THE BLOG
06/29/2014 08:48 am ET Updated Aug 29, 2014

Bullying: Is The Word Overused?

There are very few types of behavior that are more disturbing than bullying. Most children have run-ins with bullies -- be they incidental or ongoing -- and most adults can painfully recall the experience of being bullied -- or, in some cases, the shame and regret of being the bully. As both children and adults have flocked to social media, so too, has bullying become a problem. But what constitutes true bullying and what is simply a difficult relationship, especially among adults?

A new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that bullying is associated with poor physical and mental health among children, particularly among those who were bullied in the past and are being currently bullied.

The effects were strongest among children who were bullied continuously, in more than one grade, particularly in terms of psychological health, said lead author Laura Bogart, associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital. Psychological measures included negative emotions, such as anger and depression. - CNN.com

Michael Morones, a boy who was mercilessly harassed because he liked My Little Pony, attempted suicide at the age of 11. Yes, 11 years old! He now lies in a vegetative state. He was bullied for years before hanging himself.

What about adult bullying?

In the workplace, these are the types of bullies adults are most likely to encounter:

  1. Conceited Adult Bully: This type of adult bully is egotistical and shows little or no mercy for others. They feel good when in control, or when hurting people
  2. Imprudent Adult Bully: Adult bullies in this category lash out at their victims and have no emotional control.
  3. Somatic Bully: While adult bullying rarely uses physical abuse, they threaten to hurt victims and destroy their belongings or property.
  4. Verbal Adult Bully: Words are powerful and have a negative effect on its victims. Verbal bullying on a victim can result in less interest in the workplace and even depression.
  5. Ancillary Adult Bully: these are people who 'suck up' to bullies and avert attention from themselves by helping bully others. Secondary bullies may feel guilty about their deeds, but will let it go in view of saving themselves. - nobullying.com

What about cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying (click on the link for a more extensive explanation) is defined in legal glossaries as:

  • Actions that use information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm another or others.
  • Use of communication technologies for the intention of harming another person.
  • Use of internet service and mobile technologies such as web pages and discussion groups, as well as instant messaging or SMS text messaging with the intention of harming another person.

There are legitimate and serious cases of adult cyberbullying. People's livelihoods and reputations are at the mercy of a destructive adversary (or adversaries) who can, with the ease and speed of a Facebook post or tweet, start rumors and spread gossip. In cyberspace it's nearly impossible to "take back" something once it's said. Privacy is non-existent. E-mails can be forwarded. Phone conversations can be recorded, Texts can be shared with ease.

But not all disagreements and bad relationships are examples of bullying. It's important to keep one's perspective when considering whether a mean comment or innuendoed (see: vaguebooking) Facebook post constitutes bullying.

The most important thing to remember about social media is that it's public, and what you say, post, or share is a representation of who you are, especially to people who may not know you very well. Unless someone is being constantly and overtly harassed, a comment that insults or contradicts you isn't bullying. As an adult, it's important to keep in perspective just what impact the "mean girls" of the world have on you. Children and teens have nowhere to run if bullies are harassing them at school or even online, given their maturity level. They often feel paralyzed about what to do to escape their tormenters and embarrassed to ask for help from parents or teachers.

It's essential and proactive for parents to be aware of their children's and teens' online activity and to be alert to changes in mood or behavior. Most of the time, a bad day means nothing -- but sometimes a bad day can be the worst day ever.

For adults -- especially online -- it's easier to disconnect from people who upset us and even bully us. Block, unfriend, or unfollow. If the bullying persists, there are ways to try and stop it. And if it continues, contact law enforcement. Be the adult about your situation that you would be about your child's. Keep your activity on social media in perspective, and realize that just like in real life, not all relationships will last or be productive. Sometimes we have to let people go.

What cyberbullying is not:

  • Expressing a difference of opinion.
  • Sharing good news that others may resent.
  • Unfriending or blocking someone on Facebook or Twitter who is no longer of interest or becomes annoying or disruptive.
  • Posting articles, information or memes that may be offensive to some.
  • Ignoring friend requests, private messages or requests to connect.

If we all start crying "bully" every time someone disagrees with us publicly or hurts our feelings, the word will lose its meaning and impact.

As Sue Scheff, author, parent advocate, cyber advocate, and president of Parents' Universal Resources Experts, Inc. (P.U.R.E.™) says:

I think the word bullying is overused in general -- with both adults and minors. We see the word being used inappropriately or out of context in many cases today. For example, when confronted with a rude waitress, some customers will immediately refer to her as bully. I think society has co-opted this term, which is sad, because it is actually weakening it and people are not taking it serious as they should.

There are bullies -- destructive, cruel, and abusive-- and then there are people who are just mean or who simply disagree with you. Knowing the difference, and knowing when to cry "bully" is essential to a successful and positive experience on social media and to keeping true and impactful the meaning of the word "bully" by using it when it's a genuine problem.

Previously published on Midlife Boulevard

Read more from Sharon Greenthal on her blog, Empty House Full Mind

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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