Most adults don't consider social isolation to be bullying, says national poll

Sept. 19, 2012, 10:54 a.m.

Ninety-five percent of parents say a school should intervene if a student fears for her or his physical safety, but only 56 percent say the same when it comes to social isolation. (John Steven Fernandez/Flickr Creative Commons)

Hopefully you've never experienced social isolation: that on-campus psychological warfare where the mean kids pointedly exclude you and maybe even spread rumors about you, hurting your relationships and reputation.

It makes going to school, in a word, miserable.

But the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health says only 56 percent of adults believe the school should get involved when a student is being socially isolated.

Even fewer believe it's a form of bullying to begin with.

Pollsters asked a sample of adults across the nation whether certain actions were "definitely," "maybe" or "definitely not" bullying:

– 90 percent say making a student afraid for her or his physical safety is definitely bullying

– 62 percent say the same about embarrassing or humiliating a student

– 59 percent say spreading rumors about a student is definitely bullying

– 48 percent say the same about socially isolating a student

Monica Harmon, a public safety, anti-bullying advocate who does a lot of volunteer work with the LAPD, disagrees with adults who don't think the above behaviors are forms of bullying, which Harmon says essentially boils down to a "pattern of negative behavior."

"It can be physical with hitting, spitting, kicking, pushing, stealing and damaging belongings," she wrote in an email to OnCentral. "It can be verbal with threats, name-calling, teasing, taunting … then there's psychological, which is intimidation, social exclusion, spreading rumors and gossip, hurting someone's reputation or relationships. Kids are now cyberbullied and text bullied."

Pollsters also asked parents whether schools should take action in certain cases:

– 95 percent say the school should take action if a student is afraid for her or his physical safety

– 81 percent of adults feel the same way if a student is being embarrassed or humiliated by another

– 76 percent say the school should get involved if a student is spreading rumors about another

– 56 percent say social isolation merits a school's action

The survey's authors wrote that while society as a whole seems to have begun to take collective action to combat bullying, there's still some confusion about what exactly bullying is. Case in point: the "concerning" lack of agreement among the adults they surveyed about whether social isolation calls for school intervention or is even bullying to begin with.

"Isolating a student socially may be linked to episodes of school violence and also teen suicide," said Dr. Matthew Davis, director of the poll, in a statement.

A federal survey in 2011 showed that 20 percent of high school students nationwide report being bullied. Harmon said the bullying picture in South L.A. probably isn't unique compared to other places.

"Unfortunately, bullying does not discriminate," she wrote. "Since February 2011, when I began speaking out against bullying, I have been to every part of Los Angeles from the eastside to the westside, South L.A. and Valley areas, and bullying is the same in every area no matter if [it's] low-income, rich or middle-class."

If you or someone you know is being bullied, you can learn how to get help at

Photo by John Steven Fernandez via Flickr Creative Commons.

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