving. A social situation is for example kindergarten or school where the child is forced to be present or a leisure activity that the child feels is compulsory.

4.1.1. INTRODUCTION

A person needs good friends and companions by their side and desires to belong in a social network in order to develop their identity, grow, feel secure and make sense of their personal life. It is crucial for everyone to have a person close to them with whom they can share their joys, who can comfort them in times of trouble and who can make us feel valued. In communities, people learn how to get along with one another and it is precisely among peers that people acquire the social skills necessary for a successful life. Nothing is worse than social exclusion and unwanted loneliness at home, school, a hobby group or in society in general (Knoop et al., 2017).

When a person begins to doubt where they belong or whether they even belong anywhere, it may cause uncomfortable feelings because their own existence is perceived to be threatened. Children’s sense of belonging may come under pressure if a community’s positive contribution is undefined or if the groups they belong to are rather intolerant. Imbalance can be felt when disrupting changes begin to unfold in the formerly stable life, for example when a good teacher gets sick or leaves work. New children joining the class can also disrupt the balance.

One possibility to alleviate unpleasant feelings could be to find a new way to create security, such as creating a new social circle, where bullying someone emerges as the primary goal. In other words, bullying can be interpreted as a symptom of fear of loneliness and as a way to create a new social circle when there are no positive activities to share as a common interest (Rabøl Hansen, 2016).

4.1.2. DEVELOPMENT OF THE TOPIC

4.1.2.1. The definition of bullying

To prevent and successfully intervene in bullying, one needs to have a clear definition of bullying. This is difficult, however, because an exact definition that could describe bullying has not been agreed upon to this day. Starting with early research on bullying, Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus has conducted bullying-related research for many years. His definition of bullying is fundamental to the topic to this day. In 1978, Olweus defined bullying as the recurring use of mental and physical violence against a person, both alone and as a group. He later expanded on the definition by adding that the victim is usually a person who is either physically or mentally weaker and that the behaviour exhibited towards the victim causes them long-term stress (Olweus, 2013). Other researchers also confirm that bullying is a recurring and systemic activity, and that bullying behaviour can only be recognized when the characteristics occur frequently (Pellegrini, 2002; Smith, Madsen, & Moody, 1999).

The public image of bullying has been changing over the last years. Researchers no longer investigate it as an isolated problem, but as a social, cultural and relationship phenomenon. Years ago, both teachers and parents were accustomed to treating bullying as a problem related to the characteristics of an individual, explaining the situation with claims such as: ‘They also stink a lot’, ‘They are very sensitive’ and ‘If you saw their father, you would understand why’. Today, explanations such as these should be cause for alarm. Bullying cannot be justified.

Due to a large amount of research, we are currently able to claim that bullying is a group phenomenon and an instance of social dynamics that is strongly linked to context. This is in contrast to our previous understanding of bullying that focused on an individual’s characteristics and not the context, a view represented by Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus for example. Attention must therefore be paid to all parties and to the way they spend time together. To better contain bullying, attention must be drawn to the behavioural culture and to the way children communicate to each other, not to individual children (Kofoed & Søndergaard, 2009). This approach is also supported by research conducted in Australia, the results of which demonstrate group dynamics and values must be focused on to efficiently contain bullying. Bystanders and observers must be encouraged to take active part in stopping bullying (McGrath & Noble, 2006).

In conclusion, we currently define bullying in the following manner: bullying is the systematic and intentional injuring or ignoring of a person in a group situation in which the person is obligated to take part and in which it is for some reason difficult for them to defend themselves. Let us examine for a moment the characteristics of bullying and describe them in more detail.

Bullying is a group phenomenon. Bullying occurs within and around a group where several participants have roles of varying visibility (victim, bully, observers, defender).

Bullying is systematic. The activities repeat or are part of a pattern, taking place during a longer period.

Bullying is intentional. The activities are consciously arranged in a way that makes the victim feel bad. They are not isolated cases that occur spontaneously.

Bullying involves unequal positions of power. A prerequisite for bullying is a situation where power relations are not balanced.

Bullying can be visible or hidden. On the one hand, bullying can include teasing or physical violence. On the other hand, it can occur in a more concealed manner, e.g., by ignoring or excluding someone and by spreading rumours about them. This makes bullying more difficult to discover.

Bullying occurs in a social situation where the child or the youth is incapable of leaving. A social situation is for example kindergarten or school where the child is forced to be present or a leisure activity that the child feels is compulsory.

4.1.2.2. Types of bullying

Bullying has many different types. As people get older, the types of bullying may change significantly, but the nature and consequences of the action stay the same – intentionally causing harm to another person is a characteristic that does not depend on the type of bullying. Bullying is categorised in the following way:

  • Verbal: teasing, mocking, threatening, intimidating etc.
  • Physical: hitting, shoving, blocking the way, hindering an activity, hiding things, etc.
  • Social: exclusion from a group or group events, expulsion from a group, rejection, grimacing, ignoring, spreading rumours, hostile body language, etc.
  • Cyberbullying: unpleasant posts online, uploading photos without permission, fake accounts or accounts stealing, threats and teasing via SMS and in social networking sites.

4.1.2.3. Roles in a bullying situation

The Danish research team Exploring Bullying in Schools (eXbus) (Danish School of Education (DPU), Aarhus University, n.d.) approaches bullying as a group phenomenon where all children in a group have their own roles, not just the victim and the bully. Other group members also take part, a large part of whom remain passive observers. Children can play many roles in a bullying situation, depending on the situation and whom they are with at a certain time.

The following is a list of the various roles (Danish School of Education (DPU), Aarhus University, n.d.):

  • Victim: a child who is being bullied.
  • Bully: a child who picks a victim and starts bullying them.
  • Bully-victim: a child who is being bullied but also bullies others.
  • Collaborator: a child who cooperates with a bully and supports them with encouraging activities, for example by laughing or patting them on the shoulder.
  • Passive observer: a child who witnesses bullying but remains distant and does not intervene in what is happening.
  • Defender: a child who manages to overcome their fear and intervenes actively to stop bullying.

In a bullying situation, children can play many roles that change depending on the time and situation. One child can be in different positions depending on the specific situation. Therefore, it is wrong to always consider them either exclusively bullies or exclusively observers. This is clearly confirmed by the fact that a third of bullies may end up as victims of bullying. Children like this are called bully-victims. Researchers believe that children take up various roles due to their wish to escape the demeaning role of the victim and to take out their pain on others by bullying (Rabøl Hansen, 2016). The positive side of role change is that passive observers will become defenders who intervene in cases of bullying when they feel compassion for the bullied.

Therefore, adults cannot attach fixed roles to children, nor can they presume that children will always react in a certain way. This may strengthen negative behavioural patterns in a group of children and take away an opportunity for a child to show a different side of themselves. A teacher’s and parent’s obligation are to always support a child, but to never support bullying. If no one intervenes or ends the bullying process it makes it seem as if this is a permitted activity. Passive observers may then become bullies themselves in the future.

4.1.2.4. Passive observers must intervene

Most children remain observers in communities where bullying occurs. They understand what is happening, but do not act against it in any way. Since children like this know better than adults what takes place in a children’s group, they are an important asset in fighting bullying. If observers – which may also include teachers and parents – do not intervene in cases of bullying, then the victims may perceive it as an endorsement of what is taking place. The bullied believe that the entire group consists of bullies since no one is defending them. In other words: even if the observers do not participate in the bullying and sincerely consider themselves to be mere spectators, their passive attitudes indicate that they accept the bullying. It is important to end the observers’ passivity and to encourage them to help companions who are often victims of bullying. Support from their companions is often the best help that a child can receive. Furthermore, the bullied children themselves claim to expect exactly that sort of help.

Sometimes the children admit that they do not wish to report their bullying when they are advised to turn to an adult and tell them about uncomfortable situations. Therefore, it is crucial that we praise those who defend others and explain to children that making a complaint about someone is entirely different from being an active intervenor whose positive behaviour makes it possible for everyone to find their place in the collective. Reporting bullying is not complaining, but rather standing up for your own rights.

4.1.2.5. Effects of bullying

Bullying as a subset of violence injures the entire group, since it affects the development and welfare of all parties. Therefore, one must deal with the entire group or class together when preventing bullying or intervening in it. The consequences of bullying on the parties may be the following:

  • Victim: anger, feeling of loneliness, headaches and stomach-aches, shame and guilt, bad memories for life, low self-esteem, feeling of injustice, stress, decrease in academic performance, depression, self-harm.
  • Bully: high-risk behaviour, aggression, criminality.
  • Rest of the group: shame and guilt, moral decline, passivity, fear, decrease in welfare, feeling of injustice, stress, decrease in academic performance.

4.1.2.6. Not everything is bullying

As a specialist and a parent, it is important to understand that not every negative activity is bullying. A hierarchy emerges whenever people congregate. Someone has to take the lead and put things in motion. Some prefer being a leader, others prefer to avoid taking a stance and consider it enough to simply know what is going on. As adults we have to notice whether or not a game or activity is open to all children. We must teach them positive leadership behaviour so that hierarchies where there is room for everyone can emerge. Let us also not forget that friendly banter and minor conflicts are not yet bullying.

Friendly banter is also used for socialising and for helping each other develop in a fun way. It’s important to teach children where the line is for fun – for example, that whether something is funny is determined by who it’s aimed at. One must clearly distinguish between friendly banter for humour’s sake and intentional teasing or bullying. If the humour is sincere and all parties are actually entertained, then it makes the children happy. However, if the humorous words end up hurting some of the children, then one should immediately apologise and avoid similar behaviour in the future. Cases where a child is constantly teased intentionally and is unable to defend themselves for some reason qualify as bullying.

Conflicts are a natural part of human development and communal activity, and they will emerge in all groups. Normal conflicts are characterised by intense situations between people or groups where strengths and weaknesses are equally balanced. For comparison: in cases of bullying, the power relations are not balanced, and a specific child is being targeted. The essence of the conflict is conflict of interest. Different people want different things, and the situation may become intense because emotions come into play. A conflict could be isolated incidents that caused unpleasant feelings, either through verbal or even physical aggression. A conflict will quickly turn into bullying if adults do not solve the situation. Children will then form alliances that begin excluding or bullying the victim in a systemic manner.

4.1.2.7. Tolerance is of crucial importance

It is a common misconception that bullying is caused by either physical appearance, differentiation from other people or by being noticeable for some reason. This is not accurate. Children themselves mention things like boredom, power, revenge, jealousy, popularity, and fear of being excluded from a group as causes of bullying.

A group’s low tolerance threshold and strict ‘rules’ on what to consider ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ cause bullying. On the other hand, a group of children where there is no bullying has a high tolerance threshold. Everyone’s identity, appearance, prominence, role, and capabilities are accepted, and it is considered self-evident that everyone has their own place in the group. A group’s tolerance threshold and acceptance level determine whether bullying occurs or not.

Every group’s tolerance threshold is influenced by, for example, parents, teachers/specialists, the group’s history, the children’s personal history, media consumption, social media, and leadership. The strongest factor may be different in any group and therefore the methods for solving bullying are different for each case. Everything that a person provides to the group has value and affects the group’s culture and atmosphere. This is precisely why it is important to work on values training in children’s groups, especially on improving tolerance.

– 4.1.3. SITUATIONS OF DISCRIMINATION RELATED TO THE TOPIC –

  • Only one classmate is not invited to the birthday party and if invited, nobody talks to them in the party.
  • Some classmates tend to push the child often. Mother has talked to the teachers about what is happening, but they do not do anything.
  • Certain classmates in the child’s class won’t accept them in their company, not even their best friend.
  • There is a new child in the class, and nobody is talking to him/her.
  • Behind them are sitting two other children who talk about them and laugh at them, or they are just whispering and if thy ask what you are talking about, they say “Nothing!”.
  • “We were only joking!”.
  • “Can I come to join you? “ -> ”“No, you cannot come/play with us!”.
  • Using not nice words or using nicknames of describing other persons appearance (look, clothes…).
  • An adult has asked a question and one of the children raised hand and wants to answer it – at the same time others start laughing.
  • One child took a picture of other child and shared the picture without consent.
  • One of the children has been bullied and the other children are just watching.

4.1.4. BEST PRACTICES

Videos to understand the dynamics of bullying:

4.1.4.1. SEVEN TIPS FOR PARENTS from the “Free of Bulling!” program (The Mary Foundation, Save the Children Denmark, 2021)

  1. Encourage your child to interact with different peers at school and during free time. When children know each other well, it strengthens group spirit and prevents bullying. If you also invite those with whom your child does not normally interact, you will help create a sense of inclusion for everyone and your child will learn to get along with different people.
  2. Be polite to other children, their parents and teachers and do not talk bad about them. Be a role model for children. Children mirror the behaviour of their parents. So, if you have a positive attitude towards school, teachers, friends and their parents, your child will too. Say “Hello” and “Goodbye” to all children and adults when you drop off and pick up your child from school and remember the names of your child’s classmates.
  3. Create a good practice of celebrating important events. Children’s parties are very important for everyone. It hurts when you are not invited to friends’ birthdays or when someone has not come despite being invited. If you want to organize your child’s birthday party or celebrate another important event, find a way to invite either the whole class or, for example, just the classmates your child is in a hobby club with, or there is some other rational reason to invite some children and not others. Find a way to celebrate the event, share invitations and exchange impressions so that those left out don’t feel left out. If your child is invited to a joint gathering, make sure to allow him or her to participate.
  4. Encourage your child to support and protect those peers who cannot protect themselves. Children who for some reason are left out of the children’s group need the helping hand of a companion and a clear invitation. Praise your child when he goes to help someone who is left out and supports someone in need. Children who dare to stand up for themselves and tell others when they see injustice: “Stop!” or “Stop!”, grow inside. Always encourage and recognize children when they are caring, tolerant, courageous, and respectful of others. This is how behavioural patterns become established.
  5. Be a part of your child’s digital life. Children need explanations of how digital environments work and what risks are associated with the possibilities there. A parent who wants to actively participate in their child’s life must be interested and have the necessary skills to guide the child in the virtual world. There, all the teachings about being a good companion apply: to be respectful, tolerant, caring and, if necessary, courageous to protect the companion when he cannot protect himself.
  6. Talk and support your child when they feel sad. Conflicts are inevitable in interpersonal relationships. Therefore, it is necessary to teach the child the ability to solve them, to be aware of them and to manage his emotions. Respect the child’s emotions, listen, and let him talk. Reflect your child’s feelings and convince him that you can find a solution together. Don’t do anything without discussing it with him. Remember that there are always multiple sides to every story. Help the child understand that the other participants in the conflict may have understood what is happening differently, and before taking your own final stand, talk to the other parents, the teacher. Always explain to your child that bullying is not allowed.
  7. Be an open and supportive listener when other parents talk about their children’s problems. It can be difficult for a parent to admit that their child feels bad at school and needs support from playmates or classmates. It is easier to talk about your concerns if others are open and think along.

4.1.5. REFERENCES

Danish School of Education (DPU), Aarhus Universit. (n.d.). Exploring Bullying in Schools (eXbus) (2007–2011). Retrieved from https://www.exbus.dk/

Knoop, H., Universitet, A., Holstein, B., Universitet, S., Viskum, H., Metropol, P., & Lindskov, J. (2017). Elevernes faellesskab og trivsel i skolen Analyser af Den Nationale Trivselsmåling.

Kofoed, J., & Søndergaard, D. (2009). Mobning. Sociale Processer på Afveje.

McGrath, H., & Noble, T. (2006). Bullying Solutions: Evidence-based Approaches to Bullying in Australian Schools. Pearson Education Australia. Retrieved from https://books.google.ee/books?id=HCCANgAACAAJ

Olweus, D. (2013). Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do. John Wiley & Sons.

Pellegrini, A. D. (2002). Bullying, Victimization, and Sexual Harassment During the Transition to Middle School. Educational Psychologist – EDUC PSYCHOL, 37, 151–163. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15326985EP3703_2

Rabøl Hansen, H. (2016). Parentesmetoden – tænkestrategier mod mobning. Dafolo.

Smith, P. K., Madsen, K. C., & Moody, J. C. (1999). What causes the age decline in reports of being bullied at school? Towards a developmental analysis of risks of being bullied. Educational Research, 41, 267–285. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131889904103034.1

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