Why We Need to Use the Word Bully Less

In honor of October being National Bullying Prevention Month, here’s my plea: use the word bully less.

use the word bully less

This morning, I watched Monica Lewinsky on Good Morning America, talking about how she was called a tramp and other negative female terms. Horrible, judgmental words from people who know her only from the situation we all saw played out in the media back in the late ‘90s. Granted, her behavior and choices had consequences but that didn’t mean others had the right to publicly call her names.

But jokes, insults and losing her cyber-reputation isn’t bullying.


gerund or present participle: bullying
1. use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.
“a local man was bullied into helping them”
synonyms: persecute, oppress, tyrannize, browbeat, harass, torment, intimidate, strong-arm, dominate; More

This is a real bullying situation.

So is this.

And here’s another legitimate, severe case of bullying that ought to cause mass outrage.

Then there’s my son’s story. To be as brief as possible, he started a new school when we moved here. Reconnected with an old friend. Old friend’s newer friend didn’t like sharing his friend, and he took it out on my son. It started with some name calling, then moved on to tripping him in the hallway, pulling his backpack and causing him to fall backwards. Things were thrown at him at lunch. Kids were told bad, untrue things about my son. In the P.E. area, a group of kids surrounded him and kicked him in between the legs. One day, a child showed up at the door and said he’d been invited to hang out. I called my son over, the child stepped in the door and my son said “That’s him, mom.” Brazen, unabashed and unafraid of us, we made him leave. That only meant though that he went and stood across the street, staring at our house for quite a while.

The name calling got worse and the behaviors started to include my son’s bike ride to and from school. He was kicked off his bike, called “faggot” and “retard” and had his glasses knocked off. His backpack was ripped, as was his clothing. I started picking him up, and on my first day, I witnessed the bully hiding behind a tree with a large, thick branch in his hand; the bully didn’t know who I was and showed no fear about an adult watching, and when he stepped out from the tree to hide behind a wall closer to the sidewalk, another child asked him what he was doing. “I’m here to kick <my son’s> ass!” That’s when another child yelled “Hi, Mrs…” and the bully realized who I was. Only then did he step away, but that gave us a good indication of how he wasn’t afraid of adults either.

It escalated to him showing up wherever my son was. We learned later that one of my son’s “friends” was telling the bully where to find him, contributing to the situation. Then, when we stopped my son’s interaction with that child, the bully would stand outside our home. Hide behind vehicles, trees and houses. Minor vandalism began. He’d ride back and forth in front of our house. My husband approached him and said he wanted to talk to him; the child refused to comply.

My son took to keeping his phone in his hand at all times. He’d ride his bike to the park and call to tell me that the bully was there, hiding behind a tree. I began following my son with my own phone in hand, videoing the bully, weapons, hiding, whatever he was doing. I asked him one time why he was doing this. “He took my friend.” I asked him to step away from me, as he was too close; he then sat on a bench in front of me and said “Stop talking to me.” No fear. AT ALL.

The physical issues worsened. He’d kick, hit and punch my son, frequently. Heavier items were thrown at him. He was isolated. The school was helping when they could, but there are steps. We involved the police, who were extremely supportive and helpful. It finally took three suspensions, a personal security guard (assigned to my son, which goes over well when you’re trying to make friends in middle school, but they couldn’t assign it to the bully because then he had his minions attack my son instead), more police involvement and a temporary restraining order (which getting served was a feat in itself, as we didn’t know where he lived) before he finally stopped. And even then, the stares intended to intimidate didn’t stop. (And even the TRO wasn’t enforced fully, as the bully still hit my child at a school dance and followed him around outside of the school grounds as well as in.)

My son wanted a normal life. Instead, he got sick, threatened, hurt and mentally messed with in a way that goes far beyond being called a mere name. We had to carry a golf club to get the mail, because we weren’t sure when this ‘child’ would take it up a notch; even the authorities told us to be careful as nothing was making a dent in this child’s behavior. His parents made excuses and threats and lied to the judge in court. The judge labeled the bully a stalker in addition to a bully and everyone told us, you have a case for far more than just routine bullying. Thankfully, we didn’t need to go that far. The bully moved and while he still attends my son’s school, he has either given up or moved on to some other poor child. Bullying behavior doesn’t just go away when untreated.

When we use the word bully to define bad behavior, rudeness, name-calling and nasty comments, we’re diluting what real bullying is. We’re dismissing the truly horrific circumstances some people deal with every single day. Those kids that are harassed and intimidated, both face-to-face, behind their backs and online. Those kids who are afraid to go to school, those who are losing friends and dealing with physical pain. Those families who have to move because the authorities are of no help.

The kids who are so bullied, they commit suicide because there is no solution to the torment.

Calling others names is bad. It’s not okay to call someone fat, ugly, to make fun of them due to their disability or sexual orientation or gender. It’s wrong. But that doesn’t make it bullying.

Remember the reporter who got called “fat” and called it bullying? I called it BS. It was wrong – the guy WAS a jerk – but it wasn’t bullying.

Bullying is when the name calling is habitual and can’t be avoided, when it happens to kids who simply are being themselves and trying to live their own life. Bullying is when that name calling makes someone so fearful to leave their home, the loss of their friends and their freedom.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s not bullying if you did something in the public eye. I’m not saying Monica Lewinsky, or anyone else who puts themselves out there for public scrutiny deserves to be treated badly….but there is an expectation that people will judge. When you perform a sex act with a married man who just happens to be the president, you have to expect that people will say bad things. But that doesn’t make it bullying.

As adults, we’re a lot more equipped to deal with negative situations. We can turn off the TV. Sign off of Facebook or Twitter. Talk to our supervisor at work. But if you’re a kid, bullying isn’t easily solved. If you tell someone, you’re a tattler. If you don’t tell someone and try to deal with it yourself, you may get hurt, or you may just get in trouble for defending yourself at school.

Did you know that when cornered on the playground at school, when another student has you backed against a wall, calling you names and/or hitting you, and you hit them to get away, you can be suspended? You can actually be charged with assault? \

THAT is bullying.

Did you know that when you call the police, they can’t always do something without a witness?

Did you know that when you are finally forced to get a restraining order, if you don’t know the physical address of the bully, you may have a piece of paper that cost money and time away from work/school but is useless. Police aren’t allowed to research the address for you, not even if he’s a fellow student.

  • Real bullying goes beyond mean words said by faceless strangers online.
  • Real bullying involves a habitual, ongoing torment that we can’t get away from, something that disrupts a normal schedule and a normal life.
  • Real bullying threatens your mental and/or physical health. (And if mere name calling by a stranger online does that, you may need to learn to exercise the options of turning off your computer, using your privacy tools and blocking people.)
  • Real bullying imprisons you.
  • Real bullying has you fearful to leave your home.
  • Real bullying can even disrupt your work life.

Kids are afraid to report it so they frequently don’t, and then we’re all ‘surprised’ when someone commits suicide.

Yes, bullying has levels and it doesn’t need to be life-threatening to be called bullying, but being called some names online by random strangers is not bullying. If your child says he’s being bullied, don’t dismiss it. Look into it. Bullying starts small and may escalate quickly.

My feelings are harsh, but based on personal experience, so I won’t change my feelings. I watched my son develop severe migraines and nausea so bad he couldn’t leave his room. We watched him lose weight. When our doorbell rang, we didn’t know whether to grab a golf club or the video camera. We had to take our child to the doorway at school, watch his personally assigned security guard walk him into class and then pick him up, leaving work each time. I watched a blossoming child develop dark circles under his eyes. We saw his grades go down because he couldn’t focus. We watched his friends back away because at his age, they had yet to all develop the wherewithal to realize that standing by their friend meant strength in numbers; we watched them be afraid to be bullied, too. When I left the house, I had to go out first with a golf club to ensure that there was no one hiding behind a tree or on our curb by my car. We had to look at the cost of a video security system to stop the minor vandalism. We had to ask a stalker to stop standing on our sidewalk, knowing that until the restraining order was in place – not something you can just ‘go get’ – he didn’t have to leave and no one could make him. OUR OWN HOME WASN’T SAFE. My son’s SCHOOL WASN’T SAFE. OUR ENTIRE LIVES WERE DISRUPTED.

That’s bullying.

It’s bullying when the school tells you it’s the worst case they’ve seen and they are unsure of how to navigate their own district policies; when they have to call in the superintendent because they want to be sure they’re legally covered, you know you’re involved in something big. Parents like us are dealing with it all over the place now, and sadly, the bully still has so many rights despite stacks of witness statements, police statements and a judge saying “I have heard enough and if you do this again, I will arrest you for a felony because stalking, harassment and physical threats are NOT okay.”

That’s bullying.

Monica, I’m sorry, but you’re not a bully victim. Reporter, not a bully victim.

Stop dismissing what defenseless children and young adults are dealing with through absolutely no fault of their own. Find another word, because it’s not being bullied. It’s great to advocate against bullying and to help others dealing with it, but don’t confuse the issue and make life harder for those dealing with true bullying.

Bullying needs advocates, awareness and more laws to support the victim. Bullies need to not rely on a victim being too afraid to defend themselves. My child has been taught – and it will continue to be reinforced – if you are ever again backed into a corner and physically unable to get away, you are 5000% allowed to defend yourself physically. If you need to kick someone in a painful spot or punch someone in the nose to get away and reduce your own injuries, he is allowed to do it. We will deal with repercussions later in the form of our attorney. Bullies rely on kids being too afraid to be suspended. It’s a vicious circle and it needs to stop.

That’s bullying.

Kids being afraid to defend themselves or being told, even worse, that they can’t.

Physical bullying is more common than you think.

Save the word bullying for what it is. Use other words for bad behavior like name calling and ‘shaming.’ Just like we wouldn’t want to misuse the word rape, we don’t want to misuse the word bully. It IS that important. Like this article says, bullying is everyone’s problem and we all need to work together to fix it.

Who am I to say what real bullying is? A parent who watched her son live it. Being called a name? If only it had been that easy.

Parents like me, we’re everywhere. Help us defeat bullying by using the word “bully” less and maybe we can decrease the real cases of it.

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One Comment

  1. Definitely saying yes to less bullying is the way forward. We’ve had a personal experience with bullying and it wasn’t cool at all. I don’t know if kids are just more insensitive or is it more about me being a concerned dad and just worrying about it more. Or maybe it’s a combination of the two. Regardless, less bullying and judging and more acceptance of what is different. There are some schools that are doing a great job of raising awareness and fostering a culture acceptance and that’s a good thing. But some halls of education have much work to do. Great read, this definitely hit home. Thank you.

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