"So why have you been sent here?" I ask the angry looking teenager who has just stormed into my room.
"It's Jade! She told the teacher I was bullying her, I wasn't I just told her what I thought and she didn't like it".
I hear this again and again from young people, comments they have made being taken out of context and them getting into trouble for bullying. In this case the young person in question had told Jade what she thought to her boyfriend, it turned out that she was right and the girl took umbrage to it.
But should this be classed as bullying? Should saying what you think be bullying? I am sure it was rude, maybe even a bit hurtful, but bullying? If I tell you that I don't think that outfit suits you, is that bullying? I tell you I don't really like your new haircut when you ask, is that bullying? I make a bad joke about you, not realising it would upset you and then apologise, is that bullying? I have dealt with all of these circumstances where young people have accused others of bullying.
Is the term bullying turning into a catch-all to get other children into trouble?
Milly, 14 certainly thinks so. "Bullying, it's a joke , no one even really cares anymore. The word is used so often that it is losing its meaning. It's sad really, because when bad stuff happens, no one really listens anymore."
And she is right, we are becoming desensitised to a word which has little framework.
There is no legal definition of bullying. However, it's usually defined as behaviour that is repeated and intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally.
Most of the young people who find themselves in trouble for bullying intended no harm and it was for one-off incidents.
During Anti- Bullying week awareness increases around the whole topic, I can't help but raise a question that has been on my mind for a while and that is about the actual word Bullying. I can't help but wonder if it isn't time to ditch the word altogether.
In a recent article by Signe Whitson she did a great job of showing the differences between been rude, mean and bullying, describing them as,
Rude = inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else.
Mean = purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice).
Bullying = intentionally aggressive behaviour, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power.
In my experience, often all of these are classed as bullying and children are getting punished for rude and mean behaviour rather than taught the difference, and while rude and mean are not nice, it is not bullying.
I would however take this one step further and say there is rude behaviour, mean behaviour and a crime.
And here is where I think the real challenge lies, most bullying behaviour is an offence under the Assault Act, but because we call it bullying we lessen the impact.
I was recently looking through Facebook and came across of a video of three children repeatedly beating up another child who was laid on the floor. The caption was, "Spread this around and lets' find the bullies." I wanted to scream; this is not bullying, it is a crime. Kicking someone while they are on the floor is a crime. As an ex-police officer, I know that there were often times when something would be classed as bullying because to class it as assault meant a long weary process and bullying handed it back to the school. But this isn't right; surely we should call it a crime and deal with it accordingly?
If we call bullying what it is, then perhaps we can deal with it effectively. Rude behaviour can perhaps be dealt with by a talking to; mean behaviour needs some kind of intervention and bullying needs reporting.
Yes, I know bullying is a complex situation and we don't want to start criminalising children, but if a child has committed as assault they have committed an assault. By continuing to use a catch-all phrase, minor infringements are being dealt with far too harshly and serious offenders are getting off the hook, traumatising victims who carry the emotional scars with them for a long time.
I don't have all the answers, no one does, but perhaps it is time to start asking different questions and I suggest that we start with, "Is using the word bullying helping us to eradicate intolerable behaviour?"