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Relational Bullying Definition Essay

by Emily VR

Words can do lasting damage.  As we know from tragedies involving social media, bullying isn’t limited to black eyes or stolen lunch money.  Thankfully, “sticks and stones” beliefs are finally disappearing as more adults recognize the harm caused by verbal aggression and social exclusion.

In schools, educators work to reduce bullying through awareness, prevention efforts, district policies, and interventions.  There is no universally accepted definition for bullying, but generally, it is said to include a real or perceived power imbalance, multiple incidents, and an intent to cause harm.   Some experts debate whether bullying should also include “relational aggression” and two of its forms, “peer rejection” and “ostracism” (Zins et al., 2007); depending on the facts, these behaviors may or may not meet bullying policy definitions.  Unfortunately, when anti-bullying programs focus on a narrow definition, adults may miss opportunities to both foster empathy and address harmful behavior – which can negatively affect the learning environment.

What exactly is relational aggression, and how does it impact education?

Relational aggression defined

Relational aggression, or RA, is also referred to as “social bullying,” “friendship bullying,” “covert aggression,” or “female bullying,” though it is not limited to one gender.  RA behaviors are intended to hurt another person, and they involve emotional rather than physical harm.  In her book Mean Girls Grown Up, Dr. Cheryl Dellasega defines RA as “the use of relationships to hurt another,” or “verbal violence in which words rather than fists inflict damage” (Dellasega, 2005).  Dellasega explores short and long-term harm from RA at all ages.  Behaviors can include:

  • manipulation using friendships or other relationships,
  • excluding an individual from a group,
  • spreading negative or false information about another person,
  • deliberately unkind treatment (either in private or in front of others),
  • criticizing and belittling another (Coloroso, 2008; Dellasega, 2005).

RA behaviors can involve efforts to gain or maintain social control (“queen bee” behavior), avoidance of admitting one’s mistakes, taking credit for others’ work, gossip, reputation damage, and/or negative treatment of an individual perceived as competition, threatening, or inferior (Coloroso, 2008; Dellasega, 2005; Oiker, 2011).   Aggressors often exert efforts to look good to perceived superiors and give preferential treatment to beneficial relationships.  Barbara Coloroso notes, “devious and manipulative, [the aggressor] can act as if she is a caring and compassionate person, but it is… a tool to get what she wants” (2008).  An aggressor may single out only one or a few individuals.  The intent and frequency of RA behaviors determine whether they qualify as bullying under an existing definition or policy.

RA can deeply hurt children, and it often involves someone the child had perceived as a trusted friend.  Attempts to confront the aggressor may be unsuccessful: as a ninth-grader explained to the author of Odd Girl Out, “‘she’ll turn it around,’ ‘she’ll make it about me,’ or ‘she’ll get everyone on her side’” (Simmons, 2002).  Bystanders or “middle bees” may enable or facilitate RA by passing along rumors (Dellasega), or, out of fear or a desire to “fit in,” may fail to speak out against RA behavior (Coloroso).

While it is thought that media exposure may play a causal role (Ostrov, 2013), children can engage in RA at surprisingly young ages: preschoolers have been observed attempting to exclude children from play (Reddy, 2014).  Aggressors may suffer from insecurity, or they may observe and learn RA behaviors from other children and adults, including parents.  As suggested by the title of one of Coloroso’s chapters, “it runs in the family,” parents may engage (sometimes unknowingly) in psychologically manipulative tactics with their children, may focus heavily on competition, or may model RA behavior toward other adults.  Several sources discuss adult RA in the workplace, volunteer organizations, and other groups, including groups connected with schools.  An article from the National Education Association notes that children who witness parents “practicing exclusion or manipulation of friends or family members will likely exhibit the same behavior in school” (Ross).

Impact on learning

RA in the school setting can cause the victim to dislike school (Zins et al, 2007), and it can also have an impact on academic performance and future educational options.  According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, bullying can result in school avoidance, higher rates of absenteeism, decrease in grades, inability to concentrate, loss of interest in academic achievement, and an increase in dropout rates (PACER, 2015).   While research continues on bullying and race, it is thought that bullied Black and Hispanic youth are more likely to suffer academic harm than their white peers (Stopbullying.gov).  In some cases, bullying of students with disabilities or other specific differences (race, religion, ethnicity) can trigger the protections of federal civil rights laws.  RA occurring outside school, such as in social groups and extracurricular activities, may also impact students in the classroom.

The impact of RA on education is not limited to bullying between children: several sources discuss negative incidents involving some teachers’ treatment of students (Kam; Price, 2015), bullying between parents, treatment of teachers by colleagues or supervisors, and bullying of educators by parents.

Students at risk

Who is most vulnerable to RA?  Any child may become a victim, but children with special needs have been targeted by peer bullies more frequently than other children (PACER, 2015).  Children identified with gifted needs are also at increased risk of psychological harm from bullying (Medaris, 2006), possibly due to academic and social/emotional differences in the gifted population (Price, 2015; Taibbi, 2012).   Students perceived as different in other ways may be at additional risk.  Differences can include religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender identity, and sexual orientation (SPLC; Stopbullying.gov).

What can educators and parents do?

Simply teaching students to “be kind” is often not enough:  for students engaging in RA, the ability to engage in kind behavior is often not the issue.  Aggressors can be very kind toward those who benefit them.  The deterrent for both aggressors and bystanders involves empathy:  students must learn to understand and relate to different perspectives, to feel the suffering of others, and to choose to prevent harm caused by aggressive behavior or inaction.

Part two of this post will explore a few promising (and less promising) strategies for fostering empathy at school and at home.  In the meantime, when considering bullying in schools, the first and most important steps in addressing RA may be (a) recognizing the threat RA poses to students’ well-being and learning, and (b) taking a fresh look at how we help our students and children to relate to the feelings and experiences of others.

__________________

Because of the increased risks for gifted children, this post is included in the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Gifted Social Issues.  Contrary to myth, gifted students are not necessarily high achievers, and their needs and characteristics can be misunderstood by peers, parents, educators, and other professionals.  For additional resources on gifted children, please visit Hoagies Gifted Education Page.

The Fissure Blog is proud to participate in blog hops from Hoagies!  For additional posts, please click on the below image (credit Pamela S. Ryan).

Sources and Additional Reading

Books and articles

Ayer, R. (2014, Dec. 1).  UGA study finds it’s mean boys, not mean girls, who rule at school.  UGA Today: University of Georgia. http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/uga-study-mean-boys-not-mean-girls-rule-at-school-1214/

Babbel, S. (2011, March 15).  Child’s bullying consequence: adult PTSD.  Psychology Today.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/somatic-psychology/201103/child-bullyings-consequence-adult-ptsd

Coloroso, B. (2008).  The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander:  From Preschool to High School – How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence.  New York: HarperCollins.

Dellasega, C. (2005).  Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees.  Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Kam, K. Teachers who bully.  WebMD, Health and Parenting.  http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/teachers-who-bully

Medaris, K. (2006).  Study: Gifted children especially vulnerable to effects of bullying.  Purdue University News.http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/2006/060406.Peterson.bullies.html

Oliker, D. M. (2011, Sept. 3).  Bullying in the female world: the hidden aggression behind the innocent smile.  Psychology Today: The Long Reach of Childhood.https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-long-reach-childhood/201109/bullying-in-the-female-world

Ostrov, J. M. (2013, August).  The development of relational aggression: The role of media exposure.  Psychological Science Agenda: American Psychological Association.http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2013/07-08/relational-aggression.aspx

Peterson, J. S. (2016).  Gifted children and Bullying.  In M. Neihart, S. I. Pfeiffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know?  (pp. 131 – 144) (2nd ed.).  Waco, TX:  Prufrock Press.  A service publication of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Price, P. (2015).  Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families.  Olympia, WA: Gifted Homeschoolers Press.

Raison, C. (2009, March 21).  Can schoolyard bullying lead to PTSD?  CNN: Expert Q&A.  http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/expert.q.a/03/31/bullying.ptsd.raison/

Reddy, S. (2014, May 26).  Little children and already acting mean: children, especially girls, withhold friendship as a weapon; teaching empathy.  Wall Street Journal.http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304811904579586331803245244

Ross, D. M.  Parents’ role in bullying and intervention.  National Educational Association.  http://www.nea.org/home/56805.htm

Taibbi, C. (2012, Aug. 26).  Bullying and the gifted: welcome back to school?  Psychology Today.https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gifted-ed-guru/201208/bullying-and-the-gifted-welcome-back-school

Whitson, S. (2012, Nov. 9).  When friendship is used as a weapon: revealing the hidden nature of relational bullying.  Huffington Post.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/signe-whitson/girl-bullying-_b_2093158.html

Zins, J. E., Elias, Maurice, J., and Maher, C. A., Eds. (2007).  Bullying, Victimization, and Peer Harassment: A Handbook of Prevention and Intervention.  Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

Web resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2016, June 8).  Safety and children with disabilities: bullying.   http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandsafety/bullying.html

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page.  Bullies and Bullying.  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/bullies.htm

NoBullying.com.  Let’s understand relational aggression.  http://nobullying.com/relational-aggression/

PACER, National Bullying Prevention Center:  Bullying and harassment of students with disabilities.  http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/students-with-disabilities/

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  Bullying Basics.  Teaching Tolerance.  http://www.tolerance.org/bullying-basics

Stopbullying.gov.  Bullying and youth with disabilities and special health needs.    http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/special-needs/

Stopbullying.gov.  Considerations for special groups.  http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/

The Ophelia Project (organization discontinued, website still available online) http://www.opheliaproject.org/about.html#mission

Blog posts

Gordon, S. (2016, June 17).  8 ways bullying affects gifted students: why gifted students are targeted.  Verywell.com: Bullying.https://www.verywell.com/how-bullying-impacts-the-gifted-student-460594

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop:  Bullying across the gifted/2e lifespan.  http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/blog-hops/bullies-bullying-gifted2e-kids/

Gross, G. (2013, Oct. 3).  Girls who bully and the women they learn from.  Huffington Post: The Blog.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-gail-gross/girls-who-bully-and-the-women-they-learn-from_b_4034100.html

Trépanier, C. (2014).  The burdens of gifted children.  http://crushingtallpoppies.com/2014/03/06/the-burdens-of-gifted-children/

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Table of Contents

Titles
Topics
Outline
Abstract
Introduction
Essay Hook
Thesis Statement
Body of Essay
Conclusion
Works Cited

Bullying can be a difficult topic to tackle. That is why this bullying essay will help offer an idea of what will comprise a good paper and what potential areas of research to cover within this controversial and popular subject. From developing a good thesis, carrying it throughout body paragraphs, and closing with a brief and concise conclusion, this essay will show what to do to obtain a high grade. The first step before the thesis, the body, and the conclusion, is a unique and informative introduction. This will help lead to an idea of where to start the paper and when all is finished, an abstract can be created, thus putting a successful end to any writing project.

Titles:


Understanding a Bully

What Makes Others Bully?

Bullying: The Need to Control

Identifying the Four Common Types of Bullying

Topics:


Verbal Bullying

Relational Bullying

Physical Bullying

Cyber Bullying

Outline:


I.  Introduction

II.  Body

A.  What is Bullying – Definition

B.  Types of Bullying – relational, verbal, physical

C.  Cyberbullying

D.  Effects of Bullying

III.  Conclusion

Abstract

Bullying is an ongoing problem that affects people as children and adults. To stop bullying, people need to understand the various ways to bully and why bullying exists. Bullying makes those that do it feel powerful and look ‘cool’ to others. Yet, bullying can create immense suffering for the victims, sometimes leading to death. This essay covers four types of bullying: relational, verbal, physical, and cyberbullying. It also covers briefly the effects of bullying by providing examples of real bully cases.

Title:  Identifying the Four Common Types of Bullying

Introduction


Essay Hook:  Bullying has lead to the suicides of several American youths.

Kids and adults alike have talked about bullying and their experiences. From coworkers acting too aggressively to kids in class being mean, bullying is a common occurrence that has been portrayed in movies, books, and shows to several generations. Although many think they have a good idea of what constitutes bullying, many do not know the various forms of bullying. People can be bullied verbally, physically, online, and in relationships. Intimate partners, friends, and family members can be bullies.


Thesis Statement

The four different types of bullying that will be discussed in this essay are relational, verbal, physical, and cyberbullying; these types of bullying are often difficult to identify and in covering these topics, it will provide a deeper understanding of bullying and its potential negative impact on both the bully and the person bullied.

What is Bullying

Bullying is defined as hurtful, mean behavior happening continually in any relationship that has an imbalance of strength or power (Zins, Elias, Maher, & Wiggins, 2007). It can take on several forms. These forms may often seem similar. It is important to distinguish each one and understand how they impact a person on the receiving end of the bullying.

Bullying can consist of direct or indirect bullying. “Direct bullying refers to face-to-face physical or verbal confrontations, while indirect bullying is usually described as less visible harm-doing, such as spreading rumors and social exclusion” (Zins, Elias, Maher, & Wiggins, 2007, p. 11). Those that experience direct bullying may be verbally or physically assaulted. Those that experience indirect bullying may be gossiped about. Regardless, direct or indirect bullying can have profoundly negative and long-lasting effects on the person bullied.

Types of Bullying

The first form of bullying is relational bullying and is considered indirect bullying. Relational bullying means bullying with exclusionary tactics, involving deliberate prevention of someone being/joining part of a group (Macklem, 2010). This could be at a game, social activity, or lunch table. A good example of this is when a group of boys at baseball practice decide to go to a fast food place to eat. One person is left to the side, ignored, treated as though he was invisible. Making people feel excluded from a group can lead to feelings of worthlessness and depression.

People suffering from relational bullying may experience mood changes, turn to isolating themselves, or withdraw from peer groups altogether. Although relational bullying can happen with either gender, girls experience this form of bullying more than boys, especially in certain age ranges. “Between eight and eleven years of age, girls continue to use more and more relational aggression. They appear to be choosing the form of aggression that is most hurtful to others, and the type of aggression that is most tolerated by the peer group” (Macklem, 2010, p. 42). Relational bullying does not simply mean excluding someone. It may also entail spreading rumors, sharing secrets and breaking confidences, and recruiting peers to share in the dislike of a target. This form of social manipulation is quite common in grade school and can frequently happen up to middle school.

Bullies that partake in relational bullying may do so to feel power over others and over their intended target. They may dislike the bullying victim and so feel the need to encourage others to dislike the victim as well. Relational bullying also helps a person increase his or her social status among his or her peers. By that person putting someone else down or making someone else look bad, that person looks better in comparison.

The next form of bullying is verbal and is an example of direct bullying. Although there is no evidence of harm done as seen with physical bullying, those that experience verbal bullying state they develop traumatic memories from such events. “Verbal bullying usually takes the form of name-calling, taunting, interrupting, teasing, joking or threatening, intimidating, and humiliating. Victims of verbal bullies are often shy, have low self-confidence, and are chosen because they don’t have friend to defend them” (Ryan, 2012, p. 7-8). Bullies that verbally bully their victims do so because it makes them feel powerful. Like relational bullies, they may tease someone to improve their own social standing and belong with a group.

Verbal bullying can make a bullying victim depressed, socially withdrawn, and can lead to suicide ideation. Those that are verbally bullied may feel as though they have no one to turn to, to alleviate their situation. The best way to deal with verbal bullying, either as a child or as an adult, it to have confidence and learn self-respect. By people understanding and stressing their own personal boundaries, it may help them avoid dealing with a verbal bully.

The third form of bullying is physical. It is direct bullying and is easier to notice than other forms of bullying. Some people assume physical bullying is the most common type of bullying. However, evidence suggests it is the least common. “Many adults characterize most bullying as being physical, but this is a myth. In truth, physical bullying comprises the minority of bullying activity. Both boys and girls much more commonly experience verbal, social, and educational bullying” (Heinrichs & Myles, 2003, p. 25). People experiencing physical bullying are generally physically weaker than the bullies picking on them. They also tend to demonstrate a lack of an assertive personality.

An example of physical bullying is when a kid kicks or scratches another kid one day, and the next day pulls his or her pants down. This repeated act of aggression and physical violence constitutes physical bullying. Physical bullying can lead to potentially serious consequences for the victim such as permanent injury, disability, or even death.

One example of physical bullying that lead to death was the story of Bailey, a 12-year-old male honor student. He was hit in the head several times and experienced seizures that put him in a coma. “Bailey suffered a concussion, broken nose and other injuries when two boys jumped him in recess – one pushing him and the other landing the blows. He started suffering violent seizures causing doctors to put him in a medical coma” (Davies, 2013). Bailey died a short time after, from his injuries.

Physical bullying can be difficult to stop. Measures that can be taken involve gathering evidence and contacting law enforcement. People should never have to endure physical bullying and must be dealt with accordingly. Why physical bullying exists is varied.

Often physical bullies attack their victims because they experience some form of abuse. They may do so simply because they can. Or, they may be peer pressured into attacking a bully victim. Regardless of the reasons, physical bullying is a dangerous form of bullying that should be handled with the proper authorities in order to avoid additional problems from arising.

Cyberbullying

The final form of bullying is cyberbullying. While cyberbullying may be seen as indirect bullying, it can also take on a form of direct bullying due to harassing behaviors like insults and written attacks being sent online. A person can anonymously blackmail someone, post degrading and offensive posts on various social media platforms, and start pages making fun of a person’s looks. Cyberbullying has become a major issue and has led to the deaths of several teens in the last decade. One notable example is Amanda Todd.

Amanda Todd was a teenage girl who committed suicide because of an anonymous man who harassed her for years, posting topless pictures of Todd for her classmates to see. Aside from being tormented online, she was also physically assaulted by the girlfriend of the boy she slept with and was rushed to the hospital afterward for drinking bleach. Todd made a short video on YouTube detailing her suffering. “On September 7, 2012, Amanda Todd posts a video on YouTube entitled “My Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide and Self Harm”. Using queue cards she tells her story of the cyber-bullying she has been exposed to for a long period of time” (Hendricks & Hansen, 2014, p. 17). A month later, in October of 2012 Todd hung herself in her home.

Amanda Todd is just one of dozens of teenage girls and boys on the news that killed themselves because of cyberbullying. It is a serious problem facing today’s youth. How to spot the signs of someone being cyberbullied is if the person spends more time online, appearing anxious or sad afterward. Another is if the person being bullied has difficulty sleeping, wants to stay home, and withdraws from activities he or she used to enjoy. Bullies that engage in this form of bullying do so because it is instant, gratifying, and can be done anonymously. If people wish to combat cyberbullying, they must limit the time the person bullied has online and print out any evidence that could lead to a possible arrest or actions against a cyberbully.

Effects of Bullying

Those that experience bullying may feel the need to commit suicide. They may become bullies themselves as bullying can make a person with low self-esteem feel important and strong. “The main attraction of bullying is that it enhances the bully’s self-image, which is likely to be particularly important for pupils who have a low self-esteem” (Kyriacou, 2003, p. 20). Victims of bullying can develop trust issues with others and have problems socializing. Whatever happened to the victim can then translate to problems in that person’s life from altered performance in school to experiencing mental and physical health problems (Kyriacou, 2003). Bullying can and does have a profound and deep impact on the psyche of the victim.

Conclusion


In conclusion, bullying is a complex issue. It has various forms. Verbal and physical bullying are direct forms of bullying that involve teasing or hitting a bullying victim. Relational and cyberbullying are indirect forms of bullying that consist of isolating someone from a social group or harassing them online. Whatever the form of bullying, it can deeply affect the person bullied. Many that are bullied commit suicide. The ones that do not commit suicide have an altered view of the world. To stop bullying, it is important to recognize the signs, to make bullying a thing of the past, not the present or future.

Works Cited


Davies, K. (2013, March 6). Bailey O’Neill: Boy who died after schoolyard bully attack was punched 3 times in the face and refused to hit back | Daily Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2289093/Bailey-ONeill-Boy-died-schoolyard-bully-attack-punched-3-times-face-refused-hit-back.html

Heinrichs, R., & Myles, B. S. (2003). Perfect targets: Asperger syndrome and bullying ; practical solutions for surviving the social world. Shawnee Mission, Kan: Autism Asperger Pub.

Hendricks, V. F., & Hansen, P. G. (2014). Infostorms: How to Take Information Punches and Save Democracy. Cham.

Kyriacou, C. (2003). Helping troubled pupils. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.

Macklem, G. L. (2010). Bullying and teasing: Social power in children’s groups. New York: Springer.

Ryan, P. K. (2012). Online bullying. New York: Rosen.

Zins, J. E., Elias, M. J., Maher, C. A., & Wiggins, L. (2007). Bullying, victimization, and peer harassment: A handbook of prevention and intervention. Psychology Press.

Tips for Writing

Abstracts should be written last. Once all parts of the essay are constructed, then write the abstract. The abstract is a quick recap of the entire essay that is meant to pique the interest of the reader. Keep that in mind when writing. The same can be said of a thesis. Often the right thesis comes from progress in the topic. Once someone understands what the topic comprises of, it is easier to design a thesis that will help the reader see what is in store in the body of the essay.

The topic of bullying was not so hard to tackle, was it? We hope this bullying essay helps you develop your own amazing and insightful writing. Sure, some tasks can seem daunting, especially if you do not have a guide to help you. But here there are guides and essays that can point you in the right direction. All you need is a little push and some good examples.

 

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