Is Every Playground Spat an Example of “Bullying?”

Hi Readers — Here’s a really valuable column because it addresses something that had been nibbling — and biting and punching — its way into parental concern: Bullying.

No one likes bullies or bullying. But why is it suddenly so high on a radar? Why are we talking about it all the time? Is it a question of finally getting the attention it deserves? Or is it getting TOO much attention, the way so many other childhood events are getting too much attention, like the falls toddlers inevitably take? (Now addressed by a number of “safety” devices.) Or the “problem” of friendship that we were talking here a few posts ago (now addressed by the profession of “friendship coaches”)?

So Helene Guldberg writes about bullying and why it’s not always bad. Or, rather, why what we are calling “bullying” isn’t always exactly that, and why it behooves us not to inflate the problem. As Helene writes:

Stamping out bullying, saying no to bullying, zero tolerance on bullying: promises like these are the foundations of every British school’s mandatory anti-bullying policy.

They are sentiments intended to protect pupils from every unpleasant playground experience, from name-calling to physical fights, and reflect the modern obsession with shielding children from every conceivable danger.

But in reality they are robbing them of the opportunity to learn some of life’s most valuable lessons.

There are plenty of campaigners who say that children should be allowed to climb trees, at the risk of breaking a bone. But those of us who believe that children should [also] be allowed to sustain a few emotional bruises in the playground — squabbling, fighting, falling-out and, yes, even being bullied, without the interference of adults — are vilified.


By insisting that bullying is everywhere and that all relationships between children are potentially problematic, it is harder for us to be vigilant about brutality and real threats to children’s long-term health and happiness.

That’s just it: When we “problemize” every imperfection in childhood, we totally lose perspective, fretting about the things we don’t have to fret about, butting in when we’d best butt out, and possibly ignoring — in the tidal wave of worry — the real things we should attend to.

And by the way: When did we decide childhood should be perfect in the first place? Nothing else on earth is. What has compelled us to think anything less than perfection is a terrible tot-hood (and those who don’t provide perfection are terrible parents)? Hmmm. — Lenore