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Teasing and Bullying

Handouts from presentation by Jaan Pill, International Stuttering Awareness Day, University of Toronto, October 21, 2007

Three topics:

  • What is bullying?
  • Bullying of kids who stutter
  • What can we do to reduce bullying?

Many people have contributed to the study of bullying.

Dan Olweus of Norway is a pioneer in the systematic study of bullying. An anti-bullying program he developed has been applied in many countries.

Debra Pepler of York University and the Hospital for Sick Children, and Wendy Craig of Queen’s University, have done extensive research related to bullying in Canadian schools.

Barbara Coloroso of the USA is author of a book on bullying and another on genocide among other books.


We need to take care in how we define things, so we can be sure we’re talking about the same things.

  • Pepler and Craig define bullying as a problem of relationships; they view it as the assertion of interpersonal power through aggression. It involves negative physical or verbal action that has hostile intent, causes distress to the victims, is repeated over time, and involves a power differential between bullies and their victims.
  • Coloroso defines bullying as a conscious, willful, deliberate activity intended to harm, to induce fear through the threat of further aggression, and to create terror in the target. In her view, even a single instance of a harmful activity can be defined as bullying. Her definition does not restrict itself to activities that are repeated over time. Contempt is a key ingredient of bullying, according to Coloroso. Contempt is a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody considered to be worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect.

What’s the opposite of contempt?

  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Respect

(I list these because I believe it’s useful to keep such opposites in mind rather than focusing exclusively on contempt.)

Marilyn Langevin of the University of Alberta, who has developed an anti-bullying program used in many schools, has recently remarked:
“I have been thinking that I want to move the anti-bullying work from awareness and strategies for dealing with it to respect. Respect is so fundamental across all relationships.”

Daniel Goleman of the USA has recently published a book, Social Intelligence, which serves as a follow-up to an earlier book, Emotional Intelligence. His work is part of an approach that focuses on the opposite of contempt.

Pepler and Craig note that bullying is not the same as fighting. Bullying, victimization, and fighting refer to different types of involvement in violence. People who end up fighting are typically of a similar age and of equal strength.

Bullying is not the same as ordinary conflict. Ordinary conflict is “normal, natural, and necessary,” according to Coloroso, while bullying is not. Many anti-bullying programs have as their foundation the teaching of conflict-resolution skills. The problem is that bullying is not about anger or conflict – it’s about contempt. Conflict-resolution is not the answer to bullying, says Coloroso, who is critical of anti-bullying programs based on conflict-resolution skills.

“Children who work through these anti-bullying programs are skilled in handling all different kinds of conflict and learn anger management skills, but they still have no clue as to how to identify and effectively confront bullying.”

Why be concerned about bullying?

  • It is every child’s right to be safe.
  • Bullying is a significant health issue.
  • Bullying is a warm-up for long-term relationship problems.
  • Victimized children are at risk.
  • Compared to their peers, they are more anxious and insecure, have lower self-esteem, are lonelier, are more likely to be rejected by their peers, and are more depressed.
Bullying across the generations

Wendy Craig of Canada and Yossi Harel of Israel, in a 2001/2002 WHO survey report, note that children who are bullies tend to be bullies as adults and to have children who are bullies, and that children who are victimized tend to have children who are victimized.
Childhood bullying often continues into adulthood. Childhood bullying is associated with antisocial behaviour in adulthood including criminal behaviour and limited opportunities to achieve stable employment and long-term relationships.

Bullying in elementary schools

According to research cited by Marilyn Langevin, between 49% and 58% of all elementary students are bullied at school at some time or other, and as many as 32% are bullied once a week or more often. (I think the reference is to North American schools.)

Bullying of kids who stutter

Children with disabilities, including those who stutter, are often singled out to be bullied. In research cited by Langevin, 81% of children who stutter report they were bullied at school at some time, and 56% of those children report they were bullied about their stuttering once a week or more often.

How do we deal with bullying of kids who stutter? We have to address it as part of a wider picture.

Murder and suicide as a response to bullying

Dan Olweus implemented an anti-bullying program in Norway following three suicides of students who had been bullied. The Columbine High School incident and a murder-suicide in Ottawa also warrant discussion.

In 1982, after three Norwegian boys between 10 and 14 killed themselves to avoid continued severe bullying, Norway’s minister of education launched a national campaign against bullying and Dan Olweus introduced an anti-bullying program for the schools.

In April, 1999, two Columbine High School students killed 12 students and a teacher and then committed suicide. Some observers noted that Columbine High School had long condoned a culture of bullying at the school. Many factors, not just teasing and bullying, are at play in such incidents.

In Ottawa in April, 1999, a former co-worker, Pierre LeBrun, killed four employees and himself. A coroner’s jury established that LeBrun had endured years of workplace taunting and teasing focusing on his stuttering.
The coroner’s jury recommended that the federal government and the province should train workers and supervisors to recognize, report, and deal with harassment, bullying, teasing, and mocking in the workplace.

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