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.”

24 Responses to A new bullying: social exclusion

  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.

  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. 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.

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