Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a difference

Some things aren’t popular, but that rarely stops me from saying them. This is no exception. I’m tired of hearing about bullying. I’m tired of everyone being labeled a bully. If a kid makes fun of another kid, if a kid calls someone a name, if someone gets their feelings hurt, people are quick to use the word bullying. That’s not the case. Sometimes kids are just little assholes.

We use the word bullying so much that the meaning is becoming diluted. If everyone is a bully and if everyone has been a victim of bullying, it’s just commonplace and a part of life. Some things are just a part of life, but bullying shouldn’t be one of them.

Bullying Vs. Just Being A Jerk

Our big push on bullying is taking power away from our kids. We aren’t teaching them what to do if someone makes fun of them. Kids aren’t trying to handle situations on their own. Instead, they are thinking “bullying means go tell the teacher.” Actual bullying does, but they aren’t learning that there is a difference between a kid who’s a jerk and an actual bully.

As adults, we deal with assholes often. They will make snide comments. People can be rude and inconsiderate. We know how to deal with those types of people. It’s a valuable skill that we need to pass along to our children. They don’t need the teacher to intervene for every little thing. They need to learn skills like walking away or telling someone they don’t like what is being said. Kids need to learn how to handle their issues.

We all need to learn the difference between kids being jerks and bullying.


My 6-year-old son came home the other day and said someone was making fun of his bracelet. It was a bracelet he made in preschool, rediscovered, and decided he was going to wear it every day. It was made of pink, yellow and blue hearts. The kid in his classroom started making fun of him. He said it was a girl bracelet.

On one hand, the kid had a point. Honestly, it looks like a girl bracelet. So, my son tells me the story saying the kid was making fun of him and his bracelet. I didn’t run into the school to tell on the kid. I asked my son what he said to the kid. He said “nothing.” Why? Why didn’t he tell the kid he was being mean or he didn’t like what he was saying?

I told him if the kid did it again he should just tell him he didn’t like what was being said. My 9-year-old said “or you can tell your teacher or go to the office and tell them.” That seems like overkill. No. Try to handle the problem yourself first. If the kid continues to make fun of you, tell  the teacher.

The other 6-year-old wasn’t being a bully just because he was making fun of my kid. That’s part of what kids do. Is it acceptable? No. It is something that will occasionally happen, and when it does I want my son to stand up for himself.

This is not to say that bullying does not actually occur. When it truly does occur, it needs to be dealt with.


There’s a 9-year-old boy, Grayson, in North Carolina who is actually being bullied for bringing his My Little Pony lunchbox to school. He’s being punched, pushed and being called horrible names. This is real bullying that happens in schools sometimes. When this takes place the teachers or lunchroom staff are supposed to step in and correct the problem.

If the administration had done what it was supposed to, it wouldn’t have made the news. Instead of the school standing up to the bullies and correcting the problem, the school counselor comes out to the car and tells Grayson’s mom her son “should hide his lunch box in his backpack and that when you carry things like that these things happen.”

If a boy carries something that is perceived to be “girly,” some little jerk might say something. Maybe he’d get teased a little and would have to decide if he wanted to keep carrying it or not. I would almost, almost expect it. I’m not agreeing with it, but it wouldn’t surprise me. It turning physical is too much. If the teasing was more than a comment or two, it goes from teasing to bullying and needs to swiftly be addressed.

So, one staff member is out of line. The school stated that “an initial step was taken to immediately address a situation that had created a disruption in the classroom. Buncombe County Schools takes bullying very seriously, and we will continue to take steps to resolve this issue.”

Oh, good. Except, it wasn’t good. The school took a first step of telling Grayson to bring a different lunchbox. Instead of disciplining the bullies at this school, the administration is telling the bullied kid to change what he is doing. What kind of a message is that sending to all of the kids? How any adult can think that is an acceptable solution is beyond me. The school administration is continuing the bullying that the kids started.

Why would the school administration take the easy way out and side with the bullies? This is not correcting the problem. Instead, this is telling all the kids if they are big enough jerks they will get their way.

The school asked him to leave the bag at home because it had become a distraction and was a “trigger for bullying.” There is always a “trigger for bullying.” When I was in school the fat kid was bullied. The “trigger” was the kid being fat. That kid can’t leave his fat at home, so what would this school do instead? The kid with red hair could dye her hair a different color. The girl with freckles could use cover-up.

Or, instead of allowing these little jerks to continue with their bullying, the school could correct the problem. They could insist kids behave. This school administration needs to take care of the bullying problem.

I feel for Grayson and his parents. In a time when bullying is what we hear about all the time, the school is standing with the bullies.

I’m impressed with Grayson for having the resolution to keep taking his my little pony lunchbox to school. Confidence like that in a child is rare. I hope my boys have that same kind of courageousness. I hope this situation doesn’t make him lose that.

Grayson’s parents have taught him well. He shouldn’t have to conform. He should be able to do what makes him happy. He isn’t hurting anyone else. The school should be supporting this family, not the family of the bullies.

There is a Facebook page Support for Grayson if anyone is interested in checking it out.

34 Thoughts on “Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a difference

  1. So many of these stories over using “bullying” saw this on the news (http://abcnews.go.com/US/march-madness-style-bracket-rates-high-school-girls/story?id=22931162) and thought, that’s pretty rude, maybe even derogatory, certainly sexist…. but bullying? No. Boys being dumb, girls being, well…. girls…. but not bullying… I love that my kids can be weird and will stand up for themselves and their weirdness, even if they get teased (that’s courage folks). Bullying is brutal, it is demeaning it is hurtful, it make you afraid… not feel bad. “Pink is a girl color, you’re a girl.” = teasing… “I’m going to beat your faggot ass you, pink wearing princess” = bully.. Harsh words to read but see the difference?

  2. I agree. It is overused. And what is going to happen to all these kids that don’t learn problem solving skills?? They will grow up and not know how to interact with people that are mean. Because even as an adult I deal with mean people. Great thoughts. Glad you shared on my page.
    Meredith recently posted…No FearMy Profile

    • I agree Meredith! We all deal with mean people on occasion. We can’t always expect someone else to figure out what we should do about it. I don’t want to constantly figure it out for my boys either. If we equip them, they should be able to deal with most minor things on their own. Then they should know if there is actual bullying, adults are there to help.
      Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

  3. Rhonda,
    Good points! Kids do need to learn to stand up and defend themselves, but when I read the scenario you describe with Grayson all I could think of was that this is the same blame the victim mentality used on women who are raped! “What did you do to provoke it?” should NEVER be the question!
    It’s not about the lunchbox people!

    • Exactly Nancy. While reading comments on reports of this, I am amazed on how many people are siding with the school/blaming the victim. Why is it acceptable to blame the victim, whether it’s the person who was bullied or the person who was raped? It shouldn’t be. The bullies should be dealt with instead of turning a blind eye to them.
      Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

  4. If I were Grayson’s parents I would be talking to a lawyer immediately. That’s bullshit. That’s victim blaming. I don’t know what to think about his country any more.
    Twindaddy recently posted…The Fish In The PantsMy Profile

  5. Did I know your son was 6? My son is also 6!

    Speaking of this issue, he came home oh-so-upset the other day because the bigger kids are better than him at basketball and are playing “too rough with him.” I was initially concerned after hearing the word “rough,” but after some discussion I gleaned that dude, my son is just short. And the other kids are using that to their advantage on the court. They’re not playing “rough.” They’re just playing basketball.

    I wanted to be sure, though, because my son was really out of sorts. But when asked if the bigger boys were calling him names, pushing him around, or whatever, my son said “no.” When asked if he was having trouble with them in the classroom, he said “no.” When asked if their friendships were any different than they ever were, he said “no.”

    It’s not his fault my kid is short. But neither is it the other kids’ fault that they aren’t. They absolutely are not bullying my son or being “rough” – he’s just losing at basketball and he doesn’t like it. Which isn’t to say that bullying isn’t a real problem. You’re just absolutely right – we need to make sure it actually is bullying before we charge into the schools, torches blazing.
    Sarah (est. 1975) recently posted…life’s too goodMy Profile

    • Oh, I can imagine how that conversation went in your house. We have many of the same types of conversation, where I slowly pull out bits of important information to build the whole story (fortunately most of ours aren’t over kids being mean). In the case of your son (and mine, and many other situations), the problem will simply work itself out. Which is not to say we totally ignore it now. We just need to watch and see.
      Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

  6. Jayne on March 18, 2014 at 6:44 am said:

    If you don’t address what looks like mild “teasing” it grows into rampant bullying. Seen it, dealt with it both as a child and as an educator with children as young as three. Children push boundaries…it’s what they do.

    Regardless of what one chooses to call it…and we’re playing semantics here…teaching kindness is at the core of it all.

    • Jayne, I read your comment yesterday and have been thinking of it. I agree that teaching kindness is the key. When my 6 year old used to do something that was mean to his brother, I used to ask him if he would like it if someone did that to him. Often times he would tell me he wouldn’t care. At first, I thought he was being sassy about it. Then I realized that he really wouldn’t care about many of those things, his personality is more aloof. I switched up my approach with him, by letting him know even though it wouldn’t bother him, it may bother other people. I wouldn’t like that, or it looks like it hurt his brothers feelings. Using that approach, he is now more understanding that we don’t all feel the same things.

      I think with younger kids, they need that explanation. They often times don’t even realize that what they are doing/saying is mean or hurtful. To say that because a kid made a couple mean comments that they were bullying seems like a stretch.

      For kids who are older, if someone says something mean, they should try to get over it, ignore it, or stand up for themselves with their own words. It’s different if it’s ongoing, if they are being ganged up on, or if it becomes physical.

      Bullying does happen and it does need to be addressed. I just think every time someone gets their feelings hurt, we are quick to say they were bullied.
      Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

  7. You are so right! We continue to water down these issues, failing to understand that by doing so true bullying is lost in the shuffle. Children can be mean little turds sometimes, that is what children do, they establish pecking orders, they push and shove, they pick at each others vulnerabilities; really, so what.

    My sons are in their 30’s now. They were not top on the totem pole but they weren’t at the bottom either. The eldest was more ‘popular’, he was a jock. The youngest, well he was more of something else and he was sometimes picked on when he was much younger. I did not step in, but one time and that was to get in the face of the ‘bad’ parent who didn’t like that my son’s stood up to his bully child and beat the living hell out of him after weeks of abuse. Yes, this little turd who was two years older and a good 20 lbs heavier than my youngest was constantly pounding on him, stealing from him and otherwise abusing. When I finally found out I told both of my sons, next time he tries you fight back, told my older son to defend his brother if necessary. He did. The result was the bully got a good whipping, his father stormed my house complaining about the fat lip and black eye. I told him why it happened and then other parents came forward and said his son had been stealing and abusing their kids also. That was the end of it.

    There is absolutely a difference. Schools and parents need to understand it. Step in when there is real bullying. Stay out and let the kids sort it out when it is kids being kids.
    Valentine Logar recently posted…Jumping in DelicatelyMy Profile

    • In the case of your sons, it seems actual bullying was going on and the school should have stepped in to stop it. But those were different times too. We were much more apt to let kids learn how to work it out (sometimes letting things go on for too long). These days, we are so quick to jump in and take care of every situation for the kids. It just seems like in the long run, that is a disservice to our kids. I don’t want mine to be in college and calling me to come and talk to someone because they are teasing them. They need to figure it out. I need to be able to talk with them and give them some guidance and advice so next time they will be able to take care of it all on their own.
      Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

  8. You are right..it gets diluted when the bully label gets applied to everything. Same thing for hostile work environments…sometimes people are just dicks. Get some thick skin and stand up for yourself.

    Then the real hostile environments and sexual harassment can be dealt with.
    RageMichelle recently posted…Talking With Weird Friends Means Your Brain Gets To Wear Yoga PantsMy Profile

  9. This is really a great post. There absolutely a difference between a real bully and kids just being kids. I’m appalled at how that school in NC is handling the situation. Shame on them. I guess they are conformists, huh?
    Maureen recently posted…Grammar Nazi Part III’ishMy Profile

  10. Doug in Oakland on March 19, 2014 at 4:55 pm said:

    It seems to me that children need to experience enough conflict to learn the social skills with which to (at least try to) avoid the chronic powerlessness of true bullying. They need help and guidance, obviously, but some things they do have to figure out on their own.
    It also seems to me as if many parents have become fearful to the point of paranoia that their children will come to some (any) harm, when in reality experiencing the mild dangers they are so afraid of is how children learn to cope with the larger dangers their lives will almost certainly subject them to.
    For the sake of honesty and full disclosure I should note that I am not a parent and that I began racing motorcycles at age 12.

    • I always look forward to your insight. Why don’t you have a blog? I’d be a reader!

      You summed it up exactly! Why can’t everyone see that??? We’ve become too hands on and willing to intervene when it isn’t necessary. My husband laughs (scoffs?) at me when I continually mention “teachable moments.” Yeah, I think pretty much every moment is one – but that’s only because I want to do it when they are 9 and 6 instead of having them calling me when they are 35 saying someone is “bullying them.”

      And Yikes! I hope my boys don’t start racing motorcycles when they are 12! That thought scares the shit out of me :)
      Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

      • Doug in Oakland on March 19, 2014 at 9:07 pm said:

        Thank you for your kind words, I try to do my best writing when I comment on your blog. I feel that if you want sanity to have a chance in this world, you need to support it where you find it, and I find it here every time.
        And maybe I should start my own blog, thank you for suggesting it. But not just yet. Soon perhaps.
        And yeah, my parents weren’t thrilled about the racing, even though it taught me a lot about athletics and self-reliance and other useful and beneficial skills… They only reconsidered after I took up the electric guitar.

        • Thank you. I’ve seen your comments elsewhere though and have thought a few times that you should have your own platform. Just call it “douginoakland.com” so I remember it though, okay 😉

          Racing sounds scary to me, but I’m a believer in whatever works for you and/or for your kids. Obviously it worked for you…or something did. I’d just be terrified someone would get hurt – too much of “today’s parent’s” and their fears rubbing off on me 😀
          Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

  11. YES YEs YES!!!!!! There is a difference between being a little A$$H**E and a bully. THank you…. My oldest was the subject of bullying for nearly a year in high school, freshman. It was AWFUL.
    We actually had to pull her for help for nearly 4 weeks. The admin looked at her as the issue… IT was a NIGHTMARE.

    Admin are out to cover their own butts. They are running a business.

    Bullys need to receive help, obviously there is something lacking in their lives that they feel the need to bully.

    Thank you for such a great post….
    Ray recently posted…When to let a Teenager go to the Big City with a Friend?My Profile

    • Thank you so much! I appreciate hearing that from someone who’s kid was actually bullied – makes me feel like I’m not actually too far off. And you are completely right – bullies need help. Something is lacking. Either they are missing attention, or they just haven’t learned the effect of their behaviors. Personally, I think it depends on their ages. Obviously in high school something is missing in their lives if they feel the need to bully others.

      I’m so sorry to hear that your daughter was bullied. Did it all get worked out? Obviously it was a big deal if you had to pull her from school for a while.
      Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

      • Hey B&W :)

        After my very laid back husband went in there and ripped the Admin a new one… I have always said that my hubby should have been born in CA, beach bum surfer laid back dude…. They saw it our way. That said, she went through HELL… Therapy, wanting to kill herself, (YES, seriously) that was the worse day of my LIFE!!! They realized that she was not the problem but the bullies were. Little gang of them. Several moved and several others were expelled. The rest without their leaders have never bothered her again.

        She is now a Junior, and is THRIVING at school, varsity in XC and Track, and a teachers Aide that is in very high demand. When I walk into the school I get so many Hi’s from kids and teachers and I have no clue who they are, but they all know my daughter.

        Sadly I don’t think that the bullies got the help that I think they needed. So there goes another generation of kids that will become adult bullies. As we all know that bullies don’t go away at the end of school. They become worker bullies…. URGH, and the cycle continues….

        Again I love this BLOG!!!!!
        Ray recently posted…When to let a Teenager go to the Big City with a Friend?My Profile

        • Wow. That’s so awful for your whole family! But what a good lesson to her about how things can get better in the long run! That part is great! It’s actually sad that the bullies didn’t get the help they needed. I think we need to work so kid bullies don’t grow up to be adult bullies. What miserable families they must have!
          Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

          • Agreed, and this is what makes me the saddest. I believe that when a child is bullied, that both the bullied and bully need to receive help. The bullied to help with the feelings of self worth, and the bully with whatever they are dealing with.
            That unfortunately is not going to happen. I approached the Admin at our school, and was told that was unrealistic.

            We live in a very nice town and have a school district that many want to go to…. Yet it still happens….
            Ray recently posted…When to let a Teenager go to the Big City with a Friend?My Profile

            • Why would that be unrealistic? That is what amazes me. It seems perfectly logical to me! Of course the logical solution is unrealistic because it takes too much effort! WTH?

              Ugh…we live in a great school district also…but have had our fair share of issues from the school. In our case, not with bullying, but other issues. Great school district doesn’t always mean best fit for all kids…or that is at least what I’m thinking for now.
              Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

  12. AtlantaDebbie on March 20, 2014 at 1:59 pm said:

    My take on the NC kid is that suggesting he leave his lunchbox at home wasn’t entirely inappropriate. I don’t see this as an either/or situation.
    Yes, the bullies needed to be told, “Look, you can’t physically touch someone because they have a lunchbox you don’t like. The worst you are allowed to do is to ignore them. You don’t have to play with them, you don’t have to say something nice to them. You can not speak to them at all and even not look at them, but that is the worst you’re permitted to do.”
    But, that’s pretty bad. If my kid were being snubbed due to odd choices, I’d want him to at least know that he had some control over the situation. If the My Pretty Pony lunchbox made him happier than having friends, well, he could make that choice, but he needs to be aware he is making it. And that there is no “choose C for both friends and MPP lunchbox”; life’s full of tradeoffs. For only children who don’t have the older siblings to shepard them the transitions to elementary school age socially acceptable accessories, administrators do a kindness in making recommendations that can save some heartache.

    • I agree that a suggestion from the school administration to leave the lunchbox at home would be fine. Maybe a little sit down with the principal, the kid, and his mom and say “Hey, this is what’s going on and why. We will put a stop to the bullying, for sure, and you can safely bring the lunchbox to school. But, ya might not want to, and here’s why…based on my experiences observing kids, this is how this probably will play out…”

      From the articles I’ve read about it, the administration actually told him he could not bring it to school any longer. That’s where I think they went to far.

      You are totally right that there are social consequences for our actions. I don’t think anyone can/should try to force people to be friends with the kid. As a parent, I would totally make sure my kid understood the cause and effect of what is going on at school. I just feel like the school should put a stop to the bullying, and after that, kind of just let the chips fall where they may.
      Rhonda @Bitch & Whine recently posted…Bullying or Just a Jerk? There is a differenceMy Profile

  13. interesting enough my 4yr old son loves MLP! For his b day most of what he got was mlp. He proudly shows them to teachers and walks down the hall with them. Now I don’t love the idea that he is so into them but I will not stop him from enjoying a toy. It breaks my heart because while he is 4 now one day soon he will get that his interest will spark comments from others to think it would be allowed to get physical by a school is nuts! My son now is so confidant, he’s a tough kid and it kills me that some little shits may change that!
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  14. I agree 100% with what you’ve written here – there is a difference and kids need to know that just because someone is an asshole, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being bullied. Bullying in my mind is serious, while typical childhood jerks and lack of concern for other’s feelings is not…its just the crappy part of childhood that everyone goes through, some worse than others. I also think the school made a horrible decision and really enables bullying rather than combats it if Grayson’s situation is any indication on how they run things. I’d be one pissed off mama that’s for sure…and by the way my son loves my little pony and isn’t afraid to let people know.
    Alison @ Horseshoes & Hand Grenades recently posted…Find Your Confidence with Big G Cereal HeroesMy Profile

  15. I definately think that “reality” tv and they way they throw the term “bully” around has really contributed to this problem. I agree with you, as parents we need to teach our children, that sometimes people just suck. It doesn’t make it ok, but it also doesn’t mean that you are being bullied.
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  16. I agree, kids need to learn the difference between “jerk” and “bully” and know how to deal with each. It’s a skill that will serve them well when they grow up.

    As for that school not dealing with the bullies, shame on them. Also, if that boy is being physically assaulted, not only can the bully be brought up on assault charges but the school can also be held legally liable. They are responsible for the physical and mental well-being of the children in their care and, if it can be shown that they have not shown due dilligence in resolving the issue, they can (and should) face legal action.
    Kat recently posted…Finish the Sentence Friday – #4My Profile

  17. Don’t you think all the attention has imbued bullies with a larger than life villainism that is its own reward? The bully has been built up into this bogeyman, which makes him/her even scarier, and thus more powerful. But pull the curtain, and you just have a scared, hurting kid who’s lashing out and really just needs a gentle ass-kicking and some therapy…or a budding sociopath who needs the same. Attention is power, of a sort; we could be more careful about how we dole that out.
    MILK recently posted…Everything’s Clicking: Adventures in Shoulder-TappingMy Profile

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