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.”

7 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!

  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

  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?

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