Following a statewide training session I conducted for school counselors many years ago, a counselor approached me at the end of the day and suggested that I stop using the term bullying and speak about peer abuse. She told me that at the beginning of the session when I referred to bullying as a form of child abuse, she thought I was exaggerating and was turned off by my use of drama to make a point. But by the end of the session, based on information shared by other counselors and me, she concluded that bullying is a benign term and is part of the “boys will be boys” “all kids are cruel” “it’s a rite of passage” mythology. She expressed the need to use more serious language in order for the issue to be taken more seriously.
I truly believe that bullying is a form of child abuse. All of our state laws only define child abuse when the perpetrator is an adult. When I ask children to give me a definition of child abuse, they speak of “parents who beat their children,” “swear at them,” “discipline them for no good reason,” “neglect their kids.” They have little patience for adults who behave this way. But when we start discussing bullying, they talk about “beating someone up,” “swearing and cursing,” “picking on others for fun,” “ignoring and rejecting kids.” My response is: “If someone is in pain, it doesn’t matter whether the person that is causing the pain is your parent or your peer. If someone is suffering, it doesn’t matter whether the person who is making them suffer is 35 or 12.”
In my workshops and my writing, I interchange the terms “bullying” and “peer abuse.”
When those terms become more synonymous perhaps it will move us to see bullying less as child’s play and more as child abuse. The school shootings and the youth suicides are testimony to the fact that until the consequences become dire, adults tend to dismiss the
facts. If we had intervened at an earlier stage, held students accountable for their hurtful acts, made it clear that unacceptable behaviors would not be tolerated and reached out to counsel both bulliers and targets maybe children wouldn’t have resorted to such extreme actions to get our attention.
The least we can do is call cruelty between young people what it really is – child abuse.
I’m interested in your opinions on this issue.