Thursday, October 21, 2010

When Does It Cross The Line?

All of this discussion about bullying (see, for example, the It Gets Better Project) has had me thinking about what it takes to feel bullied, and when is a behavior--or in the case I'm going to describe, a non-behavior--bullying?

I started thinking about a girl in my high school, a girl in the same grade as me. She was a head taller though (and I was never short), which makes me think that she might have been held back at some point. She had long curly hair, and a tough-looking jean jacket. (We all wore jean jackets, but hers--to me--looked tougher.) DM, as I shall call her, fought with other girls--especially another girl with the same first name! Cat Fight!
DM used to proclaim, loudly, to teachers, that her boyfriend Frank was in jail, but when he got out...

DM used to walk home the same way as me, through the same graveyard shortcut. To be honest I never had any idea where she lived (though obviously near me). I never looked behind me if I knew she was there. I was terrified that she would notice me there, and threaten me or beat me up. If she was ahead of me, I would slow down so I could put some distance between us.

I'm not sure she ever noticed me, and strictly speaking, it wasn't bullying. At least, she wasn't directing any bullying attention at me. But I felt terrified when she was in the same hall as me.

When does it cross the line?

P.S. And since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I will note that child witnesses to domestic violence have some of those same issues, sometimes feeling that they have personally experienced the domestic violence. It didn't physically touch them, but they felt it anyway.


  1. Well, you felt intimidated but if she never threatened you directly, she could hardly be accused of bullying you. But at least you understand terror.

    When I was in fourth grade, there was a girl who would come up and kick me - I especially remember the knees. I never understood why she felt the need to, since we hardly interacted. I went through high school with her (the kicking stopped in about a year) and then ran into her as an adult - and nearly ran the other way.

  2. Someone noted that the line between bully and victim is often blurred, kids who bully often have problems.
    Others have pointed out that bullies can have high social standing, and still engage in bullying and that's one way they hold their position, Hitler comes to mind as the uberexample of that in my mind.

  3. Bullying can also take a passive form. My daughter is ignored, isolated, and excluded socially in a high school program she is in. Presumably it is because she is not considered skilled enough. The culture of the school or program can lead to this kind of thing if it is overly competetive and too focused on gaining prestige. Kids then don't want to associate with anyone they consider beneath them.

  4. Children should feel safe at school. If school becomes a place where children fear (whether an actual threat or implied/possible threat) it is not a healthy environment for them. Ideally it would have been good if you had an adult in the school whom you could express your fear to. Every child should have an adult with whom they can confide and feel safe expressing their feelings. Small group advisories, or homerooms, can be extremely successful when executed correctly.