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Bullying is an abuse behavior and is different from conflict, drama, or being mean. Conflict is a normal part of human relationships. Learning how to deal with conflict is an important developmental task of childhood. Bullying is repetitive behavior that is intentional and emotionally impactful. It occurs in situations when there is a power imbalance between the children and results in fear. Today most bullying behaviors are not obvious and physical. Instead, children engage in social cruelty. Most of the bullying that occurs today is the accumulation of many small behaviors like whispering, ignoring, and eye rolling. These behaviors fall into a gray area that can be difficult for adults to detect.

The internet further complicates the social worlds of children and teens. Children increasingly feel that they must be in constant communication. Being away from social media can make many adolescents incredibly anxious. Many young children are using social media often without the knowledge of their parents. Owning a smartphone is the biggest risk factor for elementary school aged cyberbullying.  

With older children in school bullying almost always has an online component. What children and teens are doing online changes constantly. Generally once adults are aware of a trend it is on its way out. That being said, this list provides some guidance as to what types of apps are currently popular with children and adolescents.

The good news is that students are highly aware of bullying and cyberbullying and are increasingly responsive. Research shows that the best intervention is peer intervention. Even a quick comment like, “just ignore him,” from a peer can make a world of difference for a child that feels targeted. Our role as parents and educators is to support students as they learn to do this for each other. Parents have a vital role in monitoring the digital lives of their children.

While bullying awareness is important and has helped to reduce relational aggression, far too many behaviors are being labeled as bullying. It can be easier for a child who is avoiding working on friendship skills to say that they are being bullied so that adults will handle their social conflicts for them. Forming relationships is the central developmental task of the school years. This is a challenging process that will include conflict and hurt feelings. Just because something is not classified as bullying doesn’t mean that it isn’t important and doesn’t mean that children do not need help navigating it.

The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center and Common Sense Media are excellent resources for more information about these topic. It is often difficult to know what is appropriate and what is inappropriate when it comes to children and screentime. These recommendations provide a start.