Bully terminology: Should children be labeled bullies, victims?

Butler professor advocates terminology change

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. - A movement is under way to change the labeling of children as bullies and victims because some consider them unfair to children.

Methods for battling bullies have evolved over the years at schools, as has the terminology.

Noblesville West Middle School has a "Majority" program in which students are challenged to help bullied children by standing up for them or reporting incidents. Those who stand up are called "upstanders."

"I think it's better to be an upstander than a bystander, because you can help put a stop to bullying," said Emily, a middle school student.

"The term 'upstander' really resonates with our students because they can say, 'We don't see it that much in our school, but when we do, we know there's a lot of us standing around that can stand up for this person and help them out,'" said Lauri Waldner, the school's guidance director.

Noblesville West is also incorporating an anti-bullying program that focuses more on intervention than prevention, the brainchild of Brandie Oliver, an assistant professor at Butler University.

"There's a plethora of bullying prevention programs out there. I found that there was not a whole lot in bullying intervention," Oliver said. "What do we do after we have a student who's been identified?"

Oliver, who teaches in Butler's school counseling program, has been helping schools in central Indiana comply with the state's new anti-bullying legislation. She advocates a change in terminology.

While children who have been bullied have traditionally been called victims, Oliver said calling them targets is more appropriate.

Some have argued that even the word "bully" is a dehumanizing label that stereotypes. "Bullier" or student who exhibits bullying behavior is preferred.

Oliver said she believes a student who saw bullying shouldn't be called a bystander, but a witness because students see a witness as someone who needs to tell the truth about what they saw.

While the changing terminology movement isn't new, it seems to be gaining ground in schools all over the U.S.

A long-term study from Leonard Eron and Rowell Huesman indicated that young bullies carry a one-in-four chance of having a criminal record by age 30.

"If we call a student a bully, they kind of incorporate that into who they are and how they act, and they live up to that label," Waldner said. "It's that real self-fulfilling prophecy."

Many experts contend that children who exhibit bullying behavior can return to class as productive students, but they need the chance to change.

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