- Is there really a crisis over school bullying? A columnist in the Wall Street Journal says there’s no data showing bullying is more of a problem now than in years past. Nick Gillespie suggests the fixation on bullying is a result of the era of helicopter parenting:
But is America really in the midst of a “bullying crisis,” as so many now claim? I don’t see it. I also suspect that our fears about the ubiquity of bullying are just the latest in a long line of well-intentioned yet hyperbolic alarms about how awful it is to be a kid today.
I have no interest in defending the bullies who dominate sandboxes, extort lunch money and use Twitter to taunt their classmates. But there is no growing crisis. Childhood and adolescence in America have never been less brutal. Even as the country’s overprotective parents whip themselves up into a moral panic about kid-on-kid cruelty, the numbers don’t point to any explosion of abuse. As for the rising wave of laws and regulations designed to combat meanness among students, they are likely to lump together minor slights with major offenses. The antibullying movement is already conflating serious cases of gay-bashing and vicious harassment with things like…a kid named Cheese having a tough time in grade school.
In Western New York, legislation is popping up to prosecute bullies. The Erie County executive reluctantly signed legislation that he doesn’t think is enforceable. Monroe County has pending legislation. We’ve also seen at least one local lawsuit related to bullying.
This issue came to the forefront because of social media use. But it exploded when several teen suicides were linked to bullying. I think it could be dangerous for the media make the connection between suicides and bullying. Sensational media coverage could “normalize” the idea of teens killing themselves because they’ve been bullied. When a Spencerport girl killed herself, people immediately blamed bullying, despite repeated police assertions there was no link and requests for privacy from her family. Suicide is extremely complicated and we should resist the temptation to find simple explanations for these tragedies.
I interviewed a University of Rochester psychiatrist who is adamantly opposed to legislating this problem away:
“I agree we have to do something. But I think that doing legislation of that sort isn’t the effective solution,” said Dr. Eric Caine, who has studied suicide and bullying. “We need to put a tremendous amount of focus on bullying. But that isn’t the same thing as preventing suicide.”
Dr. Caine says bullying is common, but suicide is rare, especially among high school students. He said suicide is a complex problem.
“While there may be an occasional suicide where bullying has been a central issue, there are many other factors, typically. There are often family issues, substance abuse issues, school problems, interpersonal and peer problems, sometimes the emergence of major psychiatric disorders,” he said.
He said teaching values is important.
“I think people have to be realistic that passing a law isn’t the same thing as changing the community,” he said. “And that passing a law isn’t the same thing as having people be responsible adults or responsible kids.”
I endured terrible taunts in 5th grade that included “Orphan Ugly,” a reference to my frizzy red hair. It was relentless and humiliating. One day I couldn’t stop crying in class and my teacher asked me what was wrong. He called my parents and the parents of the bullies that night. It got a lot better after I stopped suffering in silence.
People can be very mean. They’re mean as kids. They’re mean as adults. Part of growing up is learning how to cope with mean people. (It’s never easy.) Part of growing up is also learning how to treat others nicely. Are children being taught these things anymore?
- The mentality of gated communities contributed to the death of Trayvon Martin. An op-ed in the New York Times discusses the “bunker” mindset in enclosed housing complexes.
- Casinos are not the answer. A longish read from Financial Times looks at the impact of casinos in Gary, Indiana.