Thursday, September 6, 2018

Negative Peer Relationships

“If we write every unpleasant encounter off as bullying, we don’t prepare them well.”

As teachers, it is so easy to get caught up in this major anti-bullying movement and forget that we also need to teach about natural peer relationships.

Not every negative peer action is bullying and should not be taught that it is so.

We set our students up for failure when we allow non-bullying behaviors to be labeled as bullying.

As a parent, I hate to see my own children hurt and it is easy to see any negative action towards my child as bullying. I’m not sure that I really believe this or that lately, it is easier to join the bandwagon on this.

So, I have to understand when parents call to complain that a student in the classroom is bullying their child.

When this happens, I need to assure that I take this very seriously and I will investigate the situation. I promise to let the parent know the result of my investigation. This is an important step in building trust and rapport with the parents. Follow through with my promises is also vital.

The author of the article also shares that, defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children.” According to the site, it must include an imbalance of power (whether it’s strength, popularity, or access to information), and is a behavior that happens repeatedly or could be repeated. “Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally and excluding someone from a group on purpose,” the site says.”

Once I get both sides of the story, I need to see if all of the elements of bullying are evident. If they aren’t, then I need to conclude that this was just a negative peer relationship. If they are, then I need to refer this to the administration to be dealt with according to school policy.

When I talk to the parents about this being a negative peer relationship, I start off with sharing the definition of bullying, as stated above. Then I go through the behavior of the students and explain why this situation is not seen as bullying. I  also explain that by mislabeling this situation, we could be causing more harm than good.

We don’t want our students to feel like victims and they will if we teach them that every negative peer relationship is bullying. In the workplace and in society, we will have negative peer relationships and this is natural in any society. We can’t eliminate this by treating everything as bullying.

I’m afraid if we overlabel situations as bullying, we are also telling our students that they are not capable of handling this by themselves and need a person with more power to deal with it. We are teaching them learned helplessness. This could cause problems in the workplace and in personal relationships.

We need to teach our students coping skills and how to deal with negative peer relationships.

Some examples would be:
Tell the other person that you feel hurt and why you feel this way.
Write this person a note about how you are feeling.
Don’t be accusatory and share how this situation is making you feel.
Walk away from this other person and keep your distance.
Ask this person to leave you alone and stop communicating with this person.

If the negative behavior continues, then this might become a different situation and could turn into bullying but we should not treat every situation as if it is bullying from the start if it isn’t necessary.

How do you differentiate the two types of situations? Please share.

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash


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