I'm an enrichment teacher; I only see students for two hours a week, so I wasn't aware there were problems in his regular class and he never came to me with any issues again. I gave him a desirable task for an upcoming project and other kids were eager to work on it so they had to work with him and he seemed to have taken my advice. I chalked it up to problem solved. Several months later when another parent took to Facebook and claimed their daughter was being bullied at our school, this boy's mother chimed in that her son, too, was bullied and that teachers did nothing about it.
I don't know if she was talking about me specifically, but I couldn't help but roll my eyes and wonder. Our age of helicopter parenting has carried over to the classroom where those same parents expect us to be helicopter teachers. I would love to tell these parents that no matter how many interventions we do, "stop bullying" campaigns we engage in, peer mediations we arrange, or heartfelt talks we have with accused bulliers, we can't make other kids like your child. We can't make them want to play with your child at recess. When I come across a student with an abrasive personality, I try to work on it with him or her. I try to figure ways of pointing out and making them aware of how it is perceived by others. Since I have most of my students for three years, I often get the pleasure of seeing them develop and outgrow some of these issues.
When parents can't be objective about their child's weaknesses and instead want the adults in his or her life to step in and smooth their path, those weaknesses never go away. I'm not talking about kids who are picked on because they don't dress fashionably or because they found themselves on the outskirts of the popular crowd. Nor am I talking about those kids who truly are bullies and wreak havoc as a way to seek power or deal with their own insecurities. I'm talking about the normal (and sometimes mean) interactions kids have every day. I had a student tell me she was being bullied because her friend told her she didn't like her dress. In actuality, she had asked her friend if she liked it and when said no, she responded by saying that was mean to say and her friend was being a bully. She actually told her friend she had to say she liked it. When she refused, this supposed victim of bullying persisted. Finally, in frustration, she came to me. She expected me to step in and force her friend to change her opinion even though her opinion is exactly what she asked from her in the first place.
Kids (and many parents) are under the false opinion that any time a child says something mean or refuses to play with them, they are being bullied. It's become the throwback position and it's just plain wrong. Bullying involves a real or perceived difference in power, exists over an extended period of time, and involves aggression on behalf of the bully (http://www.tolerance.org/bullying-basics). In both of these situations, the child who eventually claimed to be bullied was the aggressor. In the first case, my annoying little boy was called annoying and kids didn't want to socialize with him. He felt bad about it, but he was aggressive in trying to force himself into a group and his bold and in-your-face personality didn't lack for power. He needed someone to teach him how to interact with people, not step in and give him the false impression his behavior was appropriate just because his feeling were hurt.
There are kids who are true bullies and victims who must endure far too much just to go to school, but I'm afraid this epidemic of labeling every perceived wrong as bullying is taking our time and effort away from those who really need it. Kids are mean. They say things impulsively and can be cruel, even to their friends. They're learning how to form relationships, how to foster them, and sometimes, how to end them. They are going to make mistakes when they do this and we need to let them.