Understanding Social Conflict

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By Cheryl Bayo
School Counselor

Middle School and High School are prime time for social conflicts.

The term “bullying” is used frequently in situations where one person feels as though another is not being nice to them.  In reality, “bullying” is a recurring pattern of unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves real or perceived power imbalance.  Parents might ask themselves, “How do we determine if an interaction rises to the level of bullying?” “How do we help our students navigate difficult situations?” and “What consequences should be given to the bully?” These can be challenging questions to answer.

Heightened emotions and sense of self during middle and high school development can lead to misinterpretation and misunderstandings that drive conflicts. What most likely begins as teasing between friends often escalates when it begins to become unfunny and hurtful to the other person. Lack of experience in handling a situation creates a world of hurt feelings that we must help our students navigate.

It is important for adults to understand that pre-teens and teenagers, by definition, are struggling with keeping their emotions in check. In my office, I find that most young people just want to be heard and validated. Their feelings are their feelings and they don’t want to have anyone tell them otherwise. Often times, just talking the situation through makes them feel better. At that point, they are better able to think through a particular situation and work toward coming up with a suitable approach to move forward.  While talking is an important step, it is our job as educators and parents to help students understand the difference between true “bullying” and hurt feelings. 

When a pattern of intentional negative behavior from one, or a group, to another becomes apparent, then the “bullying” label becomes appropriate to use. In this case, MMI has procedures in place to investigate and address the situation. If necessary, there are consequences that are clearly outlined in the handbook, making them no surprise to those they are imposed upon.

In either instance, there are learning opportunities that we do our best to capitalize on. We collaborate with families as a faculty and administration, to encourage healthy interactions between our students. We bring in outside partners such as Sweethearts & Heroes to provide perspective to our students about how we expect them to interact with one another.  Our curriculum contains lessons on character, kindness, and appropriate in-person and online behavior.  Together, we can work to instill in our students the emotional regulation skills that will assist them to think clearly through a situation and handle it in an effective manner.

The best way to know how your student feels or what they are experiencing is to ask them. Open lines of communication are vital. If you feel something is going on with your student, please never hesitate to contact a teacher, Mrs. Ferry, or myself so we can take the appropriate steps to help resolve the issue. Below are some resources to help us better understand the challenges of pre-teen and teenage social interactions.

Sweethearts & Heroes Parent Videos: https://www.sweetheartsandheroes.com/ParentVideoSeries

Sweethearts & Heroes recommended reading list: https://www.sweetheartsandheroes.com/RecommendedReading

Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman: Tells the story of teenage angst from several perspectives, making teenagers understand that they are not alone in their experiences: https://www.amazon.com/Backlash-Sarah-Darer-Littman/dp/0545924146/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=backlash&qid=1571241705&sr=8-2

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