Over the last few months I have been pondering the issue of bullying and what it is and isn’t. I think the sticking point for some parents comes with the phrase “boys will be boys”. Friends tease each other all the time. With teens, it can sometimes get a bit vicious. Parents are remembering their own childhoods and their interactions with friends. Good natured teasing is not the same as outright bullying.
Just to make sure my understanding of the two words and concepts wasn’t completely off, I looked them up online in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and confirmed that the two words are actually meaning something different from each other. It was enlightening. I think many people confuse the two concepts. Teasing can be good natured, bullying is never without an element of negative impact.
tease vt \ˈtēz\
Definition of TEASE
1a : to disentangle and lay parallel by combing or carding
b : teasel
2: to tear in pieces; especially : to shred (a tissue or specimen) for microscopic examination
3a : to disturb or annoy by persistent irritating or provoking especially in a petty or mischievous way
b : to annoy with petty persistent requests : pester; also : to obtain by repeated coaxing
c : to persuade to acquiesce especially by persistent small efforts : coax
d : to manipulate or influence as if by teasing
e : to make fun of : kid
4: to comb (hair) by taking hold of a strand and pushing the short hairs toward the scalp with the comb
5: to tantalize especially by arousing desire or curiosity often without intending to satisfy it
Related to TEASE
Synonyms: chaff, jive, joke, josh, kid, rally, razz, rib, ride, roast, goof on [slang], take the mickey out of [British], make game of, pick on
Definition of BULLY
: to treat abusively
: to affect by means of force or coercion
: to use browbeating language or behavior : bluster
Related to BULLY
Synonyms: brutalize, abuse, ill-treat, ill-use, kick around, maltreat, manhandle, mess over [slang], mishandle, mistreat, misuse
Teasing for my purpose of discussion falls much differently than bullying. Look at 3a-e and 5 for the definitions of tease. Then look at the related words. Now look at bully 1 and 2. Now the related words. None of the related words cross into the other sets. Tease and bully are not synonyms for each other. Yet, that line can be crossed. Teasing can become bullying with just a tonal inflection. Word choices become crucial to determining intention. Relationships also determine whether an action is bullying or teasing.
Friends tease each other a lot. It is a function of bonding and shared experience. It is nearly always good natured and without serious intent to cause harm to another. Sometimes tempers may flare if the teasing hits a vulnerable point or if carried too far. The bonds of friendship usually survive teasing.
Bullying has no intention other than to dominate and to cause pain. It is most often aimed at those perceived as vulnerable and different. Bullying raises a false self-esteem on the part of the person doing the bullying. They feel superior to the victim without realizing that they are creating a flaw within themselves. Some bully to hide the differences they have themselves, drawing attention to another. Some bully to inflict pain that they have over some issue onto another. Still others participate in bullying as an attempt to not be bullied themselves.
Teasing can become out of control and swiftly become bullying. Friendships can shatter over it and lead directly to malicious application. The line between blurs and is lost. Adults often forget that teens and children don’t understand restraint or impulse control due to lack of experience. The experiences of the adults is faded with age and changed perception of memory. Adults will see teasing and think nothing of it. As it rises to the level of bullying, they miss the change of context and assume it is still teasing.
The boys will be boys excuse has limits. It is one thing to allow a certain amount of teasing within established relationships. It is not teasing when the recipient has no relationship such as friendship or close association. That is more likely to be bullying. Adults need to watch more closely and intervene as necessary. The aggressive nature of bullying is obvious.
Due to the nature of bullying, the victim doesn’t really know how to make it stop. When people they trust do nothing to stop it or make it clear that it is not acceptable, these victims often are harmed even more. When you don’t think anyone cares enough to help you, what is the point of trying to help yourself. Not everyone has the strength or will to overcome something so insidious. Self-esteem plummets and self-doubt rises. Depression, despair, anger, fear and other negative emotions and thoughts start to become dominate within the victim.
Children and teens feel saying something about their situation is a sign of weakness. Usually there are threats of worse bullying and retaliation if they speak up about what they are enduring. Adults will sometimes address a situation and then falsely conclude it is dealt with. Then the bullying escalates once attention of the adult is turned away. Parents are often less than understanding about the level of anguish their child is going through. Especially if the child becomes withdrawn and uncommunicative about what is happening.
It does no harm to inquire about what is going on when you encounter a situation that seems off. If you witness bullying, as an adult, you have an obligation to intervene and find out. If it is teasing, they will let you know it easily enough. If it is actually bullying, you may be that person’s only chance of relief. If you think that it is bullying, find out who the responsible adults are and inform them of the situation. Convince them that the situation has to be dealt with. Check back to make sure that it is actually being addressed, if possible. Take the time, make the effort.