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Is it Bullying or Something Else? Here’s What You Need to Know

The Difference Between Bullying and Conflict

With the launch of Spring ISD’s new online anonymous tool to report bullying, one question keeps coming up: What’s the difference between bullying and regular teasing or arguing?

“Not every negative interaction with another person is an example of bullying,” said Denise Zimmermann, the district’s director of mental health and related services. “Sometimes, two people may just be having a conflict that can be sorted out using methods other than the district’s bullying reporting process.”

The key is determining the difference. Some examples are easier than other, Zimmermann said. For example, a middle-schooler who doesn’t get invited to a weekend birthday party with other classmates probably isn’t being bullied, even if she is upset or angry at being excluded.

But if that same student also suffers constant ridicule about her appearance of other types of persistent negative behaviors, that may add up to bullying.

“What we’re finding is that the more we talk about bullying, the more we’re trying to address questions about what bullying looks like,” she said. “We’re glad to see that awareness because it gives us more opportunity to talk about behaviors that reflect kindness, empathy and support.”

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that 28 percent of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying and more than 70 percent of kids say they’ve seen bullying happen in their schools.

But solutions to that problem aren’t simple. According to experts, the best way to prevent bullying is to create a culture of respect and kindness that encourages everyone -- teachers, bus drivers, parents - to model positive behaviors. In addition, it’s important for adults and children to speak up and intervene if they see someone being bullied.

Generally, bullying is defined by unwanted aggressive behavior, usually with an observed or perceived power imbalance, and involving the repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition.

“Now that we have an online tool to report bullying, people are definitely using it,” said Chief Communications Officer Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield. “Our principals are following up with any and all reports of bullying and part of their investigation is to determine whether the complaint meets the definition of bullying or is another problem.”