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What You Think of As Bullying May Not Actually Be Bullying

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Ninja M. / Flickr

Is making fun of someone bullying or just kids being kids?

Is not being picked for a team bullying or just tough luck?

Depends whom you ask.

Official definitions of bullying in state law and school district policies don't always match up with what parents and children think of as bullying.

The disconnect leaves some claiming the bullying epidemic is overblown, others claiming schools don't do nearly enough to prevent bullying and plenty of children who are hurt by their peers every day, regardless of what you call it.

Here's how Ohio state law defines bullying in schools:

(a) Any intentional written, verbal, electronic, or physical act that a student has exhibited toward another particular student more than once and the behavior both:

(i) Causes mental or physical harm to the other student;

(ii) Is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for the other student.

(b) Violence within a dating relationship.

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The Ohio Department of Education's model anti-bullying policy lists some actions that could be considered bullying. They include physical violence or threats; spreading rumors; posting slurs online or taking and posting embarrassing photos of others online.

Now look at how the National Center for Education Statistics and its partners talk about bullying in their survey of students and victimization.

The NCES survey is used to create statistics like nearly one-third of students reported being bullied at school. It's also used to justify things like providing training in bullying prevention and creating more or different anti-bullying policies, so it's important:

For the School Crime Supplement, we asked students: “Now I have some questions about what students do at school that make you feel bad or are hurtful to you. We often refer to this as being bullied.

That's way different from Ohio's official definition of bullying as behavior that happens more than once and is so bad that it creates an "intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment" for the victim.

And it's different from how the federal government defines bullying in its anti-bullying intiative:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

Note: The Education Law Society at Ohio State University will hold a panel discussion on bullying in schools today at noon. (I'll be one of the panelists.) The panel will take on questions like:

  • Is bullying a "natural" part of childhood?
  • Should bullying be criminalized?
  • What should school districts' policies on bullying look like?
  • Can mediation play a role in counseling bullies or bullied children?
  • Should schools be responsible for preventing bullying? What about state government? The federal government?

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