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The Cool Calm

The Cool Calm is the Crisis Text Line blog. Insights, data, stories, and other looks at our work in crisis intervention and technology.

Bullying: When the Definition Doesn’t Define Our Experiences


When you think of the word “bullying” what comes to mind? Depending on your age and your lived experiences, the images in your head are probably incredibly different. Maybe you think of a scene from a movie where a “nerdy” character is shoved into a locker. Or you’re remembering what a classmate said about you on social media. Or maybe you’ve been a bystander who has witnessed an incident that concerns you.

What is Bullying?

There’s no “one size fits all” experience that can define bullying.

That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been people who have tried to clarify what makes an action an act of bullying. According to the Pacer Center’s Teens Against Bullying, an incident is defined as bullying if:

  • The person is being hurt, harmed or humiliated with words or behavior.

  • The behavior is repeated, though it can be a single incident.

  • It is being done intentionally.

  • The person being hurt has a hard time defending themselves from the behavior.

  • The student(s) who are doing it have more power.*

* “Power” can include such things as being older, being physically bigger or stronger, having more social status, or when a group of students “gang up” on someone.

The Struggle with Bullying Statistics

That’s a lot of boxes to check. It’s helpful to have guidelines to define this sort of thing, as it can steer us toward putting a label on our experiences. However, when you’re a student who has been hurt by the actions of someone else, sometimes the experience doesn’t fit neatly into this definition.

Even if your experience doesn’t “fit” the definition, your feelings are valid.

According to this definition of bullying, more than one out of five students in the United States has experienced bullying. But what about the students whose experiences don’t fit exactly into this definition? That’s a lot of people - somewhere in the 80% range of all cases. Even though they don’t fall into the definition, these students are left hurting after incidents of unwanted, aggressive, or mean behavior.

So How Do We Cope with Bullying?

Whether or not what happened can be “defined” as bullying, it’s important to deal with what’s going on. Even if your experience doesn’t “fit” the definition, your feelings are valid. So how do you deal with something like this?

Talk to a trusted adult.

If you’re looking for someone to help you come up with a solution to stop what’s going on, talking to a trusted adult can be extremely beneficial. Your teachers, principals, and coaches are there to support you. In fact, faculty and staff members of many schools are trained in specific ways to deal with bullying and unwanted behaviors. They may be able to help you address the issue.

If you’re not looking for a solution, it’s possible that they may listen and provide support just by being there. A quick plug for your school counselor - they’re a lot like a Crisis Text Line Crisis Counselor. What you say to them is confidential unless you’re hurting yourself or someone else. They only get involved if you give them specific permission.

Talk to a friend.

Taking control of the situation helps lessen the power it has over you.

Sometimes, that listening ear is what you need, but from a peer rather than an adult. A trusted friend, classmate, or sibling may be someone who can be that support for you. Maybe you have that one friend who sends you a funny meme when you’re feeling sad, or maybe you and your sibling make tacos when you have a bad day.

Practice good self-care.

What do you do to feel better when you’re feeling angry or hurt? Do you like to write, or run, or bake, or listen to a playlist you made? Maybe it’s something else entirely. Self-care looks different for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be anything big or involved! It can even be something as small as eating a meal or taking a shower. Check-in with yourself and see when the last time you did something for you was.

Get involved.

Some people cope with bullying by getting involved and taking action. Some schools have a kindness club or an anti-bullying organization on campus. If your school doesn’t have one,  you can ask a faculty member or class representative about starting one. Taking control of the situation helps lessen the power it has over you.

Reach out to us.

Crisis Text Line has trained volunteers ready to listen and support you. We’re there 24/7 for you in a crisis. Sometimes it’s helpful to text someone rather than talk face to face, and Crisis Text Line can help you move from a hot moment to a cool calm.

So, in summary? Regardless of how your experience is defined, you deserve support. You’re important and you deserve to be treated with respect. No matter what label is placed on it, your feelings about the situation matter. And so do you.

Jessica Andrews is a school counselor by day and a Crisis Text Line Crisis Counselor by night. She enjoys hanging out with her pets, watching sitcoms, and helping others!