Why you should care
The anti-bullying frenzy is the governmental equivalent of helicopter parenting: It crushes our children’s ability to grow and learn.
Last year, a powerhouse high school football team in Aledo, Texas, clobbered its opponent, 91-0. The result: name-calling. After the game, a parent of a losing team member filed a bullying complaint against Aledo’s coach — because the coach allegedly did not let up in the second half. The school district, required by law to investigate, eventually determined that the coach was not, in fact, a bully.
Phew. But really, America? It might be time to admit that we’ve taken bullying too far. We’re not talking about the acts of aggression, some of which are truly awful and some of which are completely normal. Our beef is with the term “bullying,” which litigious parents and the school officials frightened by them sling around way too easily these days. Here’s a list of things that can qualify as bullying these days, courtesy of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Anti-Bullying Coalition: eye rolling, excluding someone from the lunch table and giving the “evil eye.” It’s especially troublesome as more schools and states legislate heavily against so-called bullies — currently 14 states include a criminal sanction for bullying.
In the wake of Columbine, school officials nowadays often feel it’s “better safe than sorry” when it comes to anti-bullying policies.
To be sure, teen harassment can be a very serious issue. Meanness that crosses the line can be painful and traumatic, as many of us know from personal experience, and some cases have led to sexual violence or suicide. With social media, bullying follows kids every time they are on their smartphone, which is always.
But there’s a big difference between an eye-roll and an assault, but “zero-tolerance” anti-bullying policies don’t discern. Why not? Many came into effect in the wake of the 1999 Columbine school massacre, and school officials nowadays often feel it’s “better safe than sorry,” says Jennifer Kuhl, a former principal at Everett Middle School in San Francisco.
Yet shoehorning all sorts of conflict under the term “bullying” can minimize real, dangerous cruelty. And the current fashion for “robotic policies” doesn’t take into account context, like whether the two parties are friends with a history of pranking, says Jaana Juvonen, a professor of developmental psychology at UCLA. Others argue that overzealousness impedes a child’s ability to deal with conflict while stigmatizing supposed bullies — yes, bullying them. “The reaction we are taking bullying is ridiculous, but people are scared to say anything about it,” says Susan Eva Porter, a dean at the Branson School, a Northern California high school, and author of the book Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Aggression Is Bad for Everyone.
Comments welcome, dear readers. Just don’t be an ass, or I might have to call you a bully.