The difference between harmless fun and bullying is fairly significant, so much so that you cannot really have the two in the same category. It’s quite simply apples and horseshoes. The easy Litmus test between the two is whether or not someone’s feelings are being hurt. It’s never harmless whenever your actions negatively impact another person.

There are some relationships where there is mutual kidding and giving someone a hard time; but that should be a mutually decided give and take. If one person feels they must endure endless insults or jabs at their character to be friends with someone, they lose something very precious along the way.

Bullying, by its nature, doesn’t really care about the feelings of the object of its scorn. And sadly, that becomes a slippery slope where jabs can devolve to insults, which can lead to intimidation and aggression.

If you’re on the losing end of this equation, no doubt there’s nothing harmless or fun about it for you. It becomes a hardship to endure that, sadly, too many of our children must struggle to face each and every day. Unfortunately, not all do survive it. Yet too often we discount bullying as a natural childhood occurrence, thinking back to our own childhood where no doubt we were the victim of a bully or two of our own.

Only when bullying makes tragic headlines do we really recognize how traumatic it can be for the victims.

If you’re the bully, it probably is a lot more fun because you’re the one in control of the situation. In which case, you need to ask yourself what you get out of being mean and hurting someone else’s feelings. There’s something seriously wrong with finding entertainment and humor in tearing down another person.

If you’re the parent of a child victimized by a bully, the important thing to remember is to take its impact on your child seriously. Treating it as if it’s no big deal can actually validate the worthless way the bullying makes them feel. While you cannot fight their battles for them, you can provide them the tools to navigate these tricky waters a little easier. Bolster their self esteem and teach them the one value the bullies inherently lack self respect. This will prevent their value coming from what they do or what’s been done to them by another person.

If you’re the parent of a child accused of or guilty of bullying, it’s important to realize your part in this learned behavior. Once you recognize what you did or didn’t do to facilitate this behavior, you can take proactive steps to prevent any exacerbation of the problem.

Ultimately the bullying problem is a problem for the community; what we’re willing to tolerate and pass off as “harmless fun” versus what emotional trauma we can prevent by encouraging the best behavior from ourselves and our children.