Rude vs. Mean vs. Bullying: Defining the Differences 


    Kids need to know how to get along with one another. We know that social skills are one of the leading indicators of future success. Kids need good role models, rules to follow, and kudos for kindness. But they are going to make mistakes. They are going to have mean moments. No parents want to admit that... but c’mon, admit it; you’ve said mean things too. Please understand, this is not a justification for being mean. There is no excuse for meanness, but there is a difference between a mean comment and ongoing harassment of an individual student. Both need to be dealt with, but perhaps differently. 

    The main distinction between "rude" and "mean" behavior has to do with intention. While rudeness is often unintentional, mean behavior very much aims to hurt or depreciate someone. Kids are mean to each other when they criticize clothing, appearance, intelligence, coolness or just about anything else they can find to belittle others. Meanness also sounds like words spoken in anger -- impulsive cruelty that is often regretted in short order. Very often, mean behavior in kids is motivated by angry feelings and/or the misguided goal of propping themselves up in comparison to the person they are putting down.  

    Experts agree that bullying entails three key elements: 1) an intent to harm, 2) an imbalance of power, and 3) repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior. Kids who bully say or do something intentionally hurtful to others and they keep doing it, with no sense of regret or remorse -- even when targets of bullying show or express their hurt or tell the aggressors to stop. 


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    *excerpt from the 2015 Brown City Hand Book/Michigan Department of Education

    (Adapted from Signe Whitson, Author; Child and adolescent therapist)