THE BLOG

A Definition for Bullying

10/28/2013 06:19 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Tim Elmore Founder and President of Growing Leaders, Best-Selling Author

Here's a question for you: is it bullying when a high school football team beats another team 91-0? That's quite a blowout -- but what do you think?

The accusation of "bullying" is exactly what one parent claimed after the Fort Worth, Texas team, Western Hills High School, lost a lopsided game to Aledo High School. The parent filed a bullying complaint on the school's website arguing that Aledo coaches should have let up at some point in the blowout.

The story is getting mixed reviews. Some agree with the parent saying folks should be nicer to each other, especially when one team has far more talent than another. Still another suggested these two teams simply shouldn't be playing each other, as Aledo High School has graduates heading to colleges like Ohio State University. Yet another argued that calling a football game "bullying" is inappropriate given the real problems our country faces with school bullying.

May I chime in?

I do agree -- we must find a way to cultivate empathy among students today, in a world where portable devices with screens on them has led to increased bullying and even cyber-bullying...as well as diminishing emotional intelligence. I have said it before, and I will say it again: as technology goes up, empathy goes down. I have spoken at countless schools about the bullying issue, and suggested that we must help kids see the big picture, envision the future and act like leaders.

However -- take a moment and think about this parent's comment.

To intervene and accuse coaches of "bullying" because of a game score is not unlike intervening and telling a teacher not to give an "F" on a paper, or not to criticize a student's assignment. When our kids are young (under 12-years-old), it is helpful to tell them exactly how to behave, and perhaps even what to think. By the time they're teens, however, this intervention is embarrassing. Here's why:

1. Healthy teens don't want adults to intervene for them as it relates to a peer.
It's embarrassing. Some males have even compared it to shaving the mane off of a lion... the teen guys feel humiliated and weak. The parent may feel they've done a favor to the adolescent, but in reality, it's quite the opposite.

2. A football score is nothing like a genuine bullying incident.
Real bullying harms others. Losing a football game by a large score happens every week of the fall, in America. It's all part of life. To safeguard teens from this kind of thing actually hinders the development of their coping skills as they mature.

I lost plenty of games as a kid athlete growing up. In fact, in one Little League baseball season, our team lost every single game by large margins. What I loved about the experience was our manager never tried to sugarcoat the losses, but instead discussed with us what we'd learned and how we could improve. This prepared me for the adult world I was growing up into at the time.

No one would have dreamed of calling our "blowout" losses "bullying." It would have been an insult to real bully incidents that actually went on during the 1970s just like they do now. The difference between then and now is this: the adults in my childhood (from parents, to teachers to coaches to youth workers) all helped us navigate them rather than removing them from our lives. They knew that "hurt" does not equal "harm." Today -- I think many are quite confused about this.

So -- I think schools need to create a guide for parents, teachers and students, defining just what bullying is. What do you think?

Do I sound like I lack compassion? What are your thoughts?

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