Were You Ever a Bully? No Job for You!

Hi Folks! Too soon to know if this is a trend or just an outrageous blip, but over in New South Wales — the Australian state Sydney is in — the authorities have passed a law that if you’re under 22 and want to work in one of the local “clubs” (that is, casinos), you have to pass a “BullyCheck.”

Yep. They call your old school to ask if you were a bully. If you were (or at least appeared to someone to be one), you won’t get the job. Ostensibly this is to convince kids that bullying has real consequences — though I’ve heard that it might just be window-dressing, to make the casinos look oh-so-upright. Either way, it’s a terrible idea, as this editorial notes.

First off, who decides what bullying is? At some schools, not inviting all the kids to your birthday party is already teetering on the edge of cruelty.

Then there’s the problem of assuming people don’t grow and change. My friend just got an apology from a girl who tormented her in high school, lo, 35 years ago! People mature at different rates. Punishing a 22-year-old for what he or she was like in high school is not only wacky, it’s profoundly pessimistic.

Worst of all is the treating bullying that never rose to the level of a crime  as if it did. It is giving perception and hearsay legal weight, the same as if the job applicant had been convicted of forgery or embezzlement. And in this era of heightened bully fears, MY fear is that we will start defining it downward, and someday someone will be denied a job for calling his friend a doody-head.  – L.

The teacher heard me call Pete a pinecone brain! My future is gone!

Some Thoughts on “Deadly Bullying”

Hi Readers! I just got back to the United States and the first thing I saw at the airport was, naturally, People Magazine. This week’s cover story, “Deadly Bullying,” was prompted by the horrible case of Tyler Clementi. Tyler’s college roommate streamed live video of his sexual encounter with a man, leading Tyler to commit suicide.

I have no problem linking this horrible invasion of privacy — this absolute betrayal of human decency — to Tyler’s death. I do have a problem with calling it “bullying.”

Why? Because this was beyond bullying. It was a hate crime. By calling it “bullying” we are lumping together everything from a  “Smelly belly!” taunt on the bus to  an unconscionable act of cruelty. Not that it is easy to bear a “Smelly belly!” taunt. But that there is still a difference of magnitude. When we obscure that, childhood  becomes even more worrisome to parents. All of us already worried about bullying are now going to worry about bullying…to death.

No one is in favor of kids (or anyone) hurting or humiliating each other. No one thinks bullying is a good idea. For the record, I hate bullies and bullying, want to see them gone — this is not a post that intends to dismiss the hurt that bullying can inflict.  But the act of broadcasting a private sexual encounter is criminal. To call it “bullying” makes it sound childish, at the same time it also makes anything childish sound criminal.

The result is to make us parents ever more confused and terrified. As if we weren’t confused and terrified enough for our kids. — Lenore

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.

And:

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

Now We’re Supposed to Manage Our Kids’ Friendships? Or Else???

Hi Readers — Here’s a lovely guest post responding to The New York Times article from last week, “A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding,” by Hilary Stout. The article was all about “friendship coaches” and teaching our kids the “right” way to be friends. Blecch. Enjoy the counterpoint.  L.

Dear Free Range Kids: NJ Mom here. After reading the New York Times friendship article,  I went on such a rant that Lenore asked me to pull myself together and write something up.

The article concerns the latest bizarre twist to the seemingly never-ending micromanaging of middle/upper middle class children. In a nutshell: You can’t have a best friend anymore, it might hurt someone’s feelings. Instead, to avoid exclusivity, cliques, and bullying, children should be friends with a bunch of kids, with no one person being more special than another.

OMG. Can’t we just leave these poor children alone, even for just a minute? Can’t we just let them be mean, or nice, or scared, or bored, or sad or angry or even not a “success” at school? Can’t we, as the adults, simply guide them on their journey to adulthood, instead of preventing them from feeling any pain–ever?

As my mother says, “I sure wouldn’t want to be a mother in this day and age.” She’s right. The pretty straightforward job of childrearing has become so, so…messy and convoluted. And it is just too damn much work.

All my children have to do is open their eyes in the morning, and they have more of everything than do millions and millions of other children, from potable water to two parents who love and enjoy them. We as parents, teachers, “childrearing experts,” and school administrators must let go of this delusion that we can fix everything for our children. They already have everything they need and can manage very well without us constantly messing with the minutia of their lives.

I do hope it’s obvious that I’m not advocating the absence of parenting. I’m simply saying that adults should guide and support the children in their care, not interfere to such a degree that real life passes them by.

To end this post, I decided to go to some true experts on kids and friendship, my 11 year-old daughter and her 13 year-old friend. I asked: Do you think it’s ok to have a best friend? “Yeah, sure, why not?” Might it hurt your other friends’ feelings if you are best friends with just one person? “Sometimes, but usually no, because you’re still friends with the other friends.” Do you think that having just one best friend can create cliques and then maybe even bullying? “No, bullying is when one person punches another person. It also happens because parents didn’t teach them any better.”

And there you have it. — NJ Mom