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  • Writer's pictureDon't Be A Monster

What is the difference between being mean, being rude, and bullying?

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

One of the many critical things we cover in a Don’t Be A Monster presentation is how to identify bullying. Bullying behavior may not always look like a big kid pushing you down to steal your lunch money like movies like to portray. Bullying is intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. It is willful, repeated, and harmful.

But what if your friend is constantly putting you down? What if someone you know is always making jokes that leave you with hurt feelings? What if your friend made a comment that hurt your feelings, but by accident? These behaviors may be willful, repeated, and harmful...does that mean it’s bullying?

Oftentimes, students at our presentations ask us these questions about behaviors their own friends are do they know if they are being bullied? Here’s how Don’t Be A Monster breaks down the differences of being mean, being rude, and bullying.


Being Rude - Inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else.

Being rude is a behavior that everyone accidentally does at one point or another. Everyone puts their foot in their mouth from time to time, but that doesn’t mean we should excuse rude behaviors. We all need to work together to call out when someone has been rude so they do not repeat the behavior in the future. Rude behaviors can be resolved through apology and forgiveness.

Ex. Darryl made a joke about the shoes Jason wore to school yesterday. Jason’s feelings were hurt, and he told Darryl about it. Darryl apologized for the bad joke and promised to be more sensitive in the future!


Being Mean - Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice).

If someone is being mean, it is easy to confuse this with both being rude and bullying behavior. However, the key distinction is the intention of the person who behaved meanly. If they didn’t mean to hurt someone’s feelings, they were being rude, not mean. If they were intending to hurt someone’s feelings, but this was the first time they have done so to the person, then they are being mean. If they are consistently mean to the same targeted person, it is bullying behavior. Being mean can be resolved if the person being mean learns to change their behavior by being nicer and by apologizing for past offenses.

Ex. Maria has started to pick on her friend, Jen, by making fun of the way she talks. Jen has voiced that it hurts her feelings, but her friend Laura says that Maria makes fun of everyone all the time, and she shouldn’t take it personally.


Bullying - Intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. It is willful, repeated, and harmful. Often, it is targeted on one person.

There are many different faces of bullying behavior. Bullying behavior can take the form of physical bullying, verbal bullying, cyber bullying, or relational aggression. Across all the different types of bullying behavior are the common traits: it is willful, repeated, and harmful. It is intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. People who bully often choose one or two others to target the majority of their aggression. Just because someone may engage in bullying behavior, this does not make them a “bully”. It is a negative behavior that they can change by learning empathy and compassion. Bullying behavior can be resolved through adult intervention and personal growth of the offender.

Ex. Don is constantly picking on Kyle in the hallways. Kyle is constantly worried about seeing him at school, because he doesn’t want to be made fun of. Don has threatened to beat him up on several occasions, and once left a nasty comment on his Instagram. Don has many friends, but is only aggressive to Kyle.


The distinction between being rude, being mean, and bullying can be tough to navigate! By teaching kids the differences you are helping them identify how their own behaviors impact others allowing them to navigate social situations with awareness and empathy. These are important life skills that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives!

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