Because Everything Isn't Bullying 

    Dear Parents:

    As School Counselors, we are committed to preventing and addressing bullying at our school. We maintain an online bullying reporting system which is unique in Baldwin County schools. It is our decision to do this, which takes a commitment to spending time and energy investigating reports. We want our school to be a safe place for all our students. In addition to the online reporting system, we follow Baldwin County’s Harassment Complaint reporting procedures. Fairhope Middle School has posters and bulletin boards that emphasize bullying recognition and reporting, as well as focusing on being kind to others. Every September, the 7th grade school counselor conducts a bullying prevention program, and bullying is addressed in the counselor’s 8th grade student orientation. A school wide Choose Kindness Week is held in February with activities to promote respect of others and random acts of kindness. Our Principal, Mrs. Hall, refers to herself as the “bully tamer” and makes it clear to our students that harassment will not be tolerated at our school. However, she and our Assistant Principals are also required to give "due process" to all students. This means that they must gather facts from both the alleged victim and the alleged bully as well as witnesses in an investigation in evaluating the truthfulness of harassment claims and determining disciplinary measures.  

    We know that bullying is real at our school, and we remain committed to addressing it when it occurs. At the same time, the word “bullied” has become a real hot button. As we deal with bullying reports, it is becoming clear that many unpleasant exchanges between students are now being labeled “bullying.” As a fellow School Counselor has put it, “it is a word that is increasingly used to describe any situation where a student has gotten their feelings hurt, whether intentionally or not. Parents and students utter this word and we spring into action to investigate their reports of bullying. Our students have learned they can instantly control any situation and shift the focus of teachers, and especially parents, from their troubles if they claim they are being bullied.” Being “bullied” in these instances may become a student’s excuse for low grades, conflict with other students, and a poor attitude in general. It is also important to note, at the middle school level, it is not uncommon after a bullying allegation is made by a student and an investigation has occurred, that it is determined that the student who is making the allegation is also engaging in harassing behavior. We call this bully on bully behavior, as displayed when students continuously name call one another, and one then tells on the other.

    As Fairhope Middle School Counselors, we often have students who come to us to report “bullying” in that another student is “talking bad about me behind my back.” We strive to help students understand that they can’t control gossip, and that they need to practice coping skills and ignore this behavior. In fact, we tell them that true friends don’t tell others about negative things people say about them. Students in 8th grade are asked during their Counselor orientation, “How many of you have ever heard an adult talk negatively about people behind their back?” Almost every student raises his/her hand. The point is made that this will happen throughout their lives, and that they can learn to handle this on their own, that no adult intervention is necessary. When parents remove every obstacle, or solve every problem for their children, this may prevent them from developing self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and resilience. When children are not given the opportunity to develop these invaluable life skills, they may begin to see the world through the eyes of a “victim”, blame others, and not take responsibility for their own feelings and behavior. Students with a victim mentality, when asked about bullying, will often respond that “everyone” bullies them. 

    In summary, harassment/bullying is a legitimate concern in every school, including Fairhope Middle. It is a real problem with real victims. There are students in schools who may be afraid to come to school, find it difficult to concentrate on their work, and feel isolated and depressed because of the constant abuse of a school bully. However, it is evident that both students and their parents at times have difficulty discerning what is and what is not bullying. In 2012, Signe Whitson, a Licensed Social Worker and School Counselor, wrote an article entitled, “Is it Rude, Is it Mean, or Is it Bullying” where she defines the differences. 

    Below is information adapted from her article by the Michigan Department of Education. At Fairhope Middle School, we do talk with our students about this topic during our bullying prevention program. However, we need your help. Please use every opportunity you have to help your children understand the difference between rude, mean, and bullying behavior. Baldwin County defines harassment as a continuous pattern of intentional behavior. We do want students to continue to report bullying. However, we also want them to develop the coping skills necessary to deal with rudeness and meanness in the world in which we live.


    FMS School Counselors 

    Because Everything Isn't Bullying  

     Rude vs. Mean vs. Bullying: Defining the Differences 

    (Adapted from Signe Whitson, Author; Child and adolescent therapist)  

    Kids need to know how to get along with one another. We know that social skills are one of the leading indicators of future success. Kids need good role models, rules to follow, and kudos for kindness. But they are going to make mistakes. They are going to have mean moments. No parents want to admit that... but c’mon, admit it; you’ve said mean things too. Please understand, this is not a justification for being mean. There is no excuse for meanness, but there is a difference between a mean comment and ongoing harassment of an individual student. Both need to be dealt with, but perhaps differently. 

    The main distinction between "rude" and "mean" behavior has to do with intention. While rudeness is often unintentional, mean behavior very much aims to hurt or depreciate someone. Kids are mean to each other when they criticize clothing, appearance, intelligence, coolness or just about anything else they can find to belittle others. Meanness also sounds like words spoken in anger -- impulsive cruelty that is often regretted in short order. Very often, mean behavior in kids is motivated by angry feelings and/or the misguided goal of propping themselves up in comparison to the person they are putting down.  

    Rude = inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else. 

    Mean = purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice).  

    Make no mistake; mean behaviors can wound deeply. Adults can make a huge difference in the lives of young people when they hold kids accountable for being mean. Yet, meanness is different from bullying in important ways that should be understood and differentiated when it comes to intervention. 

    Experts agree that bullying entails three key elements: 1) an intent to harm, 2) an imbalance of power, and 3) repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior. Kids who bully say or do something intentionally hurtful to others and they keep doing it, with no sense of regret or remorse -- even when targets of bullying show or express their hurt or tell the aggressors to stop. 

    Bullying = intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. Bullying may be physical, verbal, relational (threat of taking friendship away) or carried out via technology: 

    All three issues need to be addressed. However, when we use a term repeatedly as a catch-all for behaviors, the actual issues are not addressed properly. It is important to distinguish between rude, mean, and bullying so that teachers, school administrators, police, youth workers, parents, and kids all know what to pay attention to, how and when to intervene.  

    *excerpt from the 2015 Brown City Hand Book/Michigan Department of Education