Updating our definition of bullying: how it has changed over time

August 2, 2016

 

 

The dictionary definition of bullying is: "to use superior strength or influence to intimidate someone"

While this is definitely true, the way we interpret bullying has changed over time - mainly because the actions involved in bullying have changed as well. However, one thing remains constant: it always involves an aggressor and a victim.

 

Then
Although the word "bully" can only be traced back to the 1500s, the act of bullying others has likely been around forever. Bullying is rooted in human instinct; everything we do is based on survival and competition. Since the human race came into being, it has striven to survive, to overcome obstacles, and be the best. While we no longer kill others to get what we want--at least not most of us--the evolutionary need to succeed has spilled over into modern social settings, like schools.

In the 1700s, bullying was pretty prevalent in schools, but the effects weren't discussed. Because no one had studied or observed it, there was no way of knowing how harmful it was. The other thing is that if violence has become less and less accepted over time, back then, things we find violent today were more ordinary. Violence was more accepted as a way to solve a problem rather than a form of bullying. It often wasn't considered bullying unless someone died or was permanently ostracized.

 

When bullying first came about in this form, it was mainly exhibited physically, verbally or mentally. Children would call each other names, or pressure others to help them cheat on tests. They would beat up their peers. They would steal their property. All these instances are considered bullying, and they all still happen today. However, our modern days have witnessed the emergence of new forms of bullying.

 

Now
In the 1970s, psychologists began to study bullying. The first person to extensively research it was Dan Olweus, who created the aptly named Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP). His group usedֲ his research to reduce the rate of bullying in schools by spreading awareness about something kids didn't really discuss before.

 

The work that Olweus started has led other researchers to also study bullying and governments to examine what is going on schools. After plenty of time witnessing violence in schools, legislators started linking school funding with safety laws to ensure that school administrators were taking students' safety seriously. Certain laws that have been enacted protect victims of bullying, holding aggressors accountable for their actions and supporting those that come forward with information about harassment.

 

Bullying has many uses all over the world. Some use it to harm others, and others to keep people in check by maintaining social order and not allowing any one person to hold all the power. Bullying may look different in various cultures, but one thing's for sure: it's everywhere in one form or another.


The Updated Definition of Bullying
In modern times, we've updated our social definition of bullying to include the new ways children are using digital tools to intimidate, scare or harm each other. One major change is the emphasis on social bullying. Because social circles have become so important -they're present in schools, but also in workplaces and other social scenes - and kids are so focused on maintaining a good social standing, there ends up beingֲ a lot of room for conflict.

 

Social bullying stems from trying to alter the group's perception of a person. While this can include excluding people from a specific group or social circle, it can also include spreading rumors, gossip and lies about others in an effort to change their reputation or social standing. Social bullying can be emotionally trying as it causes the victims to want to avoid the setting in which they're being bullied. When this happens in school, it can affect the victim's ability to focus on their education. It can also create major emotional problems that lead to transferring schools, disorders or even suicide.

 

Another major component of modern definition of bullying is cyberbullying. Technology has made it easy to anonymously torment peers online. With the prevalence of social media, email, instant messaging and chat rooms, the chances for bullies to strike online are plenty.

 

Cyberbullying is especially dangerous because it takes the harassment from the school into the child's home. Online bullying does't end when the school day does - it continues into the night, often causing kids to feel trapped. The only way to make it stop is to log off, but it can take a definite emotional toll when it follows these victims into their safe places. Additionally, because there is an added level of anonymity, bullies don't hold back. They say whatever they want without considering the consequences or effect their words may have on others.

 

The Future 
While no one knows for sure what the future definition of bullying holds, it is probably not going away any time soon. But with more awareness and research, as well as vigilant eyes watching for the signs of bullying, we can cut down on the number of students facing bullying.

 

Cyberbullying is sure to grow more than any other type. With the prevalence of social media, the platforms used to bully others online are constantly changing. From MySpace to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, bullies are adapting to the trends in online communication. Whatever happens, the definition of bullying will continue to transform and change mold based on the current social environments and trends."
 

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