A new bullying: social exclusion

By Dustin Petty
Staff writer 

Bullying has taken a new form on playgrounds across the county.  Instead of the child being teased, pushed around or called names, they are shunned and not invited to join games and activities.

The child is being socially excluded.

According to Dr. Lynn Todman, the term “social exclusion” was initially used during the 1970s by a French politician trying to describe those excluded from the labor market.  Todman, the executive director of the Institute on Social Exclusion at Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, studies the subject in terms of socioeconomics.

“Social exclusion is actively created by the structures and systems that organize and guide the functioning of our society,” said Todman.  “These structures and systems determine the allocation of rights, resources, and opportunities such as food, safety, education, health, due process and shelter.”

While Todman’s studies focus on social exclusion in underserved populations, she is quick to point out that the result is the same in groups.

“There is research . . . showing that when people feel like they’re being excluded, they lose their willingness to self-regulate,” said Todman.

Dr. Edyth Wheeler of Towson University in Baltimore County, Md, agrees and has studied social exclusion of children and young adults.

“Four year olds are master at this,” she says.  “When they say ‘I’m not going to be your friend anymore’, they are making the threat of exclusion.  Children at that age are at the point where their need for adult approval is declining and they are dependent on peer approval.”

Wheeler says she doesn’t believe that children learn from their parents or other adults how to exclude others from their parents or other adults.  Instead, she believes it is a knowledge of the human condition which leads to the ability – and desire – to exclude their  peers.

“It’s this innate understanding that makes people want to be accepted and let ‘in’,” she said.  “To show we have power, we can not accept them and leave them out.  Or to cement ourselves as a group – to be a stronger ‘we’ – we’ll identify a ‘them’.”

According to her work, young girls are specifically good at performing acts of social exclusion.  For them, it’s a strong and powerful tool used to negotiate their world and relationships.

There’s good news, according to Wheeler, if you’re the victim of social exclusion.

“It’s not a permanent condition,” she says.  “It peaks and then goes away.  Part of it is about finding your own identity.”

Teachers and parents may also play a role in preventing social exclusion or healing the hurt after it has taken place.

“The adults really need to listen to their children and to pick up the signals,” said Wheeler.  “Children need to trust that somebody can help them.  If the message can be that everyone is valued and everyone will be listened to, the situations can become better.  In classrooms, teachers can create a sense of community and be very aware of grouping.  Really, It all goes back to the responsibility of the adult.”

32 Responses to A new bullying: social exclusion

    • Tammy says:

      My 13 year old son is dealing with this. Exclusion Bullying. He has been part of this group of boys since kinder and they are in 7th. The leader of the group has not always liked my son for some reason or another and he has finally accomplished excluding my son. He has all the newest and coolest skateboard toys and every boy wants to go to his house after school. My son has been excluded for months. He tells his mom that my son calls them names and the other boys agree. Instead, he is the one doing the name calling but the other boys want to hang out with the cool stuff… My son is depressed and cyring and it makes me angry that the response I get from the mother is “they are growing apart”

  1. Sarah Johnston says:

    I can’t believe this is only being adressed now. Let me tell you a little story.
    It was 11 years ago. Primary 2. I walked up to a girl in the playground because I had no one to play with. She was a lovely girl but had epilepsy and a learning disability but I didn’t mind. We quickly became friends.
    However, people soon found out that we were friends. Due to her learning disability, my new friend wasn’t always the cleanest person in school (for example, she couldn’t understand why she had to wash her hands after going to the toilet. But it was quite severe and I understood. I couldn’t blame her for something that was not her fault). Therefore, she was dubbed as having “germs.” And I was, too. People would run away from me, screaming about germs. I felt so lonely, especially since my “best friend” decided that it was time to move on and play with new, prettier and more popular girls.
    And then, I did the most regrettable thing I have ever done. I didn’t deserve her forgiveness.
    Confused as to why even being with her caused this lonelyness, I screamed at her, saying that I hated her, and ran away.
    But, even being away from her didn’t stop the bullying. I had hypermobility problems in my wrist which hurts me every time I write. Therefore, the teachers naturally hated me just because I couldn’t write as fast as everyone else. My parents basically didn’t care. It wasn’t their problem.
    For 6 years, I was bullied heavily like this in school. I had no one to talk to. People took advantage of my desperation for human contact by using my inability to say no in order to get money and food out of me.
    When I was at home, I was terrified to go outside. I would be punched, kicked and swore at by local bullies who would go outside when they saw me, just to make fun of me for being ginger.
    Even now, I have maybe 6-8 friends out of 60 people who are all friends. My friends are quiet, shy, non-outgoing outcasts. Like me. 2 of us are gingers.
    But you can’t imagine the loneliness that I felt. No friends. No one to make me feel better when I was down (and my sister only ever unfairly ridiculed me). And, when I was in P7, my teacher told my parents that I would amount to nothing, just because I couldn’t write fast enough. They were so disappointed. But it wasn’t my fault.
    Even now, I get “GINGER!” in the hallways. There’s always that one seat between me and the next person. I’m ridiculed by my classmates and it’s horrible. If your kids are being bullied by their peers and teachers, DON’T STAND FOR IT!

    • Ellen says:


      You sound a lot like me when I was a child growing up. I was excluded from pretty much everything. Even when I would sit down with a group of kids, I was either told to go somewhere else, get picked on, or even ignored as if I wasn’t even there. School, neighborhood kids and the church youth group gave me a hard time about everything. I also had poor handwriting and was always given a hard time by the teachers, and back then, they graded based on handwriting in addition to the school work. I also have scoliosis which was very hard for me to deal with because I had no one to support me. My own family even would yell at me and ridicule me because I never walked straight. Back when I was in school, they always did scoliosis screenings and even played a 15-minute video/movie about along with some discussion about it. Looking back on this, I don’t think that it was very effective, especially if teachers ignore it and peers teased kids about it. I do believe that kids do learn this exclusion behavior from their peers, more than at home. When kids go to school, they are there for 6 or 7 hours, 5 days a week. Some of these kids probably don’t see their parents as often, so the re-enforcement is probably not there. Kids do learn by example, not just by being told that they should or shouldn’t do things. If kids see their peers acting a certain way with no repercussions, they will think that it is okay. And some kids are smart enough to know that they can get away with things when their parents are not around. That is probably why I got into trouble more when trying to stick up for myself. I was never taught how to do that. If a kid said or did something hurtful to me, I would retaliate by saying or doing something that I knew would be hurtful to him/her. The teacher would always discipline me for that, but never the kids who were bullying me. That is being singled out.

      As an adult, I have no connection to anyone from school, (except on Facebook). Over time, when people find their niche or interests, the significance of school peers fades away. I guess that when making friends in school, it merely is supposed to be a skill builder to have and build strong relationships for later in life. I am guessing that most school relationships are short-lived because interests change and things happen in life. As for facebook, you can have the “friends” on there, but with no contact or interaction. So, even if you have friends on facebook, it does not mean that they are really your friends.

      Teachers and adult mentors need to remember that teaching is not just about what is in the books or subject matter. It is about conduct and setting an example. Teachers need to remember that kids imitate what they see. I know that surveillance is getting more common in various areas and a lot of people feel that their privacy is being invaded. But, I have to say, if it is in a common area, such as school or public places where people can come and go and be targeted for bullying, then the devices should be allowed. It may be the best way for now to show people how a situation is appearing, and how they are behaving. It gives proof when it is “my word against your word”. I wonder what people would think or say if their behavior were recorded and it were played back 20 or 30 years later.

    • alex says:

      thank you for sharing your stories. I had my own fair share of bullying as a child for reasons i could never understand. I think a lot of it was that i was a bit eccentric and different but i have grown into a successful adult and i think a lot of those experience have made me stronger. I have even gone on to perform my own music (rani’s fire) which i never thought i would do.
      It gets hard sometimes though, when you meet people that display behaviours that remind me of the past. I tend to revert to the shy person that i was and become socially awkward because i am fearful of saying stuff that makes the situation worse. T
      I have to say i did experience bullying as a young adult too and have met people who persist in excluding behaviours – i had never thought of it until i found this blog. I guess it is a form of power play i just hadn’t thought of it that way.
      I hope you keep staying strong and know that the problem lies within others and that you probably have something pretty unique about you that others feel threatened about.

  2. Richard says:

    I imaging that being left out can loosely be considered bullying, which is different from what I lived through in the 60’s and 70’s with haising and physical violence. I wanted to avoid those people. If people did not want to associate with me, then I found a group of people I could identify with more easily. Not everyone can be in every social group, and probably should not be. That is not reality in life. There are exclusive groups everywhere: political, religious, economic, athletic, professional, etc. some exclusions are needed to encourage specialization and encourage higher standards of conduct or ability. Letting anyone join a group can water down and deminish a groups function. Take basketball. 5 persons working together, adding a new person to the group changes the chemistry and function , especially if the new person cannot function to the level of the original 5, so the entire group suffers until the new person reaches a better level of function. If a person with similar ability joins, they will be able to adjust quicker. Being able to choose who you associate with and become part of a group is important and should not be considered bullying.

    • Bill M says:

      Richard, what the heck are you talking about? Exclusionary tactics are not new. I grew up in the sixties and seventies, and yes there was hazing and physical violence, but there was also this same tactic of excluding and, contrary to the article noble as it is, this is hardly new. Common decency to human beings and kindness toward classmates, workmates, whomever, doesn’t mean ‘everybody gets to join the club’. Your logic is exactly why parents feel completely justified in organizing playdates for their kids with only certain childrenon a regular basis. Simply, this hurts kids. This behavior and logic creates ‘clicks’. We must, as a society, get our heads on straight about this stuff. New victims of this exclusionary bullying are compiling everyday. Kids can change their behavior toward these bullied kids, but need the advice and teaching from their parents and adults in our society.

  3. Katherine says:

    Social exclusion occurs not only with children but adults as well, especially in neighbourhoods and workplaces. The sad reality is not many adults are willing to stand up to the “adult” bully or exclusion.


    What we need is more discussions on HOW this can be stopped and provide SUPPORT to those who are being excluded. Currently there are no formal laws to prohibit such behaviour in adults and mediation can not be made mandatory without a criminal offense.

    So adult social exclusion continues causing individuals and families emotional trauma and stress.

    They are left with the only option of relocation – which at the best of times can be costly.

    What lessons are we leaving our children if adult bullying through exclusion is tolerated, to the point of dismissal?

  4. Mary says:

    Richard – While I agree that we should be allowed to associate with whomever we please there is a fine line between “preference” and just plain old meanness and exclusiveness. It’s basic kindness. If you see someone who is an ‘outcast’ or who has some difficulty in the social skills department then will it really kill you to go out of your way and ask them to join you at lunch or at recess? It’s easy to be glib when you have no problems socially. I hope those who exclude others find their behavior worth it- you know being popular is more important than being kind. Barf

    • Stacey says:

      I completely agree with Mary. Kindness is something we need far more of in this world. A smile or kind word can brighten someone’s day and requires very little effort. I have always reminded my children of this.

  5. Janet says:

    I agree that exclusion should not be tolerated. However, as a teacher I often tell my students that they should not have to ‘hang out’ with people that they simply do not get along with. I would love to have some feedback as to what people think.

    As an adult, I choose to socialize with people that have similar interests and people that make me feel good about myself. Does that make me a bully if I purposely don’t invite others to a party or an event?

    • Hi Janet,
      It’s been over a year since you posted your comment, but I just happened to see it today. In my view, the school years provide us with an opportunity to socialize kids and help them learn to be kind and understanding, both to themselves and their peers. Unlike social situations later in life, children don’t choose to be in a particular school or class. They can’t decide to seek out another class where children share their interests if they are being shunned by their classmates. I see it as comparable to learning how to get along in a work environment as an adult. You may not share interests or even like everyone you work with, but it’s important to treat coworkers with kindness, understanding and respect. Similarly, if we can help our kids learn to be inclusive and kind at school, and also help the excluded children understand what they may be doing that makes others uncomfortable and learn to improve their social skills, we can help kids grow up to be higher functioning, kinder, happier adults.

    • sam says:

      i think there is a difference in social exclusion bullying where say two children have had a disagreement or do not get on, and one of those children then proceed to convince all of there mutual friends to not play with the other child. this can be heartbreaking for a child and with no real skills to deal with this social exclusion. it is obvious when the one bully is absent from school, the socially excluded child then is ‘allowed’ to play with the other friends. this is one version of bullying where teachers parents can be a great guidance for all of the children involved.

    • Amy Paulsen says:

      This has always been my question. As an adult I choose to not associate with certain people. Those same people probably don’t want me as their friend either. My daughter had a new friend when we moved to a new neighborhood/school and after about a year she didn’t want to hang out with her anymore. When my daughter would go over to the other girl’s house the mom would yell and my daughter didn’t feel comfortable. She tried to move on, but the other girl wouldn’t accept it and was calling my daughter a bully for not wanting to be her friend anymore. I feel like there is such a fine line between exclusion/bullying and not wanting to hang out with someone anymore. *shrug*

    • Ruth says:

      @Janet: I’m a teacher who struggles with that question as well. I think it depends on the situation. If 5 kids are playing tag at recess, there is no reason not to let #6 join. If 2 best friends play their special game (whatever that may be), nobody will have much fun if they’re forced to let #3 join. And everybody should be able to do partner work with everybody else (unless the teacher knows it’s not going to work out.)

  6. Max says:

    I am a teen, I’ve been going through this all 5-8th. I only have about 2 real friends but one can be a jerk sometimes the other is genuine friend that talks to me slot and understands me. All the other kids in my classes are some of my half friends and the others just ignore me like I’m a ghost, they just think Im a tubby nerd that is not “cool”.
    Even though I have bullied by accident I think afterwards “why did I do that, that was mean”. I try to stay away from bullying but now bullying like name calling is kinda accepted by teachers, most teachers just turn a blind eye to it.

  7. Richard says:

    It depends on the context Janet. If you invite everybody but one person, invite all of somebodys friends but omit them. What do you think the consequences are for that individual and their social network? I would wager it would cause friction between friends. Now if the person excluded raises an issue with you and you stick to your morals and persist excluding, are you then a bully? I don’t consider it bullying until an issue is raised. The action thereafter may or may not become bullying.

  8. Ad says:

    Has anyone heard of this shunning bullying practice:
    – Child A goes up to Child B to talk to them. Child C butts in and says, “I really need to talk to Child B and intentionally whisks them away for the entire lunch period”? Several children participate in this activity and have done so several times this year.

    • Amy Paulsen says:

      Ad- Yes, this has happened to my child. She went to the skating rink with a friend and another classmate was already there. That classmate whisked my kid’s friend away and skated with her all night and my kid was all alone.

  9. […] A New Bullying: Social Exclusion.–Dustin Petty […]

  10. Day says:

    Janet, social exclusion is something different than what you are thinking about. As being a victim of social exclusion for many years, let me tell you what social exclusion really is. First of all, I have my own identity, and I don’t have the urge to be accepted anymore (even when I was in Middle School). That small “urge” is present in every human being when they are young children, weather they have a sense of identity quicker than others or not. If this continues for a long time, it is bad for the child’s social skills. They will become of what is called “socially awkward”, and will be taken advantage of due to problems defending themselves. The story will continue on from that.

    You see, preference is completely different from exclusion. As a teacher, it is important for you to understand this. Exclusion is nothing but being treated unfairly. Like how women used to be treated unfairly.


  12. Trevor says:

    I have to agree with sam, there are subtle differences in types of bullying. there has to be a way to identify the bullying behavior and participants and act on that information whether it be directly to the bully or via the bully’s parents. not being a teacher, i am afraid i don’t have all the direct knowledge of what it is like having to deal with this stuff.

  13. Aandelen Kopen says:

    Social exclusion has always been a way of bullying. As explained before there exists a group mentality where the bullies feel safe. They act and support the group behaviour because they cannot exist without it. For this reason exclusion outside of the group is to be preferred by the bully, so he can maintain the rules as he knows them in the group.

  14. Elba says:

    This is very sad, but it is true meaning that social exclusion happens very often in jobs, schools, regardless of different backgrounds of people. However, we live in a polarized society and it is very important too learn that people must try too tolerate others without hurting their feelings. In this case, I totally agree with all of you and good point by the way.

  15. Karol says:

    I am a teacher, and it is part of my job to help socialize my class. Whether it’s been primary or secondary grades, I have always shown my class girl bullying in a short role playing activity, which is exclusion. I’ve researched this, and guys as a whole may never understand the extent of this type a bully, although there are exceptions. More men find friends that serve a purpose on their lives. Women find friends that the purpose is really just to be friends. I’ve seen exclusion first hand many times through my work, my family members, and just being female. It is usually when someone feels the need to exert power over another. The bully/exclusion expert feels “special” when she is part of an exclusive group she’s helped to create. Girls are apt to do this to when they are jealous or insecure in a relationship, so they create places to exclude the person they’re trying to get rid of and their social circle. Maybe she has befriended the bully’s best friend. Lord forbid if there were to be three in a group, and consider their relationships equal, if one is insecure. It gets ugly quickly. As a parent of teenagers, I could tell you stories. Sometimes the most vicious girls, have watched their mothers do it in adults circles as well. Apples really don’t fall far from the tree. It is important to realize though that some introverts could appear to be doing the same thing, and that’s where discernment comes in. I really liked what someone said above, saying that at school, that the teachers can help kids learn to play with a variety of people. At our school, unless somebody is being hurt emotionally or physically by someone, we always let other people play together on the playground. They naturally find those who want to play soccer, or go down the slide, etc. I also tell my students not to always ask if they can play, but just start playing. It is at a very young age where kids feel empowered when they get to tell somebody else, “No.” I just shake my head when I see adults doing the same thing. I feel bad for them, and tell my students to do the same with their peers. we may never know why someone is mean by purposeful exclusion, but there is usually a back-story.

  16. Helen says:

    LOL I found this after I went to a reunion and relived some bad memories!

    I was socially excluded at school at around age 12. My former best friend since age 4 decided I was not longer good enough to be her friend. I was from a single parent family, did not fit into any ethnic clique, was the youngest in the year and was in desperate need of orthodontic treatment. I struggled to find friends and became labelled as the shy and retiring one. I recall hiding in the toilets because I was so ashamed I had no group to sit with at lunch. The teachers did not detect my agony. Only lasted about three months but affected me for the rest of my life.

    I also suffered from social exclusion at a university when I changed courses and found myself with a bunch of slightly younger, stuck up arrogant private school kids in a medical school. Again I responded by withdrawing and became labelled as the slightly odd,shy and retiring person. I managed to pass but it affected my marks as study groups were all organized by the students themselves and I was never once invited to join one.

    Children / people who are being excluded feel ashamed and humiliated and then try to hide what is happening by further isolating themselves, but this is absolutely the worst thing to do and this feeds into the social exclusion and results in poor self esteem.

    I have now learnt to speak out at every opportunity if I am being treated unfairly, and don’t worry too much what other people think, but it has taken me at least 40 years to be able to do this.

    Social exclusion is a huge problem in modern society where many people do not have the benefit of large family groups as support, and it is a shame that the comments by teachers above indicate that they do not really get it as it will affect their students for the rest of their lives.

    The most important thing to do is to teach kids to come forward as soon as possible if they do feel they are being excluded or treated unfairly, and to not dismiss their concerns.

  17. […] April 10, 2016 ~ leesa822 A new bullying: social exclusion […]

  18. Grace says:

    I am a student working on an exhibition about exclusion. as I read the comments,it seems like there are lots of people getting excluded.(or had been) Because of the exhibition,I want to know how it feels being the target. If you can, it will be very thankful.

    • Tracy says:

      I will start with a bit of my story, Grace. It all started when I went to daycare which is from the age of 4, it was not just my peers; it was also the teachers who have mistreated me in my early years. In my daycare, I was always made sure I was being treated unfair: whenever I would reach for a crayon in my favorite color, pink, the other kids would always break off a small piece to give to me. They would also steal things out of my backpack, threaten me, and exclude me from games, I forgot the rest. The teachers would often punish me for my “difficult” behavior, one would threaten to lock me in a closet, and there was a lot of favoritism going on in that garbage daycare. How did I feel? Powerless!

      Then this transitioned into kindergarten. I was completely normal, I was just the smallest kid in my class. My peers treated me even worse here. I always wanted to be friends with everyone instead of dominating them. A group of girls would always threaten and exclude me. I always tried to tell the teacher about one specific girl, who’s bullying was constant throughout the whole day. Both of my teachers would always respond with laughter as if I don’t know what came out of my mouth! Even after being bullied in FRONT of the teachers, no change would happen. I would get punished for another’s mistakes. Soon, I stopped standing up for myself because if I respond back with my anger, the bullies would get me in trouble. And that is how I developed the inability to say no. This allowed people to take more advantage of me.

      I moved 3 times and the exclusion gave me social anxiety and the fear that people are watching me. I’m now a HS freshman, and my social anxiety is chronic. Being the target feels painful, and changes and damages your physchology. I have a different thinking pattern now, and keeping even good friends is not easy!

  19. Rose says:

    I think the comment above by Helen pretty much hits the nail on the head when it comes to exclusion bullying.
    It is absolutely the worst form of bullying as it is so subtle and insidious – the fear and paranoia that it creates within the victim can leave them with a permanent and unjust feeling that they are not good enough.
    As a parent of a child who has suffered this horribleness on and off for the last 4 years (and she is still only 8) it is bitterly disappointing to read the comments by some of the teachers who sound almost wilfully naive on this whole issue. The fact is that as children in school and adults in the workplace we will all come across people who we like, people we don’t like and people we don’t feel one way or the other about; that is natural and not the fault of ourselves or the people we meet. Therefore whether we like (or prefer) people or not is not the issue, it is how we deal with it that matters, and it comes down to one basic tenet:

    Treat other people as you yourself would like to be treated.

    Rather than teaching or reinforcing the idea in kids that it is alright to leave someone out of the game because they are not a ‘special friend’, we should be saying to one of those ‘special friends’
    “What if you stay with me and we send these two (the other friend and the child who wishes to join) off to play the game?”
    Immediately the child can see how unjust and unfair it is to be excluded and in my experience will usually accept another child into the game rather than be excluded themselves.
    Not having a special friend or fitting snugly in with others in the class is not enough reason to strip a person of their confidence, dignity and self respect and this is precisely what exclusion bullying does.
    Often parents whose children are exhibiting the behaviour will shrug it off as the fault of the victim. My daughter is naturally an introvert (she is also smart, witty, creative, fun and friendly) so she takes a while to get used to and open up with new people so comes across as quite shy. Naturally, being made to feel like a pariah at school exacerbates this and decimates her confidence in herself – to the point where she is afraid to try new activities with new people because she is sure that they will not like her. The attitude I received from her school about it was that she is too sensitive and needs to toughen up – but of course how can we build up her confidence when she is subjected to ignorance and derision every day? It is a vicious circle made all the worse because of the pervading attitude that it is natural to leave people out when in actual fact it is just bad manners and rude.
    It does a disservice too, to the child who is engaging in the exclusion. It all stems from insecurity and by shrugging shoulders and passing it off we are failing to care for the well-being of either child and everybody loses.

  20. anonnona says:

    This is a very old and dangerous form of bullying. As a child I came from an abusive home, and I was reserved because of this. All I wanted (needed) was someone, anyone, who didn’t treat me badly. It never happened… I had a group of “friends” whose parents forced them to hangout with me because my social awkwardness was very prominent. I was told everything in the book about how horrible my existence was, the group became the “others” because of me. I had no one and became very emotionally shut down. To the point of high emotions turning my brain off (I would literally forget the conversation as it happened). I stuck with this group because as long as I was silent I would get very minimal hate, their hate wasn’t as bad as my home. They would joke and laugh which gave me the smallest form of positivity which just didn’t exist otherwise. Even though I couldn’t participate. I took it all in stride and tried to participate anyways, it wasn’t until high school they got over themselves enough to not shut me down. First year because they ditched me. And I was accepted in the larger school on a general level, alone, but who I was seemed to be appreciated by strangers. When I reached a point of making new friends this group came back. They made friends with whoever I hung around and I would then become socially separated from them while still in this group. It became impossible for me to share anything I held dear or was vulnerable about through all of this. I wish it ended in high school. Anyways, I am alone, get panic attacks even around family. If someone is nice to me now I don’t believe there isn’t malice intent behind it. I barely leave my house, only to get things needed. Even then it is wrought with anxiety. I still think I am not worthy of anything or that whatever environment I am in I have no where to go or turn to. Maybe it was just the combination of the two, but I was a 8yo who contemplated suicide, that’s not something I shared with anyone, I only mention it now because this is something that can really destroy someone. At 27 I am just now learning to open up emotionally.. kind of.

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