Bullies: They’re not just in middle school

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In this Oct. 18, 2013, file photo, Aledo High School player Ryan Newsom (17), runs between Western Hills’ Shane Little, left, and Jacoby Powell during the first quarter of a high school football game in Aledo, Texas. (AP Photo/The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Bob Haynes, File)

by Beth J. Harpaz
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Was a losing team bullied? Is your angry spouse a bully? How about that co-worker who’s always criticizing you? Or the politicians who forced a government shutdown?

Bullies aren’t just for middle schoolers. These days, they’re everywhere.

In Texas last week, the football coach at Aledo High School was accused of bullying after his team won 91-0. With no mercy rule in place to stem lopsided victories, the coach even tried to minimize the blowout by benching his starters and letting the clock run uninterrupted after halftime.

A parent from the losing team accused the coach of “bullying” — an accusation that requires the school district to investigate under state law.

And while many found the accusation baseless, it’s the kind of complaint that seems to have become more common thanks to national campaigns to draw attention to the real problem of bullying. There are people who use the term bullying “to get what they want. They use it as professional victims to gain power and control,” says Ben Leichtling, founder of BulliesBeGone.

Overuse of the term may be an unintended consequence of the many cases involving teen suicides that have made headlines in the last few years. More attention to the phenomenon may help real victims, but there’s also a risk that “words like bully and victim have just become meaningless labels for people who are seriously mistreated in school environments and in the workplace,” said Malcolm Smith, a professor in the University of New Hampshire’s education department who founded an anti-bullying program called “The Courage to Care.”

Smith says what constitutes real bullying is measurable: Is the behavior so damaging that it interferes with the target’s ability to go to school or do their job or otherwise conduct themselves safely? And secondly, does the behavior involve an imbalance of power?

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