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How to Tell if a Student is Bullying or Teasing?

What signs should teachers look for when deciding if a students behaviour is friendly teasing or bullying? 

Most of us (teachers and students alike) have experienced good-natured teasing that is done in fun. Some sibling relationships and friendships are built on them! But how do we know when this behaviour has crossed the line?

When are students no longer “just kidding,” but participating in deliberately mean behaviour?

Definition of Bullying

Although there is no universal definition of “Bullying”, a “Bully” is defined as a person/people who use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to feel or do something.

Types of Bullying

Bullying is divided into four basic types of abuse – emotional (sometimes called relational), verbal, physical, and cyber.

  • Emotional Bullying-Done with the intent to hurt somebody’s reputation or social standing, more prevalent with teenage girls.
  • Verbal Bullying-Calling names, spreading rumours, threatening somebody, and making fun of others (most common type of bullying).
  • Physical Bullying-Stealing, shoving, hitting, fighting, and destroying property all are types of physical bullying.
  • Cyber Bullying-the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. can be done via email, instant messaging, social networking sites (such as Facebook), text messages, and mobile phones.

Individual or Group Bullying

Bullying ranges from one-on-one, individual bullying through to group bullying called mobbing, in which the bully may have one or more “lieutenants” who may seem to be willing to assist the primary bully in his or her bullying activities (think about the Mean Girls movie).

More often than not, most behaviour from students in school is friendly teasing as they navigate learning, developing relationships with peers and generally growing up.

Signs of students good-natured joking:

  • Involves a playful back-and-forth between both students
  • Is accompanied by a friendly tone of voice and laughter
  • Is accompanied by affectionate gestures or expressions
  • Brings students closer and encourages friendships to form.
  • Sometimes helps to light a tense or angry situation at school.
  • Does not lead to physical confrontations or upsets any student

However, everyone has a different tolerance level and sense of humour, it is important to remember that what is not deemed offensive or hurtful to one student, may be to another.

Signs of student Bullying

Some forms of bullying are harder to detect than others, physical bullying can be seen, verbal bullying can be overheard, but cyber bullying can fly under the radar.

Signs of bullying can also depend on the phase/type of school, the student, the students home environment and generally the students personality and characteristics. In the UK each school will have their own policy on bullying which will help with defining acceptable behaviours and suitable consequences.

You know your students better than anyone, and there are some general signs that teachers can monitor in school:

  • The student is making fun of another students ethnicity, faith, disability or other characteristics that are out of the pupils control.
  • The students behaviour is repeated and habitual. The student focuses their behaviour on the same student/s in the same manner.
  • The student does not stop their behaviour when asked to by their peers or teacher.
  • The student uses an angry tone of voice which may or may not be accompanied by angry body language, such as clenched fists/teeth.
  • The student continues even when the person being joked about shows distress.
  • The student continues even when they know the topic is upsetting to other class mates.

Learning about Bullying

To educate  your students about bullying and the effects it can have on others, download this free anti-bullying presentation for PowerPoint from Bullying UK, the anti-bullying charity.

Should you suspect any form of bullying from a student, remember to deal with the situation as soon as possible, in a calm and collected manner and in accordance with the bullying policy you have in place at your school.

If you have any doubt in how to handle a situation, always seek advice from a fellow colleague or more experienced team member.

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