Is it Rude, Is it Mean, or Is it Bullying?
Posted 05/04/2017 11:27AM

I recently came across an article that's a few years old, entitled "Is it Rude, Is it Mean, or Is it Bullying?" It is a quick read and a helpful one as parents (and teachers), as we think about how best to support our children through the social-emotional bumps and bruises (and fun and joy!) of growing up. Knowing when/how to intervene in our child's social lives is important to think about, as it's our job to both help our children independently navigate their social worlds and also to know when and what kind of adult intervention is critical.

Here's how Signe Whitson discriminates between these three kinds of behaviors:

  • Rudeness: We've all experienced this one (especially after getting a new haircut :)... it's when someone inadvertently says/does something that hurts someone else. For adults, it can be the offhanded "backhanded compliment" or an unthoughtful suggestion. For kids, it looks more like cutting people in line, bragging about their successes, one-upping someone in conversation, or even burping/showing chewed up food, etc.  Generally, these incidents are easily resolved by the child asking the other child to stop (if it becomes a pattern) or a teacher/parent explicitly teaching/modeling more pro-social skills.

  • Meanness: Mean behaviors are when someone intentionally says/does something to hurt someone (once in awhile, not in an ongoing way). We've also all experienced meanness (likely on both sides of the equation!). The difference between rude/mean behaviors is intent. Mean comments/actions are meant "to hurt or depreciate someone." Kids are mean when they criticize clothing, intelligence, appearance, coolness…or any other factor they find to denigrate.  Mean comments/actions are often spoken in anger "or by the misguided goal of propping oneself up in comparison to the person you are putting down." Mean comments/actions are usually impulsive and often quickly regretted. Mean words/actions hurt, and children need to be held accountable for them. However, with coaching and adult support, children can navigate these social bumps with growing independence and skill.

  • Bullying is in a different matter. Experts define it as having three elements: "an intent to harm, a power imbalance and repeated acts/threats of aggressive behavior. Children who bully say/do things intentionally hurtful to others and keep doing it with no regret/remorse, even after the targets have made their feelings clear." It can take several forms: physical, verbal, relational or cyberbullying, and all forms always require immediate and ongoing adult interventions. 

Adele Paynter
Head of Lower School

Charlotte Country Day School
1440 Carmel Rd Road, Charlotte,
NC North Carolina 28226
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