What is Bullying? Bullying Versus Teasing | Use the Bully Detector!

What is Bullying? Bullying Versus Teasing | Use the Bully Detector!

It’s heartbreaking to hear about bullying “false positives” and “false negatives.” The parent that cries foul (“My child’s being bullied!”) every time their kid has a bad day, can be a “false positive”; they’re claiming bullying when it may not be. Even more concerning, though, are the millions of kids that ENDURE true bullying, because they and their caregivers don’t know how to tell the difference between bullying and teasing. Some parents even say, “Bullies are just part of life, deal with it,” and “Leaving them on their own to deal with a bully helps them develop coping and resilience skills.” While those parents may have good intentions, they should NOT allow true bullying behavior to go unchecked.

It’s imperative parents, school employees and other youth workers pinpoint behavior that meets the criteria of true bullying. If a someone’s truly being bullied, then it’s an EMERGENCY, and you need to take action to get it to stop, because people can be seriously hurt, and even die. And, if it’s true bullying, not just someone being a jerk, then you have a whole bunch of resources that can help FORCE them to stop.

The key is, we have to be able to tell the difference between teasing and actual bullying.

Know when teasing crosses the line to true bullying

It’s critical that adults and students know how determine when behavior crosses the line from teasing to true bullying.



UpGo invented the BullyFISH Bully Detector!

Finally, we have an easy way to answer tough bullying-related questions like:

  • What is true bullying versus teasing?
  • How do you tell the difference between bullying and just being mean?
  • How can I tell when bad behavior has crossed the line?
  • What’s the meaning of cyberbullying, and how can I tell cyberbullying versus teasing? (The definition of cyberbullying is simply, bullying via electronic means. So to define cyberbullying or to identify it, you still use this UpGo Bully Detector.)

So, what is the Bully Detector, and how do you use it?

Here’s some detail so you have the context (or you can jump down a few paragraphs to see the BullyFISH tool).

The laws vary by location, and the definition of bullying is not black and white. There’s some judgment involved. Generally speaking, what the courts do, is ask, would a “reasonable person” think it’s bullying, and they look at certain factors that can define illegal bullying… factors like:

  • Is it REPETITIVE, widespread or pervasive? Any repetition is a big red flag. But sometimes it doesn’t HAVE to be repeated. Like, maybe the bully only did it once, but it went viral, and now, it’s everywhere, and you just can’t get away from it. That still can be considered bullying.
  • Is it SEVERE? Would a reasonable person judge the communication as severe… Would someone describe it with words like, brutal, vicious, cruel, or threatening? Or, would it be better described as, mean, rude and inconsiderate, but not particularly severe?
  • Is there INTENT to harm? Did the person really intend to hurt the other person? Did they try to cause pain on purpose? Or, rather, did they just think it was funny, and didn’t even consider how others might feel?
  • Is it causing HARM? This can be physical harm (like, the victim is getting beat up, or they’re harming themselves), it can be mental/emotional harm (like, they’re experiencing significant fear, anxiety or depression). Or even harm to their school experience (like, they’re missing school, underperforming on school work, or afraid to participate in school activities). Usually, the harm has to be relatively significant, not just, ‘they were bummed out,’ for them to have been bullied.

Note, you do NOT need to check ALL these boxes for it to be bullying. And there’s no one factor that makes something definitely bullying. Again, the laws vary. But, generally speaking, we can use these four critieria to define bullying… to tell us what’s beyond just meanness. And we can use these criteria to stimulate us into action.

We need to MEMORIZE these four factors, so we can quickly evaluate bad behavior. To make it easy to remember, let’s change “Repetitive or widespread” to Frequency, so we have an F…then reorder them a bit, and now we have F, I, S, H…

Have you ever heard of a bullyfish? It’s a fish that, if you put it in the aquarium, it chases all the other fish around, harassing them. They’re kind of like some people at school, huh?! So, just remember: BullyFISH! BullyFISH reminds us to use the FISH acronym to evaluate questionable behavior. Here’s how easy it is to use:

The UpGo BullyFISH Bully Detector ™
Bullying is bad behavior that is:

F = Frequent. Repetitive, widespread or pervasive.
I  = Intending to harm. Someone wants to hurt someone.
S = Severe. Vicious, brutal or threatening actions, or
H = Harmful. Someone’s in pain or their life is being significantly negatively affected.

Use the UpGo Bully Detector to identify true bullying

Stop bullying by first identifying true bullying. Use the UpGo Bully Detector!

If any ONE of these FISH factors is present…then you may have an emergency bullying situation.

Notice we didn’t say anything about what the act was. It doesn’t matter if it was someone saying vicious things, tripping someone, spreading false rumors, sharing nude photos, making sexual remarks or whatever. Anything, that is frequent, intends to harm, is severe, or harmful, might be bullying.

If we see a BullyFISH, any part of it, even if it just smells like FISH, we have confidence to say, “Wait… this is beyond just mean. This may be serious, and potentially illegal, bullying. This is an emergency.” And we take action.

We have to act, because those FISH factors are signs of true bullying, the kind that is super dangerous.

Watch out for the BullyFISH!

Use the BullyFISH image to help remember that the "FISH" acronym is how you identify true bullying.

The UpGo BullyFISH. A mnemonic/memory tool.


Simply remember this BullyFISH image, and you’ll remember you can use the “FISH” acronym to evaluate questionable behavior.


This BullyFISH Bully Detector is taught as part of the UpGo Anti-Bullying Program, available in the UpGo Cyber Safety App. See it here: UpGo Cyber Safety App in the Apple App Store!

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