One in the Eye For The Bullies?

The week of 18/11/13 was anti-bullying week, in the UK. This is the week in the year where I avidly follow all media interest in bullying, to try to work out what public perceptions of bullying are or that year, and to keep an eye out for any new research releases.

This year, I spotted an article in the Telegraph about Kate Middleton’s time with a mental health charity for children, Place2Be, focusing on her interest in cyber bullying ( the theme of this year’s awareness week). What struck me, was not so much that the Duchess was interested in this kind of thing ( who wouldn’t be?) but the headline accompanying the hard copy of the write-up about her visit. I’ve photographed and pasted it below:

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There are, it seems to me, two issues here. The first is about calling a child a bully, the second is talk of “beating” that child. It is these I would like to explore further in this post.

I’ve just finished marking a set of undergraduate essay drafts, asking quite a few students to avoid using the term ‘bully’ and ‘victim’. This has become the zeitgeist in research papers, and seems to have roots in older research concerning self-fulfilling prophecy, reputation and stereotyping (see, for example, Bansel et al., 2009). Labelling children as victims or bullies it follows from this research, is likely to be unhelpful.

Regarding the second issue, the more I think about it, the more often I can recall instances of “fighting” language when it comes to bullying. It’s a behaviour that’s not liked by many (if any) of us. So talk of beating it seems sound. To talk of “beating” something is synonymous with defeating it. Here, we’re not just talking of beating bullying, but of “striking a blow against child bullies”. Language is powerful stuff. Do we really want to strike out?

The issue, as I see it, in “striking a blow against the bullies” is that, in some instances, it will be the child doing the bullying who is packing the first punches. And it is us using “fighting language” to “strike back”, not at the behaviour, in this case, but at the child. What effect does this imagery have? Is striking seen as purely figurative in this context? It’s interesting at this point, to note that sanctions are among the least effective tools for dealing with bullying (Thompson & Smith, 2011). What is effective is helping children to understand what has happened (see a brief review here). In using such language, we might be fighting (excuse the term) fire with fire.

It might be the case, that as well as avoiding labelling children as bullies, we should avoid using the language of physical violence to describe dealing with the physical bullying of these children. So far as I can see, the research hasn’t been done. It would be interesting to investigate, though.

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2 thoughts on “One in the Eye For The Bullies?

  1. I agree with you that such language can be damaging, but would be interested to know what you (and indeed your colleagues) would suggest instead. The removal of ‘victim’ from the lexicon would also be preferable but I can’t quite see the term ‘survivor’ catching on for the (ahem) victims of bullying in the same way it has in other spheres. Thoughts?

  2. Hi Hattie – the preferred term is “target” instead of victim, in the literature. As for “fighting language” – maybe more “arresting language ” – stop / end? Purely based on opinion, but it would be interesting to research.

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