STEP 3: ACTION

How to Recognize Bullying

The following exercise will help you recognize bullying and not confuse it with conflict between peers.

As mentioned in Steps 1 and 2 of Module 2, if we try to solve a case of bullying through the use of conflict resolution, it may cause a negative impact and perpetuate bullying.

We invite you to read each scenario and determine if it is a bullying situation or conflict between peers.

Scenario 1

Students 1 and 2 are very competitive towards each other. At the school science fair, in front of witnesses, Student 1 accuses Student 2 of having copied their project. The next day, during a class discussion about the fair, Student 2 begins to cry in class because they feel humiliated.

  • Is this conflict or bullying?
  • How did you draw this conclusion?
Click here for our answer and rationale
This can be viewed as a conflict because:
  • the students seem fairly equal in terms of power, as evidenced by their competitiveness with each other;
  • the incident occurred only once; there is no pattern and no repetition;
  • the student who felt their science project was copied did not (necessarily) intend to humiliate the other student; they seemed to have the intention to express and vent their anger and get support for their side of the story;
  • the accused student cried and said that they felt humiliated, so we know that the incident had a negative impact upon them; however, there is no evidence that that student is afraid of the student who made the accusation.

Scenario 2

Students 1 and 2 are playing together in the schoolyard and at the same time they see a very popular toy. An announcement over the intercom informs students that the toy has been found but nobody comes to claim it. Both children who found it want to keep it and cannot agree on who will do so.
  • Is this conflict or bullying?
  • How did you draw this conclusion?
Click here for our answer and rationale
This can be viewed as a conflict because:
  • although there is an age difference between the two children, there is no evidence to indicate that there is a power imbalance;
  • both children are equally entitled to the toy, as they both spotted it at the same time.

Scenario 3

Every lunchtime, Student 1 who is very popular, organizes various games in the schoolyard. All students are included, with the exception of Student 2, who is small and very shy. Student 1 admits they do not want to play with Student 2 and adds that since they organize the games, they have the right to choose who they want to play with. Student 2 is left alone and very sad.
  • Is this conflict or bullying?
  • How did you draw this conclusion?
Click here for our answer and rationale
This can be viewed as bullying because:
  • there is clearly intentional exclusion going on – and the excluded student is very upset about it, so two criteria have been met: intent to harm, and distress experienced by the bullied child;
  • there is repetition, since the exclusion has occurred during several games;
  • there seems to be a power imbalance, as evidenced by the social status of the two children: one is popular and outgoing, showing leadership; the other is shy and physically smaller.

Scenario 4

A group of students are harassing another student in their class. They call him "fag " and often give him a beating. The targeted student is visibly terrified by these students and avoids them as much as possible.
  • Is this conflict or bullying?
  • How did you draw this conclusion?
Click here for our answer and rationale
This can be viewed as bullying because:
  • there is a power imbalance based on numbers (a group versus an individual);
  • there is repetition, since the harassment occurs on a regular basis;
  • there is an intent to harm, since the aggression is overt and direct (physical assault and name-calling);
  • the bullied student is experiencing great distress and terror.

Scenario 5

Student 1 does not return to class after recess. When school staff go looking they find Student 1 tied to a tree. The student is angry and very upset, but refuses to give the names of the young people who did this.

Witnesses who saw the scene disclose the names of the young people who did it. Staff talk to the targeted student, who says the whole incident was just a joke and that the young people who did this are friends.

  • Is this conflict or bullying?
  • How did you draw this conclusion?
Click here for our answer and rationale
This can be viewed as bullying because:
  • this violent incident has had a negative impact and caused distress for the student who was the target;
  • the actions directed against the targeted student represent physical violence. Whether it was intended to be a joke or not, it is not acceptable;
  • the targeted student’s refusal to divulge the names of the perpetrators and their defence of their actions may be loyalty - there is however a good chance that it is because they are afraid;
  • it would be important to explore to find out if this is a pattern of behaviour, and if there are other signs of a power imbalance.

Scenario 6

A group of students hang out together in the schoolyard. On weekends, they sleep over at each other’s houses. One day during recess, student 1 makes a comment that insults Student 2. The next day, the group ignores Student 2 and refuses to look at or speak to them.

This continues for the following week. Student 2 retreats more and more into their shell.

  • Is this conflict or bullying?
  • How did you draw this conclusion?
Click here for our answer and rationale
This can be viewed as bullying because:
  • while this relationship started out as a peer one, it has evolved into a power imbalance, as a group of students are excluding one student;
  • Student 2’s reaction (becoming quiet and withdrawn, missing school) indicates that the situation is causing them some distress;
  • a dynamic of rejection and exclusion has developed, based on repeated incidents on a daily basis;
  • Student 1, the student who instigated the exclusion, intends to hurt the other student, and has mobilized the whole group to act against them.

Scenario 7

Student 1 and Student 2 are good friends; they go out together on weekends and spend a lot of time together. One day, they get into a fight because Student 1 borrowed Student 2's leather jacket and won't give it back. Student 2 won't talk to their friend anymore.

Because Student 2 has rejected Student 1, Student 1 gets mad and decides to get even. Student 1 vandalizes Student 2's locker, attacks them on their way home and writes all sorts of bad things about them online.

Student 2 defends him/herself as the conflict intensifies, and a teacher eventually has no choice but to intervene.

  • Is this conflict or bullying?
  • How did you draw this conclusion?
Click here for our answer and rationale
This could be viewed as conflict because:
  • while there is repetition, there is no power imbalance, as both students are participating equally in the aggressive incidents;
  • although Student 1 might be more responsible than Student 2 for the initial conflict (not returning the leather jacket), both are responsible for escalating the violence.