New Jersey as the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country, now if we can only agree on the definition of a bully.

ctress Victoria Justice arrives at the premiere of the movie "Bully." (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

A Tenefly student has been deemed a bully for calling out a girl in his 4th grade class for having head lice. . A former Hasbrouck Heights student was classified as a bully for adding a yarmulke and curls to a portrait of another student he was drawing, even though he himself was also Jewish.

So what is a bully?Merriam-Webster’s online reference defines a bully as

"One habitually cruel to others who are weaker." Under New Jersey law, it could be anything. The statute, the strictest in the country, defines bullying as any gesture or act that is "reasonably perceived" to be motivated by some "distinguishing characteristic." It can occur on school property, a school bus or even off school grounds.

 

The problem is once bullying lands on the students permanent record, it follows them up the ladder to whatever subsequent schools they go to. Colleges can ask about them on their applications and they will have to carry explain.

The number of reported bullying incidents has quadrupled since the law was passed, but how many of them are really bullying?

There is widespread agreement among researchers that real bullying, whether physical or verbal, requires these basic elements: an imbalance of power, which leaves the victim unable to defend himself or herself; aggressive behavior that is intentional; and, most often, acts that continue over time — which is why it can be so traumatic.

As written now, our statute defines bullying as basically any act that targets another student because of some "distinguishing characteristic,” which could mean anything.

How we fit these definitions into normal growing up requires not only proper training, but teachers who need to use their head when disciplining. Many situations can be corrected on the spot without going through the entire process.

Those may even be teaching moments where a child actually learns a life lesson that they can carry with them forever and possibly pass it on to their children someday.