What’s the Difference Between Bullying & Harassment in Schools

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Bullying and harassment happen everywhere and directly impact student behavior as well as the culture of a school. Young people who are bullies or are victims of bullying and harassment are more likely to have negative school experiences. As a response, schools are developing and rolling out initiatives to address behavior and improve support for students involved in bullying and harassment.

Bullying and harassment happen everywhere and directly impact student behavior as well as the culture of a school. Young people who are bullies or are victims of bullying and harassment are more likely to have negative school experiences. As a response, schools are developing and rolling out initiatives to address behavior and improve support for students involved in bullying and harassment.

In order to best serve students and find ways to eliminate troubling behavior, the school administration must understand the difference between bullying and harassment. The two are often used interchangeably, however there are some uniquenesses. Knowing the difference is important to determining which programs should be implemented to address issues at your school.

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Bullying in schools

Stopbullying.gov defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power tension between students.” For example, if a student smaller in stature or in a younger grade is picked on by an upperclassman who is larger in size, that is bullying. In order for the behavior to be considered bullying it must include power dynamics that evoke control, harm or strength over another person and must be repetitive.

Bullying can be experienced as threats, sharing rumors, physical contact or exclusion from social settings. Bullying is not only happening in schools but is also occurring via social media and various internet platforms. This makes it more difficult to address because the issue becomes an extension of the school into the community. These behaviors are now being experienced more frequently and thus require more creative interventions and supports.

Harassment in schools 

Harassment is the behavior that creates intense environments for students. Instances of harassment can occur through intimidation or abuse between students. Much like bullying, there is tension related to the display of power between individuals or a group. However, harassment is assigned to a specific category including but not limited to; race, religion, sexuality, etc. For example, bullying behavior reaches harassment when a student is not just being bullied about being small, rather they are experiencing verbal bullying about their size as a result of a physical disability. Harassment is even more toxic to school culture. In this case school leadership will need to address not only the power dynamics but also the impact on targeted groups, like students with disabilities at the school.

Verbal, social and physical bullying can occur at all ages. As school leaders consider ways to address this issue, they have to understand the root causes of the behavior, how it is happening and when it occurs. These negative experiences escalate if the bullying is compounded by direct insult to a particular part of their identity such as race, nationality, ability, etc.

Because bullying and harassment are different, the responses and interventions for students should be executed accordingly. If the bullying behavior is happening repeatedly between students, then the behavior could scale to harassment. For instance, if the same student being bullying because they are younger or smaller in stature is also being taunted because of differences in race, then it could be harassment. School administrators will need to have policies and procedures that effectively address these issues.

All students deserve the right to attend a safe school where they can learn and develop without being attacked or challenged by their peers. It is important that leaders continue to implement initiatives that proactively address the issues and support any victims of bullying and harassment. Leaders must understand the difference between bullying and harassment in order to effectively respond to the matter.

Here at Kickboard we have seen schools transformed by implementing an effective bully prevention program. Click here learn more about the resources that Kickboard has available that can help with the successful implementation of PBIS in your school.