ATHENS, Ohio -- Many teachers and counselors often overreact to one-time, physical confrontations between kids and overlook nonviolent behaviors that can cause even more damaging, long-term emotional and social problems.
There's a natural and logical tendency to react strongly to a schoolyard fight, but such an incident may not signal the sort of emotional distress experts believe triggered many of the recent school shootings across the country, says Richard Hazler, professor of counseling education at Ohio University and author of a new study on bullying behaviors.
"When are children just playing and when should an adult intervene?" Hazler says. "It's difficult for even the most experienced professionals to figure out for any individual situation whether to take strong action or to let the kids settle it themselves."
Labeling all playground clashes as bullying behavior is a common mistake, Hazler says. But in fact, bullying is defined as repeated harmful acts of physical, verbal or social abuse and confrontations that involve unfair matches between children.
Hazler surveyed 251 teachers and counselors in Ohio to assess their understanding of bullying and non-bullying behaviors. Participants were given 21 scenarios of different emotional and physical confrontations between kids and asked to identify which were bullying situations. The study was presented at the American Counseling Association World Conference in April.
Most participants -- between 50 percent and 80 percent, depending on the individual scenario -- labeled non-bullying situations as bullying, suggesting that professionals are not clear about which situations they should react to and how they should react.
One resulting complication is that people are "less likely to show
concern, attempt to prevent or act to intervene in situations involving
potential social or verbal harm while they are more likely to overreact in
Contact: Kelli Whitlock