You Can Be Anti-Bullying and Still Not Buy Into New Bullying “Crisis”

Hi Folks! I read this Wall Street Journal article  with gratitude and a little rage. It’s called, “Stop Panicking about Bullies: Childhood is safer than every before, but today’s parents need  need to worry about something.”

My gratitude comes from the fact the author, Nick Gillespie, bothers to figure out if we are really in the midst of a bullying crisis. Rage because it seems we are not — and yet here we are, once again, fearing for our children as if they are in danger like never before. Same way we newly fear for our children staying home alone, or walking to school, or doing anything independently. We jump directly to the worst case scenarios and act as if they are happening all the time — increasing, in fact, in number and seriousness — whereupon our terrified society demands new laws, restrictions, handwringing and helicoptering.

Like Gillespie, I am appalled by true bullying and in favor of a society that does not tolerate it. Fortunately, that’s the era we are living in. Bullying is less common today, and less tolerated when it rears its ugly head. Gillespie has the hard numbers, like these:

Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported “being afraid of attack or harm at school” declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.

No one is shrugging off the real crime of bullying. But to pretend there’s an epidemic when in fact things are getting better is to both over-react AND sell our kids short. And to lump together unbearable harassment with minor teasing is just a mistake, the same way it is wrong to lump together runaways with kids who are abducted, as if they have experienced the same trauma. (And yet, we do exactly that — the media talk about “missing children,” without bothering to explain that a very small percentage of them were taken by strangers — and it ends up coloring our whole idea of modern day childhood.)

Let me say this again before anyone reminds me that bullying is bad: Bullying IS bad. But so is bullying the public into believing this generation of children is more endangered, more vulnerable and more in need of constant supervision than any generation before it. — L.

92 Responses

  1. I think the really bad part about treating minor teasing as bullying is that kids then don’t really understand what bullying is. I had to explain to my oldest a few years back that having a minor difference of opinion wasn’t bullying. It was something about what to play during recess, as I recall, and my daughter, then a first grader, decided that her friend must be bullying her because they couldn’t agree on what to do.

    I explained the difference and that if she was to take that interpretation of bullying, she’d be just as guilty.

  2. Is this just another way to justify exerting more and more control over a marginalised group? Check this list by Dr Robert Epstein of the number of restrictions and laws applied to adolescents over the years: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200703/trashing-teens?page=3

    He notes that teens have ten times the restrictions on them as normal adults, and twice as many as both felons and Marines. Sigh.

  3. Of course I too am anti-bullying – would anyone ever come out as pro-bullying? But my problem with the current focus on this is that it reinforces a binary, us/them construct, and in my view it’s actually anti-child. Who are the bullies behind all the rhetoric? They are children, most often children who have been mistreated and disrespected. Rather than focus on building a society based on mutual respect and collaboration, it seems like a lot of people want to engrain the american sense of competition even further, as in, “Let’s win the war on bullying!” How about we stop approaching all human interaction as war?

  4. The thing I just want to scream from the rooftops is: Why isn’t anyone putting forth half as much effort and concern over the root causes of bullying?

    I believe a major contributing factor is how thoroughly acclimated we’ve become to violence. Horrific, explicit, oppressive violence is now an accepted part of our everyday lives – heck, it’s considered entertainment!

    We’ve allowed our society as a whole to become fully engulfed, acclimated, and accustomed to horrendous, gratuitous violence as a normal component of daily life. Perversely, our society actually savors and glorifies extreme aggression, cruelty and destructiveness!

    And as we’ve become numb and indifferent to negativity and violence, bullying has escalated to epidemic proportions. Surely, that’s no coincidence.

  5. The media once again can take some of the blame for parents panicking about bullying (as opposed to parents who genuinely have a case for concern because their actual child is currently either a victim or a perpetrator). My son’s high school is a case in point. About six years ago there was a bad series of incidents involving attacks by a group of the youngest year on others in that year, after the seniors had all gone off for exams. The school did not handle it well at that stage, and when it hit the media it caused a national furor. All well and good at the time, because it forced a rethink on the part of school administrators, and a complete turnaround in the way bullying incidents were handled.

    The problem is that now, after many new procedures have been put in place, and my son reports that he has never seen an incident of bullying at the school and feels perfectly safe going there – as do other kids I’ve spoken to – the media continues to rehash these old cases. Imagine the effect on kids still starting at the school, and their parents, many of whom become desperate to get their kids in to semi-private schools. Bullying by media…..

    My son has some friends but is not part of the ‘popular’ crowd, something he is personally fine about (it means he doesn’t get asked to parties he knows there is no way on God’s good earth that he would be allowed to attend – sorry, these parents aren’t free-range about everything!) But he and I have both come across kids who seem to think that simple things like not being invited to everyone’s party, or being unable to make friends with the ‘popular’ group, somehow constitute bullying, rather than just normal social interaction. The net for the definition of what bullying is has definitely spread too far…..

  6. “And as we’ve become numb and indifferent to negativity and violence, bullying has escalated to epidemic proportions.”

    Hmmm. Did you not read the post that you are commenting on. The point is that bullying is NOT at epidemic proportions. Bullying is actually declining.

  7. I’m glad to see someone has looked at the stats and found that bullying is on the decline. I am sad to see that even with the fact that bullying is on the decline so clearly stated someone still feels that it “has escalated to epidemic proportions”. I don’t see rodaniel being alone in that interpretation and I don’t think any amount of facts will change their interpretation.

    I am concerned about the future of social interaction if we continue to cast every disagreement as bullying. It isn’t restricted to school aged children. I’ve seen adults claim they were bullied by those who simply disagreed with them (even in a constructive, non-insulting manner). So now the term is being thrown around to mean everything from “you don’t agree with me” to “you excluded me” to “you don’t like me” and to actual bullying. So we have children, and adults, who are being denied the opportunity to learn how to navigate less than positive social interaction for what? An epidemic that isn’t really. If finite time/attention/resources are spread to deal with every “we don’t get along” situation how does that really help those who are actually being bullied or stop those that are actually bullying others?

  8. It’s not that bullying exists that bugs me. I think, to an extent, bullying is human nature. We have a pecking order in our culture and bulling sorts it out in a cruel way. We don’t have great mechanisms to sort out juvenile pecking order.

    I don’t know if bullying is an epidemic. I think it’s much more obvious with things like Facebook where it is more readily seen. This would be akin to kids and violent video games. Rather than beat each other up in the ally, the shoot their heads off in a video game. Bullying is no longer a moment in time where people can play he said / she said. It is written now.

    I really don’t like our current response to bullying. We are emphasizing kids going to adults to fix the problem and adults fix this problem poorly. Being a tattle-tale can induce more bullying and additional stigma. Not only are you a wimp, you’re a NARC. This can only perpetuate the problem. Sometimes, when I wear my tinfoil hat, I think this is desired. Like school administrators want a bunch of lambs that can be eaten by wolves.

    First off, kids should be taught to defend themselves physically. I know our society is on an anti-violence trip, but if you can’t defend yourself you will get stomped on. Kids should stand their ground or else the bullies will come back. I am not advocating that bullying victims start fights. Only that they finish them.

    Secondly, kids should be taught how to use words. I remember reading Wicked. It’s a fantastic book. The character Elphaba used words to fend off people who would make fun of her green skin. She developed a ‘sharp tongue’ and a quick wit to deal with those around her. Teach kids words to defend themselves. This will fail if they can’t physically defend themselves.

    Thirdly, teach your kids that not everyone is going to like them and they don’t have to like everybody. And that they don’t need other people’s approval. They have yours.

  9. My daughter came home from kindy once (she was 5) and told me that the teacher had told the class that retaliating would be punished more severely than the original offense. This was after I had been trying for years to get her to physically defend herself because she mingled quite a bit with kids who didn’t seem to have the same inhibitions about using violence that she always had. That made my blood boil. She came home with stories of the bigger boys in her class cornering her and pushing her against the wall and I was not allowed to tell her to kick their shins as hard as she could? Fortuntately she was pretty resilient when it came to physical stuff, probably because her years at daycare with mostly boys. But what a way to make kids feel defenseless!

    I also quickly discovered that the teachers only made the teasing that went on worse instead of better. It created a culture of dobbing and my child was more afraid of being dobbed in – usually for stuff like not wanting to play a certain game – than of the kids themselves.

    None of this is bullying. But if we don’t even allow kids to sort out their own problems in the playground – within obvious boundaries – it is no wonder they expect the adults to fix all their problems for them. I try my best to make my daughter more resilient to teasing, exclusion and peer pressure by teaching her the social tools she needs to stand up for herself. But I feel I am swimming against the current…

  10. Wow, I just commented on a piece about bullying over at Yahoo!Shine. And I think what I said over here works here, too: “no, we are not in a bullying ‘epidemic’. It’s always been around, it’s just that it gets more attention these days.” Also, about anti-bully: “I read on a community that one member was concerned that being anti-bully was going to turn into a fad. At first, I didn’t understand what she meant, but now I do. Yes, we’re all against bullying right now, but it has been presented in a way that makes it ‘trendy’, not in a way that says ‘this is how things always should’ve been, cool or not’. What happens when something better comes along to be against, is being anti-bullying still going to be as big or are we just going to move on to the newest fad?”.

  11. My solution is easy bullying is a crime call the cops and have the brat arrested, get a RO, and make sure s/he can’t step foot on school grounds again. Lock them up now, or lock them up later after they hurt more people.

    Then my experience with bullying was being beaten daily and threatened with graphic descriptions of my rape/murder. Once the brat was 10 my parents called a cop and lawyer. Of course it had been going on for 6 years. If someone had listened really listened when we were in in kindergarten to us when we reported graphic descriptions of rape –
    1. He would have been spared how every many years he was being raped
    2. We would have been spared 6 years of threats and beatings
    3. The women he raped and murdered might not have been raped and murdered.

    You have to also remember there are school district like Anoka-Hennepin school district that encourage students to tease and bully gay kids to the point they committed suicide.
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/one-towns-war-on-gay-teens-20120202

  12. I agree that bullying is no more prevalent than it once was and very likely less prevalent. That said, I do think bullying takes on more forms than it once did and kids get more and better “prompting” now, even as they are warned about it more regularly. By that I mean the TV shows that are on now are way different than what they were when I was young. TV shows were much “kinder” then. Now, the kids on Disney and Nick shows sass their parents, are rude and fresh to their friends, and generally disrespectful. There’s also shows like Law and Order and the other crime shows that can give kids better ideas of how to be hurtful, based on the scenarios they present. Kids are more “sophisticated” about how they can hurt others. And they have more outlets with the advent of the internet and texting.

    Do we need the big media explosion over it? No. We need schools and parents to listen to their kids, be reasonable about what happens, and put a complete stop to actions that are harmful and truly hateful. We shouldn’t need the media to teach us this.

  13. Uggh. I equate bullying to mosquitos- always been around but just seems more prevalent.
    My kids are on the younger side and have had their experiences with the “mean girls”, but it’s not much different from when I was a kid. The only difference is that now there are easier ways to say mean things- email, texting, facebook, etc. Our rule is that if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it any other way.
    My son is very big for his age (off the charts huge). When he was 6, the pediatrician (who is very small) told him that he had a duty as “one of the big kids” to stand up for the kids who were getting picked on and to step in and stop it. He took this to heart and is truly the peacemaker- wants everyone to get along but will put bullies in their place. It all comes down to respect. Some kids are taught it at home, others not. We can’t change the way others parent their kids, only how our kids respond to it. Teach your kids to address it directly and not ignore it and to stick up for your friends.

  14. Both the WSJ and your blog entry missed a key connector, which might be because it was a while back. The Columbine boys said that they planned and went through with their massacre at their school because they were bullied. And not only were they bullied, but when they complained about it to the school, they were ignored.

    Suddenly it was very much in the interest of the school and the community to look out for instances of a minority (the kids getting bullied) because it might make things unpleasant for the majority. The Columbine district pioneered something called Cool Tools, which I suppose could be called anti-bullying rules, but in general is just a guide to being civil.

    Since my son was bullied in second grade and since the school didn’t want to deal with it in any serious way, I am in favor of some change. Particularly because the parents we dealt with at the time had the attitude, “Hey, they are kids, they are going to beat one another up on occasion and that’s part of being a kid.” One actually said, “This is the way it is in Russia, the first year you are in the army they all beat you up, then the next year you get to beat up the new soldiers.” Yes. Perhaps that is something that could change, and something which is not to be modeled here.

  15. I agree that bullying is no more prevalent now than it always was. But it is still quite common and my experience of working in a school is that teachers are often unable to stop it.

    We had a very disturbing incident quite recently. A gang of extremely nasty pupils had been picking relentlessly on a girl with borderlline Ashbergers Syndrome. Driven to desperation she brought a brick into school and threw it at her tormentors. None of them were injured but their parents threatened to prosecute the school, with the result that the girl was permanently excluded. But none of the bullies has been punished and they now strut around the school as though they owned the place. Everyone knows they are the ones at fault but without evidence are powerless to do anything.

    .

  16. But I think that if you treat minor teasing or one-off events as bullying, you are actually making it harder to do something about the real bullying.

    Is making fun of someone’s last name really something that requires intervention? If teachers have to waste their time preventing kids’ egos getting hurt all the time, it does not surprise me that they can’t see the wood for the trees anymore. And that more and more people think that schools have turned into a warzone.

    In most cases, you can teach kids the skills to deal with teasing and minor harrassment themselves. And it is way more effective than trying to solve every little social issue for them. Then, if those methods don’t work in cases of genuine bullying, they should be able to ask for help and should be heard. The problem there is also that teachers often don’t have any power to discipline the bullies these days. And I’m not advocating corporal punishment here. But there must be other ways of getting the point through.

  17. I don’t think bullying is more prevalent today any more than kidnapping is more prevalent today. It has simply become an “in thing” so we hear more about it in the media.

    Further, we have kids falling back on “I was bullied” as an excuse for all sorts of bad behavior now. It is easy to do crappy things and then say “I was bullied” to get sympathy. And it works. People fall for it. The Columbine boys didn’t commit their massacre because they were bullied. They may have in fact been bullied, but they killed their fellow students because they wanted to. Whether the bullying contributed to their desire or was the result of the obvious mental imbalance that lead to the killing is likely always going to be a chicken vs egg analysis.

    A kid bringing a rock to school to throw at tormentors can be attributed directly to bullying. Two kids obtaining weapons, bullets, explosives while plotting murder in diaries and videos and then killing classmates and teachers – many of which had nothing to do with any bullying – is not. We WANT to attribute it to the bullying because we want an identifiable reason that these boys went off the rails so that maybe we can prevent it in the future. But it’s just not that easy.

  18. No specific comments about bullying, but your headline reminded me of one of my pet causes, which is that I can be opposed to drugs without supporting the Drug War.

  19. I hate hearing all the bullying stories going around today! I’m so sick of hearing about it. I feel like telling all these kids to toughen up!

    I’m not that old and I remember bullying in school. I was never a victim or a perpetrator but I saw it. It was always the kids who asked for it. The kid who wanted to make a statement by dressing like a weirdo and then got all upset for not being “accepted”. The kids who acted normal and minded their own business were left alone.

    To me it’s the same as a little kid complaining that all the other neighborhood kids don’t want to play with him. My question to that kid it what are YOU doing that makes others not want to be around you, are you bossy, whiny, a tattle-tale???

    I’m sure there are cases out there of kids who are jerks picking some random kid just to be mean to, but I think that is the exception not the rule. Those children do need help, and they need to learn to defend themselves.

    In general kids today just seem to think that everyone should be nice to them all the time and treat them like they’re the best thing in the world. When someone is unkind they are so fragile, they are completely devastated. I believe that is why there is such an increase in suicides as a result of bullying. People used to toughen up and look for ways to solve their problems, now they just collapse.

  20. I was bullied as a kid but they let up when I learned to not get upset about it. Maybe more focus should be on building skills in those bullied to better handle teasing.

    What is a bully mirrors many other topics where broad definitions have trivialized real examples. For example, this week the story is that 1 out of 88 is Autistic, a year or so ago it was 1 in 98 from 1 in 151. Why not go for 100%? I actually resent that my quirks qualify me as an adult with autism.

    We don’t escape the bullies when we graduate from school. You can find them as your boss, politicians and talk radio hosts.

  21. Assault and murder have always been crimes in the United States. Why do we need to substitute the word “bullying” in order to have these crimes prosecuted?

  22. I actually resent that my quirks qualify me as an adult with autism.

    They only qualify you if they cause a problem in your life and dramatically interfere with normal activities.

    Since you “resent” this, presumably you’re getting by just fine without accommodations or a diagnosis, which means that you’re basically NOT qualified for a diagnosis of autism. They don’t diagnose people just for kicks.

  23. It was always the kids who asked for it. The kid who wanted to make a statement by dressing like a weirdo and then got all upset for not being “accepted”. The kids who acted normal and minded their own business were left alone.

    Ah, yes, and then there’s Nanci’s opinion. Yes, we should teach children that good behavior means acting like a clone of everybody else and ostracizing anybody who is different for any reason whatsoever. Nevermind that many of those kids “asking for it” would have been perfectly content to “mind their own business” if they’d been allowed to.

    Whatever you dress like or listen to, however you pray, however you look or act? None of this justifies or excuses other people’s bad behavior.

  24. I was always one of the smallest & alwasy the skinniest girl in my grade school classes. When I was 5 one of the neighborhood boys who was two years older & was on the bigger side would pick on me, mostly verbally sometimes a little push or shove. I told my Mom & instead of solving the problem for me she told me to hit him with a big stick next time he did it. I wasn’t allowed to hit him unless he did something first. So I did & he stopped. Even though I was 12 inches shorter & 40 pounds lighter he realized I wasn’t going to take it.
    Children need to be taught the skills to handle/cope with bullies on their own terms. As adults in the workplace we all come across people who are bullies. Sometimes we’re in a position to do something about it, but sometimes it is your boss & you don’t always have the option of hitting him with a big stick (or you have to stick it out until you find a new job, then you can hit him with a big stick)
    I just had a conversation with my 4 year old daughter about what to do if she saw someone being mean to someone else. She has already stood up for herself on the playground so I know she has the gumption to stand up for others.

  25. Thanks again for a clear head on this issue. Bullying is terrible but not the end of the world. Everyone faces it at some time in their life. As with everything else we must learn to deal with it. It is as important to teach our children how to deal with bullies as it is to protect them as much as possible from being bullied.

    The answer is not to throw all bullies in jail. Like all issues this is a community one. If people know each other and stand up for each other those who pick on the weak will have less opportunities. The police play a role but it is the community that defends itself and polices its self from those who act in and antisocial way.

    Teach and encourage good behavior and encourage our children to stand up for one another. Bullies are always in the minority and as in most antisocial behavior they get away with what we allow them as a society to do.

    Bullying is bad and as someone who was bullied in school I understand. That being said I am glad that my father didn’t run to my aid every time their was an incident. Unless there is a threat to extreme physical harm our kids need to figure things out themselves. There are bullies to face at every stage of life.

  26. @Uly: thank you, you said alot of things to nanci I wanted to say. Some of what she commented on tends to seem to be the general thought pattern of bullies, i.e; they asked for it, they should have tried to be “normal”. One of my mom’s favorite sass-back one liners to people is “define ‘normal'”.
    🙂

  27. To those who called me out, I apologize for sloppy wording. I meant to say, “…bullying has escalated to PERCEIVED epidemic proportions.”

    But I maintain that we continue to set ourselves up for all sorts of societal problems due to how accustomed to violence we’ve blindly allowed ourselves to become.

    Children play video games where they are immersed in battles where they fire super-realistic weapons at convincingly-real, three-dimensional opponents who yowl in agony when hit, spurt blood, limp, and finally collapse in a nauseating mass on the ground when they’ve sustained too much damage.

    Think about that for a minute: we’re allowing children to engage in the sort of experiences that previously only front-line combat soldiers would ever endure—and often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result! And we consider this entertainment…

  28. I do want to comment that there really is a BIG difference between bullying and teasing/harassment. You can teach your kids skills to deal with teasing and harassment – I can highly recommend the book ‘Speak up and get along’ for that too. But real bullying usually involves a very uneven balance of power. You can talk to your kids about standing up for themselves and not letting on that they are hurt etc until you are blue in the face, it is not going to help them one iota when a child several years older or a gang of kids force them to give up their lunch money or iPod or whatever or just beat him up for the fun of it or continue to humiliate them and threaten them regardless of how they try to defend themselves.

    If that kind of extreme treatment is character building, then so is domestic abuse.

    I am all for letting kids work out their problems in the playground by themselves. Until it becomes downright abusive and then every child – no matter what they wear or what they act like!!! – has a right to be protected.

    As I tried to argue before, there is a real danger in lumping all kinds of conflict together under the bullying label because that way it loses it’s real meaning and justified complaints about bullying may not be taken seriously by those who have the power to act.

    It would be a bit like suddenly everyone calling sexist jokes and sleazy remarks “sexual assault”.

  29. Nanci, please get real, I have a son who dresses different, than the rest of the crowd at his school, It is his right, by dressing this way he isn’t asking for it, he is expressing his personality. Just because he does not act like one of the many clones does not mean that he should be singled out. (and good luck with that anyway, the kid is 6″4″). Kids don’t ask to be bullied, the fact is there are some who bully, some who are bullied. It is the over reaction to this that scares me “Zero Tolerance” leaves almost no room for school administrators to adjust punishment based on what happens.

  30. I honestly believe that if children aren’t exposed to at least some friction from their peers that they will never learn how to handle difficult situations and real life trials. I’m not suggestion we go all Spartan and abandon them in the forest with spears to make their way home, but I do think allowing them to face minor teasing and some social ostracism on occasion will help forge them into stronger individuals.

  31. linvo, I absolutely agree with you. Kids need to learn to deal with unpleasentness on their own, but abuse needs intervention. As adults we need to recognize the difference and handle them appropriately. The problem with the bullying “crisis” is that by treating every negative interaction as bullying we prevent kids from learning skills they need to deal with social interactions and keep those who can intervene in actual cases of bullying from handling the situation appropriately.

    Nanci, as I haven’t had coffee yet today I can’t find a civil way to express what is wrong with your comment. If you honestly believe that choosing to dress or behave differently warrants being the victim of a crime (threats, assault, battery, harassment and stalking all are crimes) then I’m not sure you are worth the effort of civil discussion. However, the rest of your comment leads me to believe you are defining bullying as the negative social interactions that many “zero tolerance” policies treat as bullying. If that is the case, yes, kids need to learn that not all the kids are going to like them, not everyone is going to agree with them and some people just don’t have enough redeemable qualities to justify unnecessary interactions. The problem is those negative interactions aren’t bullying. They are part of what sucks about childhood, no doubt, but not bullying. If we, the adults of the world, don’t differentiate between the two then how can we expect children to do it?

    Ms. Herbert, Your story has haunted me since I read it yesterday. My heart breaks for those who were hurt. I can only hope that something positive came out of such tragedy.

  32. Children need to be taught the skills to handle/cope with bullies on their own terms. As adults in the workplace we all come across people who are bullies. Sometimes we’re in a position to do something about it, but sometimes it is your boss & you don’t always have the option of hitting him with a big stick (or you have to stick it out until you find a new job, then you can hit him with a big stick)

    http://goo.gl/Lc0j4

  33. […] Hi Folks! I read this Wall Street Journal article  with gratitude and a little rage. Its called, Stop Panicking about Bullies: Childhood is safer than every before, but todays parents need  need to worry about something. My gratitude comes from the fact the author, Nick Gillespie, bothers to figure out if we are really in the … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  34. While I don’t think bullying is any more frequent today than at any other time, I do think it is worse. I was bullied in grade school for a while so I know what it is like and the difference from then and today was I could get away from it when I left school. Today there is no escaping it, they taunt you at school and then they do it online with social media and texting so the kids today get no peace, no chance to recover, it is always there hanging over their heads. That is what makes it worse.

  35. I think everyone here hopefully grasps that there is the act of saying mean things and there is bullying. You will face a life of constant disappointment and hurt if you claim victim status every time someone says something mean to you.

    Each child is born unique, and parents may try as they might to mold and conform unique child to their ways of life, but in most kids their true nature will surface in time. Much like a dog, they have natural instincts that just can’t be ignored. I have two pointers that have uncontrollable urges to point and chase birds and squirrels. They require tons of exercise to be “good” (which means tired.) They cannot help this- it is their nature and I wouldn’t try to keep them in an efficiency apartment in the city. There are battles that you clearly won’t win when you fight nature.

    I also have a daughter who, try as I might (and lay perfectly matched outfits for her to wear), dresses like Punky Brewster, or as Nanci stated, “like a weirdo”. She can’t help it, she likes what she likes. If one of her classmates makes a negative comment, she knows to look them in the eye and say, “Well, that’s not a very nice thing to say” without emotion. She probably would make her life a whole lot easier if she wore the coordinated Justice outfits her friends wear, but she would be miserable.
    She can deal with negative comments, but she also knows real bullying when she sees it. Sadly, it’s the kids who can’t handle any negative comments.

  36. What gets my goat is when schools decided to spend money on anti-bully programs (often PTA money raised through much hard work,) and instead of doing a bit of research on what is effective, they spend it on a bunch of posters and a couple of speakers for assemblies.

    There are programs that can help kids learn to speak up for each other. They have been tested and proven to work. But, they tend to be harder to do, because kids need to be set up to be leaders, and staff has to be trained, and kids may have to come in early or leave late or miss a class.

    My daughter’s first school did the poster route, and spent a LOT of money on them. But they didn’t train the staff, who didn’t want to change their own bullying ways. And the staff did not want kids trained to stand up against bullies when they were the bullies. Not good for class management when a bunch of the kids tell the teacher to stop belittling a kid because he needs to use the bathroom, or making fun of a girl because the teacher can’t understand every word and the girl gets speech therapy 4 days a week. So the kids on the playground modeled what they saw, and picked on the different kid day after day, knowing if he retaliated, he would get in more trouble than them. Honestly, the money would have been better spent on an ice cream day for all the kids each month than what they did.

  37. I wanted to weigh in on this as well. First, I believe there is a difference between conflict and bullying. Bullying has always been around. The difference today is that it follows the kids being bullied everywhere. It follows them online, through their phone, etc. Before, kids could escape and get home and feel safe. That doesn’t happen anymore. So, while I know that it has been happening for years, there is often not a break for many of the kids which then has more extreme consequences. Because of that, it is more important than ever that we work to help those who are doing the bullying to understand the impact that they are having on others. It takes us being able to help both those who are being bullied and those who are doing the bullying in order for us to be a more civilized society.

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  39. I don’t think I dressed “like a weirdo,” but my family moved in my 7th grade year, and the styles in my new town were different than what I was used to. I didn’t have the latest cool style of clothing (not that my parents would have been able to afford to buy me an attempt at popularity even if they wanted to). I was viciously teased daily by the other girls for having lame clothes and for being “flat chested.” As the fun of publically humiliating me caught on, more and more people got on board. It was miserable. I did nothing out of the ordinary to stick out, I did nothing to ask for it, I was just identified as a target, and the crapfest commenced and continued for 6 years, until I left for college. I’m 45 years old now, and I came through my adolesence ok. But it was traumatic and I wish it hadn’t been allowed to happen. Am I a stronger person for having had to put up with daily put-downs? Maybe, but I really don’t think so. Am I a more compassionate person? I guess it’s possible, how to know. But I was a really nice person to begin with. No, I don’t see a single positive that came out of those years. And there were a lot of negatives. Low self esteem, depression, and a suicide attempt to name a few. I honestly don’t see what the great benefit is in making a huge distinction between what happened to me – which I believe happens to a lot of kids – and what some here seem to be calling REAL bullying. Why is that so important? My body was never beat up. But my psyche sure was. In my opinion, both kinds of consistent attacks cause ongoing pain and lasting trauma, and neither kind should be tolerated. I for one am very encouraged to see schools taking the issue on. If I have my choice between the old-school attitude of “bullying happens, it’s a part of life, “, and the climate we have now that this article is referring to, I strongly prefer a bit of an exaggeration of the “epidemic,” if it succeeds in educating and encouraging kids to stop mean and hurtful attacks from happening.

  40. […] Hi Folks! I read this Wall Street Journal article  with gratitude and a little rage. Its called, Stop Panicking about Bullies: Childhood is safer than every before, but todays parents need  need to worry about something. My gratitude comes from the fact the author, Nick Gillespie, bothers to figure out if we are really in the … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  41. I am thankful my kids grew up pre-cell phone and facebook. My friends with pre-teen and teenage children are dealing with remote and subtle texting/bullying that make the old school yard bullying appear much less sinister.

  42. I also agree with what Kim said above, and wanted to add that I think what is very helpful and effective about the campaigns I’ve seen in my kids’ schools is that much of the effort is aimed at the would-be bullies. The saying “Hurt people hurt people,” comes to mind. Kids who make a habit out of bullying other kids are likely hurt, angry and confused themselves. Anti-bullying programs in schools aimed at making it uncool to be mean, and making it cool to jump in and say, “leave him alone, don’t be a jerk,” or “are you ok?” etc, are A GOOD thing. We’re not talking about being able to deflect a nasty comment here and there. We’re talking about chronic taunting and belittling, creating an extremely hostile environment the likes of which would not be tolerated in a workplace for adults. But somehow in schools the idea of, “Kids can just be so mean,” is acceptable to some people. Odd. My mother, bless her heart, used to say to me, “They’re just jealous. Because you’re so pretty and smart.” Not a bit helpful at the time. I love my Mom for trying though.

  43. Of course, perhaps the best way to protect your children from cyberbullying is to take the sensible approach of not giving them a business communications device. Given that few adults can cite a legitimate NEED for them, children certainly don’t need cell phones!

  44. Everyone feels the need to preface their comments with “Obviously I am anti-bullying…”

    I’m not so sure I am.

    In retrospect, looking back at my childhood, I realize that I was both bullied and was the bully sometimes. I bet this is true of most people. Think about it – everyone (nearly) has some recollection of being bullied as a child, and it wasn’t just one bully with super-speed doing it all over the country.

    It is very common in human nature to be selfish and pushy towards weaker people. It is also common to derive pleasure from the exclusion of someone from a social group. It is also common to derive pleasure from physically or verbally dominating someone.

    Part of normal growing up is to learn to contain these impulses, to direct them into socially acceptable channels for competition and achievement. I feel that abusive bosses and spouses are the ones who never had this happen, who never experienced correction of their behavior at a young age. And – let’s be honest – they might be the ones who never had a bullying victim turn on them and plant a clenched fist in their face after deciding they weren’t taking it any more. By trying to put foam rubber around all these interactions, we are taking away the chance to grow for many.

  45. Oh, and as Audry points out, there is a difference between how boys bully boys and how girls bully girls. But those poster programs don’t usually address that. They tend to focus on the stuff like is portrayed on the Simpson’s which is stereotypical male.

    Boys tend to be more physical. And graphic. Girls do the snide remarks and other nasty comments. And rarely resort to actual contact. Both types are damaging.

  46. Strongly disagree with Opsomath’s view. It’s not a matter of putting foam rubber around interactions. It’s about trying to affect a cultural shift in the way we perceive bullying. It doesn’t mean that kids will never taunt each other, tease each other, or form cliques. The natural stuff that has always happened will continue to happen. But it does mean that the act of consistently excluding and demeaning others will no longer be regarded by the majority as a regular, normal occurance at school that is funny or is fine to ignore. In my observation from my own children’s experiences in school, this shift IS happening. Without action, change does not happen. I am a free-range parent, and I am FOR action on the part of schools and kids’ tv networks and the like that shines a light on bullying for what it is and discourages it unilaterally.

  47. Audrey, as I am one for the distinction I would like to say that the harassment you described I would call bullying. My problem comes in when I see kids who just don’t get along labeled as bullies. I see it a lot at the school where I volunteer. A recent example is one kid thinks the local football team is the best and another disagrees, debate ensues and the kids stop being friends for the rest of lunch. The kids are friends again before they get hauled off to the principal’s office after lunch and punished with an afternoon in the library doing anti-bully worksheets instead of being in class learning. They both also get the label of bully on their disciplinary record (not that school records haunt you the way teachers sometimes tease, but it can be an issue if the parents wish to apply for a magnet program or private school). Not only did the kids get labeled as bullies when they simply disagreed, but education time was lost and resources diverted from addressing and preventing real problems. Why? Because of the perception that this is an epidemic that is getting worse by the minute caused the school district to feel the need to abandon it’s previous curriculum of teaching respect, tolerance and diversity to issue zero-tolerance punishments for every negative interaction.

  48. Chris Christie won’t sign a bill to create marriage equality in NJ but instituted a major bullying campaign designed, in NJ, in large part to protect homosexual students.

    So the state is saying gays are “less worthy” but then creating bullying programs that have all kinds of unintended consequences. Which bullying do you think really impacts lives, the state or the student?

    In schools its the same issues. When teachers and administrators praise athletics over academics it sets a tone that all the anti-bullying campaigns in the world cannot overturn.

  49. this is one time I have to disagree. *BOTH* my children have been bullied….one worse then the other. THO I have let both of them handle their situations while my son’s is still ongoing it’s shown a little improvement….my daughter felt victorious when she put the end to her bullying..

    TWO children I know have attempted suicide. Another 16 yo has described bullying so severe she is terrified to go to school and her mother told her to “ignore” it. She’s slammed into walls and doors EVERY.DAY. She has books knocked out of her hands, she’s tripped, made fun of, laughed at.

    My Niece has been chased and hit, called horrible names because of her disabilities…..

    Maybe it varies by school system because my daughter has moved to a vocational school and there are minimal issues. But the local public school system has some major issues. not just a “little teasing” – straight out nastiness. In MY opinion – bullying gets brushed off as “kids being kids”.

  50. Every time I see technology blamed for making bullying worse, I always wonder why these kids don’t hit the “Block” button. I remember the first time a friend got me to try IM. Right there prominently positioned was a button to Block the person sending messages to you. And you could set things up to avoid getting messages from people you didn’t specifically allow. At school you just had to cope with whoever else attended your school.

    I remember all of my friends wishing we had a block button to deal with the jerks at school.

  51. Heather, I’m with you that it’s preposterous to label the scenario that you described as bullying. Bullying by definition requires a person or group in a power position habitually behaving in an overbearing, intimidating, hurtful and cruel way towards another. Disagreements are not bullying. It sounds like the school you volunteer at is really missing the mark in this area, which is a shame because if the administration and teaching staff were taking a more reasonable approach, they could probably make a positive difference in the school at large.

  52. I think Brian is on the right track. Bullying is definitely a problem in our country and will continue to be a problem as long as bullying is an accepted parenting and management style. The problem isn’t our kids and is not going to be resolved by calling every unkind thing a kid does bullying and adopting zero tolerance policies. If you really want to reduce bullying in this country the first two laws we need are a ban on corporal punishment and legalized gay marriage.

  53. Celeste, Prior to the anti-bully “curriculum” they actually dealt with it quite well. They focused on creating an atmosphere of respect and diversity and dealt with bullying on individual case basis. However, between media reports about the “epidemic” and parents freaking out about bullying even though many admitted their kids hadn’t had any issues they abandoned what was a great program and instituted the same nonsense three adjacent school districts use. The problem is that it isn’t unique to the school district to completely miss the point. I know of several school districts in various states that implement the same policy. The more that bullying is portrayed as an epidemic (when apparently there is evidence to the contrary) the more people try to intervene when it isn’t necessary because they feel they have to.

    My, and I believe Lenore’s as well, point is that with few exceptions everyone is against bullying but making it out to be a greater problem than it truly is doesn’t help actual cases of bullying. Like everything else we need to differentiate normal, though unpleasant, situations from actual threats and focus our efforts on the real cases of bullying. Some school programs do that, many don’t. The programs that do work are based on facts and sound principles rather than media hype and hysteria.

  54. @Patti — having suffered the sort of things you describe, I would strongly encourage you to take a close look at how the administration handles things at that school.

    If anything painted a target on me (and a lot of other kids too) in middle school it was the administration. I was assaulted badly enough to require medical care twice. In the first assault it was the son of the principal’s friend that did it. The principal refused to talk to (or in one case even listen to) any of the dozen or so witnesses. Then he effectively punished me day after day for over a month, calling me away from class and having me sit alone waiting for him in the office indefinitely after which he would re-hash everything and try to get me to change my story about what happened. The boy was never punished and I finally ended the principal’s routine by telling him that I knew what was happening and wouldn’t be responding to any more of his summons.

    When I was pushed against the lockers in the hall, the hall monitors ignored it and told me “boys will be boys,” the way the boys manhandled me and the things they said would get an adult kicked out of their job. Possibly arrested. When I was assaulted at the bus stop, the high-school where I was taken for treatment demanded something be done. That something was that I was brought in to pick the responsible parties out from a good thousand head shots. (never mind that they were regulars at my bus stop that only had about 12 riders). Since I couldn’t tell two pairs of girls apart from a head shot alone and frankly didn’t trust the administration to do anything anyhow. I dropped the matter. I probably shouldn’t have, but I felt that I was in more danger if I pursued the issue. Had the school made any effort, they could have identified the girls involved based on the bus stop and the narrowing down I did from the photos provided. They never followed up.

    Everything I dealt with in middle school ended when I went on to that high school. I never had a lick of trouble there. The high school vice principal was well known for fair (if creative) punishments. And the administration admonished all incoming students that they would not hesitate to call the police for cases of assault. The administration took responsibility for talking to witnesses and identifying the parties involved. And for all the verbal slings and arrows, the whole staff and quickly the students picked up the line: “Why are you wasting your time pestering someone you don’t like? You don’t like her, and that’s fine, she doesn’t like you either, now. But we expect you to leave one another alone from now on.” Since the high school administration treated students with respect this took care of most issues, and generally set the tone for acceptable behavior on and off campus.

  55. “There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” JFK

  56. Opsomath said: “It is very common in human nature to be selfish and pushy towards weaker people. It is also common to derive pleasure from the exclusion of someone from a social group. It is also common to derive pleasure from physically or verbally dominating someone.”

    There isn’t one thing that humans do that isn’t motivated by something universal, precious, and required to thrive. Let me say that again: There isn’t ONE THING that humans do that isn’t motivated by something universal (we all share it), precious (meaning something to celebrate and cherish) and required to thrive (meaning that if you are experiencing it, life is wonderful, and if not, life is… less wonderful).

    If we take the case of “bullying” (I favour objective observations over labelling any sort of behaviour, so words like “harassment,” “insulting,” “disrespectful,” and “terroristic” are not helpful, in my view; they don’t support clarity the way a truly objective observation would), once we establish what actually happened (through a video camera), wade through the emotional response it triggered, and establish again that no one does anything unless it’s an attempt to meet a need, then we can be curious about what it is that these folks are wanting.

    So. Let’s say girl A says to girl B: “You’re a waste of space. Why don’t you kill yourself and do your family a favour?” Girl A then turns to girl C and says, “Aw, now she’s crying. Boo-hoo, loser!” Girl C then says, “Yeah, this proves you’re worthless, all you can do is drip snot everywhere!”

    Sure, I’ve got lots of labels swimming around in my head. And if I were an adult witnessing the situation, it would be tempting to, from the top down, exert authority over girls A and C and “punish” them, citing “zero-tolerance for bullying and strict rules of acceptable social behaviour” and then “make them pay for their cruelty.”

    Sadly, all of that top-down stuff doesn’t do much to shift the situation toward compassion and lasting transformation toward relationships that are more harmonious and satisfying. In a word, rules and punishment don’t make peace. Peace is an inside job.

    So how can we help kids make peace within themselves? More rules about how to think inside your own head? Laughable. However, as adults, we have the power to help create a culture of peace and compassion at our schools, and in our homes. Going back to girls A, B, and C, we left off at the moment of real transformation and shift: the moving away from labels and punishment to the actual motivators of the behaviour to begin with: universal human needs and values.

    If I hear girl A with empathy, I say, “Wow! When I hear you say all of that, it’s pretty shocking for me, but I know there’s something that you really value here. Let’s see… since you said this not just to girl B but in the presence of girl C, I’m wondering if saying those things and laughing together with girl C is maybe about safety for you? Like, maybe it’s a safer experience of school at age 13 when you have a sense of belonging with others, that you have a safe place, kind of a thought like, ‘I belong, I’m safe with this person because together, we’re excluding that one…’ Is that part of it?”

    Girl A might cross her arms and say nothing, or be defensive, saying, “We didn’t do anything to her!” And I might then offer, “So, you’re feeling kind of overwhelmed, wanting to be able to have fun and say what you feel like saying, to be free to express yourself without being responsible for how someone else reacts to it?”

    Because I’m not demonizing her, diagnosing her, throwing the book at her, or calling her a “bully,” and just guessing about what’s important to her and what she’s after, the dialogue can continue. She might say, “Well, yeah, I guess so. I mean, she shouldn’t be so sensitive. We’re just talking trash.” I might guess again about what this is about. “So ‘talking trash,’ tell me more about that. What’s going on for you when you talk that way to others? Are you getting a sense of being able to influence the people around you? Must be a pretty powerful feeling, to know that your words and tone of voice can have such an impact!”

    By acknowledging the universal values that motivate all actions, things like belonging, safety, power, self-expression, choice, responsibility— even if we abhor the strategies kids are using to try to get themselves some of that stuff, we can focus on what they are aiming for, and ultimately, the kids do see, if they are provided with enough safe, empathic space, that their strategies are truly tragic and flawed, and getting them farther and farther away from the things that they value most.

    They can also be shown what’s going on with the people who are receiving their actions: to be present as I empathize with girl B, to witness her not as a victim, but as a human being with the same needs I have. This humanizing goes both ways: when the “victim” sees the “bully” has just as many needs as she has, there is a sense of equality, of unity. It’s nearly impossible to think of someone as an “enemy” when they have been acknowledged on the level of needs. Again, this doesn’t mean accepting the behaviour, or condoning it. It means unpacking that behaviour and getting to the heart of what motivates it in the first place. This is not psychological counselling. It is empathy.

    Girl A hears me say to girl B: “So how was it for you, hearing that?” She might respond with just a shrug. “Did it affect you a lot?” Another shrug. “Are you wanting to know that it is safe for you to acknowledge how much this affects you?” A nod. Some tears. “So when girl A says, ‘Why don’t you kill yourself and do your family a favour,’ are you feeling discouraged because it really matters to you to be seen as you are, a valuable and cherished human being? That your life matters?” Nodding, tears. “And are you also feeling confused, because it’s not clear to you why someone is saying this to you? Would you like to have more understanding about what’s going on for the person saying that?” Shrug. “Or maybe you still just want to have some acknowledgement that safety, ease and harmony are really vital to you, is that part of it?” Girl B finds her voice: “Why can’t they just leave me alone if they hate me so much?” And I might respond saying, “Sounds like you’d love to be able to enjoy some peace when you’re at school, huh?” Vigorous nod. “Yeah, I love it when things are easy and peaceful. I’m guessing that peace is part of it, and also to know that it matters that other people’s behaviour affects you. That you would really like to be heard, to be seen, to know that you matter, is that right?”

    This might seem like “doing nothing” to a lot of people. They might say, “You have to punish those mean girls, kick them out of school, give them detention, whatever! You can’t tolerate bullying!” Or they might say, “You need to show that poor girl who’s been victimized that something bad will happen to the people who do this sort of thing, otherwise, she’ll feel like you don’t care!”

    Empathy, however, is extremely powerful. It takes a lot of discipline to show up with empathy and mediate situations with a conscious focus on compassion for all parties involved, but I can tell you from years of experience, the transformations that occur in the presence of empathy are far more lasting and profound than any that occur as a consequence of either punishments of “bullies” or “sympathy” for victims (sympathy being “oh, you poor thing, that’s terrible, you don’t deserve that” kind of messages).

    Every time I see mention of “bullying,” I think, “Oh, I hope they’re going to bring empathy into the mix,” but I don’t see that. What I see is banning certain words, labelling certain behaviours, categorizing people into “bullies” and “victims” when in truth, all people share the same values and needs, and giving them some safe space to reconnect with that truth is the catalyst to real peace, the kind we all say we want.

  57. @Ms Herbert – your story is awful on so many levels. This boy/man is the kind who really has been failed by CPS, or whatever the acronym is, and you and others have obviously been let down at the same time. And the teachers must have been extremely switched off – any child of four describing rape must at the very least be seeing videos, (even if not being actually raped) and this constitutes an illegal act (well, it does in NZ anyway, and surely in most Western countries).

    @Audrey and others – some of what you talk about might be lessened if schools wore uniforms. This is the main argument for uniforms in NZ anyway, (and GB, Aus, other Western states?) that and the fact that it ultimately saves parents money. When everyone is required to dress the same, there is less opportunity for children to demean each other in school based on the label or style of their clothing. (And out of school, hopefully you can just avoid each other:-) ). We do have some scope for teasing in primary schools, where most go mufti, but for the critical pre- and adolescent years everyone is clones of each other :-). A number of Asian countries have the same uniform for every state school in the country, with just a different school name on the pocket of the blouse or shirt. Makes switching schools a breeze, and boy the kids look so cute!

  58. mollie – YES. YES. YES.

  59. […] Hi Folks! I read this Wall Street Journal article  with gratitude and a little rage. Its called, Stop Panicking about Bullies: Childhood is safer than every before, but todays parents need  need to worry about something. My gratitude comes from the fact the author, Nick Gillespie, bothers to figure out if we are really in the … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  60. […] Hi Folks! I read this Wall Street Journal article  with gratitude and a little rage. Its called, Stop Panicking about Bullies: Childhood is safer than every before, but todays parents need  need to worry about something. My gratitude comes from the fact the author, Nick Gillespie, bothers to figure out if we are really in the … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  61. […] Hi Folks! I read this Wall Street Journal article  with gratitude and a little rage. Its called, Stop Panicking about Bullies: Childhood is safer than every before, but todays parents need  need to worry about something. My gratitude comes from the fact the author, Nick Gillespie, bothers to figure out if we are really in the … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  62. […] You Can Be Anti-Bullying and Still Not Buy Into New Bullying “Crisis” (freerangekids.wordpress.com) […]

  63. I can agree that bullying is not more prevalent now than it used to be. I’m glad to hear that numbers are going down! That said, I think a lot of good is coming out of the current focus on bullying. Incidences are going down. Schools are cracking down on such behavior. Parents are making sure to discuss it with their kids. These things are good, if done well. I don’t think we should overstate the case that somehow bullying is newly awful… it always has been awful. But that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting against it, and the current anti-bullying movement seems like a good motivator to make a real difference in keeping those numbers trending down, down, down.

  64. […] Hi Folks! I read this Wall Street Journal article  with gratitude and a little rage. Its called, Stop Panicking about Bullies: Childhood is safer than every before, but todays parents need  need to worry about something. My gratitude comes from the fact the author, Nick Gillespie, bothers to figure out if we are really in the … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  65. Given that few adults can cite a legitimate NEED for them, children certainly don’t need cell phones!

    1. Cell phones are cheaper than landlines. If you need a phone – and to get a job you need a phone, to enroll your child in school you need a phone, to order anything over the internet you need a phone, if you want to live in our society you basically have to assume you need a phone – you’re better off getting a cell phone. More functionality for a lower cost. This isn’t rocket science, it’s basic math. A kindergartener could work this one out.

    2. With the increased availability of cell phones, pay phones have become less and less profitable and hence less and less available. Just this weekend I left my cell at home. I was able to *find* two different pay phones (in a stretch of space where, two decades ago, I would have seen dozens of them), but they were both broken.

    3. When your kid is out and about, it’s good if they can get in touch with you should they get lost or in trouble or want to change their plans. Adding a second line to your existing plan (which is a cell plan because that’s cheaper than landlines) isn’t that costly. Not doing so means it’s highly likely that your kid will have no way to contact you at all, or friends in case plans change, or emergency services should those be necessary.

    So why not get them a cell phone again? Because it’s all newfangled and when you were a kid you walked uphill in the snow both ways to use a tin can? And I bet you liked it, too!

    Cell phones aren’t a necessity like food and water, to be sure, but they’re hardly a luxury.

  66. Ok, ok, so maybe you, Uly, can justify a genuine need for a cell phone. Fine. You’re an adult.

    But cell phones are not a plus for children. They steal the independence & rationale from kids who carry them. Cell phones rob precious problem-solving opportunities from the very people who most need to hone those skills – children.

    Armed with a cell phone, kids no longer have to mentally map out what they’ll be doing for the remainder of the day or if they’ll need something from someone else at some point in the day. Instead, they wander aimlessly off into the day, knowing that they’re always a button-press away from their parents who’ll swoop in and rescue them at the last minute.

    I’m a career IT guy with nearly 30 years in the field, not some Luddite who opposes technological change in favor of walking to school in the snow, uphill, both ways. But I recognize that first and foremost, we have a responsibility to equip children with real world skills. We need to teach children to think creatively, solve problems, and communicate in the real, analog world before we let them slip away headlong into the isolating, digital abyss.

    But if you’re intent to do so (and you have an extra $40 burning a hole in your pocket every month) then sure, go ahead and equip your child with a cell phone. But in doing so, I believe you’ve willfully forfeited much of your right to complain about cyberbullying.

  67. But cell phones are not a plus for children. They steal the independence & rationale from kids who carry them. Cell phones rob precious problem-solving opportunities from the very people who most need to hone those skills – children.

    Cell phones, which enable your child to go further afield and stay in touch with friends, making plans quickly, rob them of independence and problem-solving? Do tell!

    Armed with a cell phone, kids no longer have to mentally map out what they’ll be doing for the remainder of the day or if they’ll need something from someone else at some point in the day.

    I thought people are always talking about those halcyon summers where we all wandered about aimlessly with no real plans other than “get out of the house and don’t come back until dinner”! Not just here but everywhere. I don’t recall ever making careful plans for my days as a child.

    Instead, they wander aimlessly off into the day, knowing that they’re always a button-press away from their parents who’ll swoop in and rescue them at the last minute.

    When your kid is in Manhattan and you’re in Brooklyn, you’re not going to swoop in anywhere. The most you’re going to do is say “Yes, okay, thanks for informing me about the train delay, I still expect you home within half an hour of curfew, keep me posted!” or “I don’t care if everybody else IS going to stay out later, if you’re not home at 10 you’re grounded!”

    No, I lie. Sometimes, as an adult, I call my mother on the phone to say things like “Do we have a copy of this book or should I buy it?” and “The C isn’t running. Let’s meet somewhere else.” or “I forgot, how the heck do I get to the F from here again?” (I have problems with spatial agnosia.) I did this as a teen too, but then I had to track down a payphone first.

    We need to teach children to think creatively, solve problems, and communicate in the real, analog world before we let them slip away headlong into the isolating, digital abyss.

    I thought you just said the problem with cell phones is it leaves children insufficiently isolated from their parents and friends. Which is it, please?

    But in doing so, I believe you’ve willfully forfeited much of your right to complain about cyberbullying.

    1. Because if your kid doesn’t have a cell phone, that somehow prevents other kids from using cell phones to gossip about them, make arrangements to ostracize them, and plan cruel and vindictive pranks. And if your kid doesn’t have a cell phone, they’re not able to see the results of this on websites, because there’s no internet access for children either, not even free at the library.

    2. You’re placing the blame for bullying on the victims, not the perpetrators. Even if it is necessary for your child to actually own a cell phone to be bullied via the internet, which it’s pretty clearly not, the fault here lies in the people are harassing your kid, not in the people who got the kid the cell phone. (Heck, maybe it comes out of their allowance!)

    3. $40 a month seems excessive. A simple google search shows me that the costs are closer to $10. That’s well within most teens’ allowances.

    Like I said, cell phones are cheaper than landlines. Back in the day, plenty of teens had their own private phones in their rooms. Now they can get the same thing in their pocket and it costs a lot less.

  68. And many houses don’t use landlines any more. I haven’t had one in years. I don’t even have a working phone jack in my house. An add-on line to my cellphone contract when the child is old enough makes infinitely more sense than repairing the broken phone jack, activating the phone line, paying for a landline for the exclusive use of my child, buying a land phone (unlike cell companies, they are not given away for free with landlines), deal with teenage drama in the main areas of the house (no phone jacks in daughter’s bedroom) and let’s not forget telemarketers. Yes, landlines are so much better.

    Parents who are likely to swoop in and rescue will swoop in and rescue, with or without a cell phone. Parents who are inclined to encourage the kid to handle things on their own won’t swoop, with or without a cell phone. Kids who are dependent on their parents for every little thing will remain so dependent, with or without a cell phone. Kids who crave independence will crave independence, with or without a cell phone.

    And kids travel in packs. Even if your kid doesn’t have a cell, there is absolutely no reason to think anything you mentioned as negative will not be occurring. Every other kid with your kid WILL have a cell at the ready. If my kid travels with 4 friends with cell phone why exactly does she need to be concerned with plans or being out of reach?

  69. The real ePidemic we are facing is a society of children, and adults, with no ability to navigate discomfort. As someone who works with children I feel especially appalled when I do run into real bullying but I don’t need a campaign to tell me to do my best to stop it. However, most of what I see is all the missteps that come with learning how social interactions work. Why can’t we focus on teaching children social skills and coping mechanisms ( because really not everyone in life is going to be nice to you) rather than on punishing the perpetrator.

    This is just another thing that seems to muddle up the whole purpose of childhood, which is to learn how to be an adult.

  70. […] Hi Folks! I read this Wall Street Journal article  with gratitude and a little rage. Its called, Stop Panicking about Bullies: Childhood is safer than every before, but todays parents need  need to worry about something. My gratitude comes from the fact the author, Nick Gillespie, bothers to figure out if we are really in the … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  71. If my kid travels with 4 friends with cell phone why exactly does she need to be concerned with plans or being out of reach?

    Well, living in NYC I can think of a few reasons, the biggest being that you might want to talk about which movie to go see and where when one friend is in Brooklyn, one uptown, and another in Lower Manhattan. Nobody’s left home yet.

    But honestly, like so many things, I figure the choice to give your kid a cell (or not, whatever) is a parenting decision that’s really not my business. Or anybody else’s, for that matter. There are so many, many things we can judge other people on. That’s not even in the top ten.

  72. (I recognize that most of that comment was agreeing with me, I just wasn’t sure about that last part.)

  73. mollie: that was a beautiful comment. You are right on.

  74. Uly, I was agreeing with you. I was just wondering how one learns these supposed “skills” of making plans for the whole day and not needing anything from others during the day (not that I agree in the least that these actually are skills needed or that cell phones impact these skills to the extent they are) when all the other kids with your kid have a cellphone at the ready. It seems to be more of saying “I don’t want to be the one called if you all need something” than independence garnering unless your child is a loner.

    Nor do I care whether parents get cellphones for their kids or not. It just gets annoying when people insist that cellphones are vast luxuries that kids should never have when many, including myself, see no reason for landlines to exist anymore outside of businesses. A phone is only a luxury in the sense of it is not needed to survive. Most would agree that SOME phone is a necessity of life today. Why is it landlines are acceptable while cellphone are luxuries and helicopter?

  75. Cell phones are no longer just phones and that’s a very big part of my objections to them. I suspect there’s next to no cyberbullying occurring on landlines.

    I know there are exceptions – and certainly plenty of exceptional, level-headed kids – but for many, the cell phone is extension of the “apron string,” which is why I believe they hamper children’s self-sufficiency. And for some (many?) parents, it seems that the perceived need for their children to have cell phones is an extension of their “helicopter parenting” tendencies.

    Of course there are exceptions, but largely, i still maintain that children have no real need for cell phones and those are more often the root of more trouble than they’re worth.

    I’m not trying to force my parenting style upon anyone else, but it’s a challenging position to be in: if you challenge the conventional wisdom, you’re branded a crank or Luddite. Yet if you never raise your hand and questions these things, you’re just basically blindly letting society seize control of a large portion of your parenting rights & responsibilities. And society is generally driven by marketing and profit, not sensibility and concern for your child’s well-being.

    Case in point as it relates to this article: “Society” would rather sell cures to the bullying problem (and exaggerate the magnitude of the problem so there’s plenty of profit to go around!) than examine underlying causes and deal with those or try to give kids the skills to resolve conflict for themselves.

  76. Having a cell phone has allowed my kids to be more free range. We live in a large subdivision. My kids have many friends. There is also a wooded area with a creek nearby that the kids like to play at. Without a phone the kids would have to know exactly what they were going to do, and where they were going to be before they left the house. I’m not going comb through the entire subdivision or park my car and go traipsing through the woods looking for them when it’s time to eat dinner or I need them to come home because we need to go somewhere. With phones they can go and play and explore and have fun. When I need them home I simply call and tell them it’s time to come home. When they are playing at friends houses they have the freedom to go from one house to the next without always coming back to ours to let me know where they’ll be next. They can also call from several streets away to ask if it’s okay if they run through the sprinkler with a friend then I can either say yes, you’ll just need a shower when you come home, or no we have to go somewhere in 30 minutes don’t get wet today.

  77. My daughter received an 8 day suspension for moving a girl in chair away from the table my daughter wanted to sit at. She is 14, so it was clearly an impetuous, immature action on my daughter’s part. But 8 days suspension and her infraction on her school record was labeled “bullying”. I agree she was being a brat, but she had no animosity towards the other girl. The girl asked to be removed from the class. My daughter did not touch her or say anything to her. Do you believe the punishment fit the crime? Am I raising a bully and I don’t know it?

  78. How did she move the girl and her chair?

    Cell phones are no longer just phones and that’s a very big part of my objections to them.

    *glances at phone*

    My phone a. calls people b. sends texts and c. takes pictures. It also tells me the time. It’s not that old.

    It’s entirely possible to get your child a stripped down phone if you want, or to simply not pay for services you don’t want your kid having access to.

    but for many, the cell phone is extension of the “apron string,” which is why I believe they hamper children’s self-sufficiency.

    You say this with no evidence or proof, of course. Yes, it needs to be cited.

    And for some (many?) parents, it seems that the perceived need for their children to have cell phones is an extension of their “helicopter parenting” tendencies.

    Maybe, but if those kids can have SOME freedom with a cell phone instead of NO freedom without one (and yes, that’s the situation you’re talking about), isn’t that preferable?

  79. @JJC, An 8-day suspension for an isolated inappropriate act seems more inappropriate than the act itself. Most definitions of bullying require repeated, intentional conduct and an imbalance of power (physical or social) between the bully and the target. As I said in an earlier post, calling every immature act bullying and adopting zero tolerance policies only compounds and confuses the problem rather than resolving it. Part of the problem is how our views on discipline have changed. 20 years ago the emphasis was on the “disciple” aspect and the primary meaning was “to train .” Now that definition is becoming obsolete and the primary meaning is “punishment.” To say we will no longer tolerate intolernce is to model intolerance. As adults we must become the change we wish to see in our children rather than persisting in a “do as I say, not as I do” approach.

  80. “I suspect there’s next to no cyberbullying occurring on landlines.”

    Considering “cyber” equals internet I would guess that there is absolutely no “cyberbullying” on landlines. There is probably next to no bullying occurring on landlines because there is next to no teenage usage of landlines. However, I remember copious amounts of bullying going on via landlines back in the days before cellphones. Cellphones did not instigate bullying via phone; they simply made it mobile.

    The impact of cellphones on bullying is vastly overstated. Anything that can be done on a cellphone/smartphone can be done via internet and a landline. The bullies lose the instant gratification of cell phones, but do you honestly believe that Susie Mean Girl really wants to bully Sally Victim but just can’t think of a way because Sally doesn’t have a cell phone? Get real. Susie just pulls out the old standbys of landlines and internet. Everyone has some access to both.

    In some ways, cell phone help avoid telephone bullying. I know who is calling me when my cell rings. I can avoid answering the call of a bully. Without caller ID (does that even exist anymore?), I have no idea who is calling until I answer the phone. Short of screening all my calls, I can’t avoid the bully. I can hang up on the bully once I identify her, but I’ve already received a portion of the bullying by then.

    I have no problem with kids having cellphones, but you are correct that they don’t absolutely NEED them as long as they have a landline. However, I think you are a Luddite for believing that home landlines have a meaningful part in the future. I know few who regularly use a landline phone and none of them are under 35. I can’t remember the last time I called anyone other than my 82 year old grandmother on their landlines, if they have them at all (many of my friends do not). Even my mother communicates almost exclusively via cellphone and we are FAR from a family of cutting-edge techies. Home landlines seem to be going the way of the VCR.

  81. zombieapocalypsekitten said:

    I really don’t like our current response to bullying. We are emphasizing kids going to adults to fix the problem and adults fix this problem poorly. Being a tattle-tale can induce more bullying and additional stigma. Not only are you a wimp, you’re a NARC. This can only perpetuate the problem. Sometimes, when I wear my tinfoil hat, I think this is desired. Like school administrators want a bunch of lambs that can be eaten by wolves

    Exactly. The child who is bullied is told over and over again to tell…in my daughter’s case, she was told “We can’t help you, if you don’t tell us!” then, when she did tell-she faced everything from being stalked around the school, being called a cunt, a whore, a bitch, told that she was useless and should kill herself, and threatened with a steak knife-the administration told her she was lying, that there was no way the child(ren) who were doing these things would ever do such awful things. They are such “good kids” they would never do those things…meanwhile there is an EA on the playground who has been suspended because not only did she witness these things going on, but after the Principal rejected her “version of the events”, she went to the superintendant, and offered to be our witness(if needed) after we filed a police report.

    When we spoke to the principal, her immediate reaction was “She might as well learn how to deal with this now, before she gets older”, because yeah, every girl should be able to handle being stalked, and degraded, and threatened. Especially in grade 5.

  82. Part of the problem is how our views on discipline have changed. 20 years ago the emphasis was on the “disciple” aspect and the primary meaning was “to train .” Now that definition is becoming obsolete and the primary meaning is “punishment.”

    And 20 years before that, corporal punishment was fairly common in American schools, certainly more common than it is today.

    But I guess paddling children is training them and not punishing them…?

  83. I don’t really know enough about cyber/phone bullying to form an opinion. But I do tend to agree that having your child carry a phone at all times kind of defeats the purpose of teaching them self-reliance.

    On the other hand, when my girl was younger and not keen to do things on her own at all, we often used walkie talkies to stay in touch. Walkie talkies rock! And when I left her at home, she would often call me on the mobile from our landline too. So it can help if your youngster is reluctant to sever the umibilical cord. But I think it is healthy for them to sometimes be completely ‘on their own’ with no way to contact someone to help them solve problems too.

    If everyone their age does have a phone, it is probably a bit sad to deny them one though. Fortunately, I don’t see many primary (elementary) school kids with phones. Yet.

  84. But I do tend to agree that having your child carry a phone at all times kind of defeats the purpose of teaching them self-reliance.

    Why?

    The phone is a tool. You can use it in a way that discourages self-reliance, or you can NOT do that. How does the mere presence of a phone keep them from being independent?

  85. As an educator, I do think there is a “bullying epidemic”, to use your words. I don’t think focusing on bullying is to label this generation as vulnerable or helpless. Bullying is rampant and finally, we are focusing on it, and that is a GREAT thing. To say that a child who informs an adult of bullying is a tattle-tale is insane. To say that a child needs to learn how to deal with bullies to become “self-reliant” is so ridiculous I can’t even believe it was on a parenting blog.

  86. Excellent post, one of the few articles I’ve read today that said something unique!One new subscriber here 🙂
    Condition Agent Martha Walz, the primary sponsor with the anti-bullying invoice approved last week simply by single votes within the Massachusetts Residence as well as Us senate, stated she got discomfort in order to draft any invoice that would address an epidemic of bullying – on the web and or else – and protect the initial Amendment privileges of students. The lady pored on the laws and regulations regarding additional says and browse several federal government circumstances.“That was obviously a really substantial issue associated with my own – that we do not trample on the city rights of students,’’ mentioned Walz, any Boston Democrat as well as House chairwoman of the Joint Board about Schooling.

  87. Hrmph.

    I only just bothered to go and actually read the article that you’ve based this post on.

    Did you miss the part where the author says that FOUR PERCENT of children are still “afraid of attack or harm at school”?

    Four in a hundred, or one one in 25 of that makes things easier. When I went to high school, a class size was commonly between about 15-25 students. That’s equal ONE STUDENT IN EVERY CLASS (or one per two classes) who feels that they are at risk of PHYSICAL ASSAULT at school. School being, you know, the environment that you force your children into eight hours a day, five days a week, ~40(?) weeks per year, for twelve years of their lives? Those years being pretty damn important in terms of the way that those children view authority figures, the world around them, and interpersonal interactions?

    You know, twelve years of being told that most of the JOB of the authority figures around them is to ensure that they are safe from harm, in return for respect and good behaviour? Well, they’re not getting the protection they’ve been promised if one student per class is still afraid of being physically attacked. Most of the rest of the students in the class will be routinely witnessing or being involved in the bullying – how could they not? Statistically, they’re sharing all of their classes with a victim – and with the bullies too.

    You say that bullying is not a “crisis”? Not an “epidemic”? Sure, it’s been decreasing – and has decreased significantly, but I’d hardly call one student per class being afraid for their personal safety – and this being a normal thing for the rest of said class to witness – anything less than a “crisis”. This is, of course, discounting the myriad (and far MORE common) of hurtful behaviours that do not involve physical assault or threats.

    Often, I think that the reason that there’s a huge uproar about bullying lately is because of the whole “cyberbullying” jag. As usual, the adults – parents, school officials and other authority figures – whose responsibility it is to ensure that children are not abused by their peers completely miss the point and any attempt at an appropriate solution. “Less internet and phone access for teens,” they say. “Parents need to supervise or block internet access and texts because your children may be bullied through these media,” they say. “Children are bullied because of Facebook.” I’m fairly convinced that, on a conscious or unconscious level, the reason that the “cyber” variant of bullying makes these adults so uncomfortable is that, for the first time, there are copious amounts of recorded digital evidence of bullying occurring, and the adults want to make it go away so that they can continue to pretend that the problem is trivial or nonexistent. That is very hard when there are pages (books? shelves of books?) of hurtful texts, facebook posts, messenger chatlogs, forum posts, and, of course, a decent fistful of recorded VIDEO EVIDENCE of bullying, conspiracy to bully, thefts, rumors, and actual physical assaults. Take away the technology! We were so much happier when we couldn’t SEE what monsters some children really are, and how much they hurt others! We were HAPPIER when we could assume that Matt’s bruises were a result of natural, healthy boys-will-be-boys fisticuffs, rather than being able to SEE that five girls caught up to Jennifer after school, beat her and ripped half her hair out, then posted the video on YouTube. Oh, and the Facebook conversation wherein they arranged to do that to her.

    Of course, words, phones, and written media all existed before the “cyber” era, and were all used to bully children, sometimes to clinical depression, PTSD, attempted and successful suicides.

    Oh, did I mention those serious mental health effects that occur as a result of serious bullying? Because, you know, they do, sometimes. There have been plenty of famous cases of suicide of teens – or in some cases pre-teens – as a result of severe bullying.

    I want you to think about that. Really dig into the issue, get emotionally invested, and think.

    These are children who, before they even reach voting age, have been hurt – tortured – emotionally, so badly, that they would rather take their chances with whatever’s on the other side of the grey veil rather than stay here. These are not necessarily children who are mentally ill (to begin with) or abused at home.

    I just want to state that again, more carefully – you and I both live in countries where children kill themselves because other CHILDREN hurt them so badly that it overrode millennia of evolutionary programming to stay alive at any cost. Those children were not hurt for any “good” or justifiable reason. They were not tortured because they knew where the drugs were. They were not tortured because they needed to be punished. They were not tortured because they believed in the wrong god. They were hurt to the point of suicide for FUN.

    Now try to imagine it. Imagine being in so much emotional pain, with so little hope to get out of it, that you actually WANT to die. Imagine hating yourself so much that you no longer place enough value on your own life to keep it. Sometimes, children cause THAT to occur in other children. This sort of thing takes a lot of time and effort, too. Months or YEARS of degradation, malicious rumors, organised and malicious exclusion, thefts and assaults from multiple bullies go into making a teen suicidal.

    Of course, sometimes the victims snap in the opposite direction. Hence, Columbine, and many other such incidents.

    And, others survive, but with problems. Clinical depression and PTSD that they may or may not be treated for, may or may not overcome, may or may not live with for the rest of their lives. Does that sound familiar? Maybe a bit like what afflicts war veterans? That, but in your 14-year-old. Not because he was fighting for his country’s freedom or the safety of his family at home. He got those mental problems that he’ll be dealing with for the rest of his life for the idle amusement of his peers.

    Yes, of course, most schoolkids get out of the other end of school without being traumatised or damaged to any significant degree. But it’s the culture of “this is normal” and “this is acceptable” and “this is not common enough/crisis enough/epidemic enough to really worry about it” that perpetuates the really nasty stuff.

    And, of course, the whole “it’s a childrens’ issue so it’s not really that important” attitude.

    What if I were to tell you that 4% of adults felt under threat of attack of physical violence while at work? But, that’s ok, it’s down from 12%! Workplace violence is not a crisis! You don’t need to take it as a serious threat and see what you can do to fix the situation!

  88. […] a post on her ‘Free Range Kids’ blog last week, Lenore Skenazy questions whether the US is in the […]

  89. A sensitive, well-argued, powerful post on a topic that so often generates more heat than light. I’ve responded to this post, and taken forward Lenore’s point about the danger of misdiagnosis, on my latest blog post.

  90. […] their consciousness raised [Michael Aynsley, OpenFile Vancouver] And from Lenore Skenazy: “You Can Be Anti-Bullying and Still Not Buy Into New Bullying ‘Crisis’“ […]

  91. I was bullied (somewhat seriously) for a bit in Secondary School (High School to Americans). It stopped when I hit several of them quite hard when they tried something. They were all bigger than me but thay all backed down and never tried bullying me again. I reckon they knew who would be belived if they tried anything. I think the best thing to do for male bullying is to accept that the good kid is probably telling the truth unless evidence says otherwise and to encourage self defence. I broke several school rules right in front of a teacher to stop the bullying but was never even questioned about it. Anyway, the small punishment you get for a first offence is nearly always worth it.

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