Is it bullying or peer conflict?



The CDC defines bullying as:

“any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance, and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm. Common types of bullying include:

  • Physical such as hitting, kicking, and tripping
  • Verbal including name-calling and teasing
  • Relational/social such as spreading rumors and leaving out of the group
  • Damage to property of the victim

Bullying can also occur through technology, which is called electronic bullying or cyberbullying. A young person can be a perpetrator, a victim, or both (also known as ‘bully/victim’)” (

Bullying is a common problem, according to the CDC, and may affect as many as one in five high school students. It is important that students report bullying to appropriate adults and seek support when a true bullying situation presents itself.

However, as students have been encouraged to recognize and report bullying, another situation has resulted. Students will often say, “I am being bullied,” or “stop bullying me,” when someone disagrees with them; says an unkind word; or leaves them out of a social situation. While these experiences may cause hurt feelings or sadness, they are not examples of bullying – and we need to help students understand the difference. Bullying is repeated and intentional, and often the result of a power imbalance. Conflict, however, is a part of life and, often, a time of self-discovery and growth.

According to Very Well Family (June 2020), “there are several ways to identify peer conflict. When a conflict occurs, everyone involved has equal power in the relationship. Both individuals might be emotional and upset, but neither is seeking control or attention. They also are respectful of each other even though they disagree.”​ The positive skill that comes from conflict is conflict resolution, which is an invaluable life skill.

Conflict resolution skills “promote listening and working together. Both parties come to an agreement. Conflict resolution assumes that both people are responsible for the problem and need to work it out. In this situation, both kids make compromises, and the conflict is resolved. When kids have a conflict, it is best to allow them the opportunity to work it out on their own” (Very well Family, June 2020).

In working through conflict, children gain independence; develop problem-solving skills; enhance active listening and reflection; and grow. They also learn that everyone makes mistakes, and they learn the art of forgiveness. While bullying needs to be reported and addressed, if adults can help children see conflict and manage it effectively, they will learn skills that will help them be better rounded adults. Continue to have conversations about these topics and help children realize the differences between bullying and conflict, so that they can help themselves as well as others around them.

Holly Parod, LCSW, has served as Youth First social worker at St. John the Baptist School in Newburgh.