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

98 Responses to Is Every Playground Spat an Example of “Bullying?”

  1. LauraL July 2, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    A childhood full of lessons to learn, imperfect playground experiences and best friend squabbles, along with lazing under a tree and wading in a creek catching minnows…ALL that makes for a ‘perfect’ childhood. Having no problems? Is not perfect-making.

  2. Joette July 2, 2010 at 11:24 pm #

    I know when my son was in public school he was a victim of teasing and had a tendency to try to solve his problems with his hands rather than his words. I went to conference after conference after conference and stayed home with him through two suspensions.

    Now, I freely admit that my son was too easy to incite to riot.
    I also freely admit that I wished another kid would clean his clock for him. Some kids need the hard lesson of experience, that it’s no fun to be pushed around by someone bigger than you, before they can internalize that whole, “I shouldn’t push people around either” thing.

    We do our children a disservice when we rob them of experiences, not all of which are pleasant. Much of what children need to learn is physical–how to walk, tie shoes, ride a bike, skip, jump, hop…and what it feels like to lose in a fight. I’d venture to say that not one child learned any of those other things through someone talking to them or showing them a video without ever having the experience.

    Also, like it or not, children settle problems with fights. I recall in elementary school that I met a couple of girls behind the school and threw down. After we pummeled each other for a couple of minutes we were both sore and too exhausted to fight any more, so we parted. We didn’t part friends, but we DID part with the understand that our argument wasn’t worth the pain we’d each suffered.

    Perhaps the rise in serious bullying IS real, but the culprit lies in the adults robbing children of the experiences they need in order to learn how the shoes of the bullied feel when you walk in them.

  3. Jo July 2, 2010 at 11:38 pm #

    Let kids be kids. That is a famous saying around our school, that is fine to a certain extent, for most of us growing up in the late 70’s early 80’s whom were bullied by my parents best friends kids, whom would act like nothing ever happened, like they did no wrong, the wrong I did was taking it to the point of now if I see a classmate at a store, I go out of my way to avoid them because I am still embarrassed to have been made fun of in the way I was. Do you realize how bad it had to have been to feel that way some 20 years later, I know get over it. I am trying.

    So my children go to a different school and I work there I supervise recess we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and first and foremost explain to the children that they need to go the person that offended them and talk to the person and work it out between them first before half of the class is involved. It is working, there is a lot less issues because they are stopped before they start.

    If there is a fight involving blood and broken bones, talking comes second to first aid. There are consequences to ones actions even with words. But children at some points sometimes need to be held accountable even if the parents think that it is “KIDS BEING KIDS”

  4. montessorimatters July 2, 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    What makes parents think that if they protect their children enough from bullies, they’ll eventually vanish from the kids’ lives? Adulthood is FULL of bullies, from the jealous co-worker to the even more jealous boss… Only by letting our children build up the necessary skills to deflect bullying will we prepare them for real life.

    But then I guess that in order to help kids actually DEAL with bullying, a parent has to be involved in a child’s life and spend time talking with that child about the situation and possible solutions. It’s so much more convenient to try to prevent it from happening in the first place, so that parents don’t have to implement actual parenting skills…

    Was I bullied as a kid? Yes. Did I hate it? Yes. Am I grateful for it? YOU BET!!

  5. jim July 2, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    This is a repeat of my response to a “what did you learn in high school?” question posed on a friend’s blog at the local daily: The most important thing I learned is that if you attend a school where bullying of bookworm geeks by mouthbreathing jockstrappers is tolerated if not encouraged is that it is worth a three-day suspension once a year for the satisfaction of punching a bully in a letter jacket in the mouth before as much of the student body as possible, even if you get a fat lip or black eye when the bully “defends” himself. The unexpected delayed gratification aspect of this was finding out several years later that a younger geeky bookworm girl had had a major, longtime crush on the nerd that would fight back. As it happened, this discovery was made not long after that gangly bracemouthed nerdette duckling turned into a tall, beautiful, brilliant 18-year old swan.

  6. Geek in Heels July 3, 2010 at 12:00 am #

    I completely agree that bullying is a natural part of childhood. I myself was bulled many times as a child (due to my immigrating to the states at a young age, I did not speak the language and I was an ethnic minority in a mostly white community) and it only helped me grow stronger and taught me to stand up and defend myself, a lesson I still use in my professional and personal life.

    This post reminds me of a story I read earlier this week about a parent suing a school district over cyberbullying:

  7. Casey July 3, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    “Only by letting our children build up the necessary skills to deflect bullying will we prepare them for real life.”

    That’s ridiculous. That might have been a useful approach several thousand years ago, but not today. Violence is *not* a normal part of being an adult. Nor is psychological abuse of others. A child should not have to, amongst everything else they are trying to understand, learn how to defend against constant physical and emotional attacks. Nor should bullies be allowed to hurt others without consequence, taking this behaviour with them into adulthood.

    Bullying isn’t a “self regulating” problem, like the cuts and scrapes that teach you how to play safely. Rather, it gets worse over time, with the bully and victim roles becoming more and more reinforced. This ends up with real psychological damage on both sides.

    I’m on board with the bulk of the free range kids ethic, but if relaxing the rules on bullying is part of it, then count me out. We aren’t over the line there yet. We’re not even as far as we need to be.

  8. WorkingMom July 3, 2010 at 12:06 am #

    The current approach to bullying, which like so much else today has an “all-or-nothing” air about it, has robbed our children of valuable life lessons, and only empowered those who bully. In previous generations, bullying was met with either a beat-down from some kid’s older sibling, or in the mothers’ circles with silent social ostracization. Unfortunately, you can’t beat up the bully any more, and the mothers don’t know one another, let alone have circles. The rise in virtual bullying has raised this issue to new heights of discussion and interference.

    I can personally identify three types of parents whose attitudes directly contribute to this phenomenon.
    1) the best-friend parents who give in to their children’s wishes and whims to be their best friends, who have no authority with their children;
    2) the helicopter/bulldozer parents, who constantly interfere/shield/incapacitate their children from doing anything for themselves;
    3) the toxic parents, who are bullies themselves. My personal run-in with one of these led me to describe her as a rabid chichuahua – she just kept barking until she wore out her prey.

    I don’t know what the answer is – but regardless of parental involvement, we need to do a better job at letting our kids settle their own differences. That’s part of our job as parents, and a skill set that is vital for their future.

  9. dmd July 3, 2010 at 12:21 am #

    Let me start by saying I think all or nothing is not the way to go. We – including school admin – have to be able to see the gray area, see the child, see the situation. That said, I think the problem with bullying is that there is a wider variety of what kids will do now than there once was. I think it was a extremely small if not nonexistent number of kids (teenagers) who would bring a gun to school to take care of a problem 30 years ago. I don’t think that is so rare now – although it’s not as common as the media portrays it. But it was completely unheard of when I was a kid and now…I do hear of real instances of it often. I think the idea of anti-bullying is – or maybe should be – to catch these kids early and avoid that later. But the heavy hammer to deal with an egg is not the solution.

  10. Anthony Hernandez July 3, 2010 at 12:26 am #

    I am so SICK of social mores based on religion and/or by a bunch of self-professed experts who examine the human species in isolation, as if we are somehow isolated and different from nature. Spend a few minutes watching chimpanzees on any TV show, get it through your skull that we share 98.5% of our genes with them, realize that we are animals first and foremost (with our brains still living on the African savannah), that we are middle-of-the-food-chain at best, and you will get a MUCH different–and much healthier–idea of what it means to be human. You will also get a much different picture of what “normal” is. (Hint: It’s nothing like most “experts” say it should be!”)

    i make a HUGE distinction between a spat and a bully. A bully is someone who is perennially abusing other kids. A spat is a situational dispute that may come to fisticuffs but that has no lasting effect oter than perhaps sore feelings for a little while. The former is a problem (and the parents of these children are usually real prizes), and the latter should not be a problem. Thing is, if we allowed kids to defend themselves, then bullying would be a lot less frequent and a lot less severe. I for one believe that anticipating a good swift punch in the nose would be a really effective deterrent.

    As for Logan, my instructions are simple: NEVER throw the first punch, unless he is in serious danger. ALWAYS try to walk away and/or talk the other person down. RUN if he is danger and can’t win. But if all that fails and the first punch gets thrown, he is to use all force necessary to protect himself.

  11. Kimberly July 3, 2010 at 12:41 am #

    I think it is a matter of definition. I define bullying as criminal or near criminal behavior. Hurting people on purpose and getting other students to gang up on someone.

    So if a student “accidently” hurts other people every single time he plays with them – bully.

    If Tonya (and this tends to be girl only behavior) decides that no-one can talk to Jane because Jane has offended Tonya – bully

    Threatening to break into students’ homes a rape them/their mothers – bully and criminal. Thing is we are often blocked by ARD paper work from calling the cops on these sociopaths because they are emotionally Disturbed, damaged, not responsible.

    I strongly recommend that parents call the cops if their child is threatened like this. I’m sorry the bully was abused, I’m sorry he hasn’t been given the help he needs. My compassion doesn’t extend to him creating 21 more victims with his actions.

    The same advise if your child is being beaten up regularly. If talking to the school and parents doesn’t work. Arrest the child, file complaints against the school administrators. (Failure to protect a child, failure to report child abuse, Child Neglect worked for my parents.)

  12. Claudia Conway July 3, 2010 at 12:45 am #

    This is a topic that I am very much interested in, both as a parent and formerly a child who experienced a lot of low-level bullying during my mid childhood to mid teens. I was (and am!) a short, bookish, slightly eccentric tomboy, so a natural target.

    We can never stop children from being judgemental and unfair – much as they may parrot the right thing in circle time or wherever, they’re still going to go into the playground and pick on the fat/ginger/glasses-wearing/short/weird/crybaby kid. I do think we need an emphasis on coping skills for the ‘victims’, not on performing restitution or problem-solving for them in all and any case.

    I just cried a lot when it happened, but it wasn’t bad enough to talk to teachers. If I had, it would have helped to be given guidance on putting it in perspective and gauging your reactions (‘So those boys were following you around singing your name? It’s not worth crying about is it, really? They were just being silly and annoying and if you don’t react they won’t be interested’)

    As it happened, in early adolescence, when it was worst, I began to work out that I just needed to do the opposite of what bullies wanted. If they asked what they thought were embarrassing questions, hoping to see you squirm silently, I just answered them and they ran away in horror (‘Have you got your period?!!!’ ‘Yes I do actually! It’s BRIGHT GREEN!!!’). If they wanted you to respond, ignore them – ie, the older lad who liked to tease younger kids on the way home stole my hairband and was jumping around with it. I ignored him and he just had to chuck it in a bush, so I went to get it while he sloped off looking like a moron.

    And by mid-adolescence, I realised, like a light switching on – why the hell should I care about the opinions of bullies? I didn’t go around treating people like they did, so I was a better person than them. I didn’t like them or want people like that to like me, so who give two hoots as to what they say? People I respect won’t listen to them.

    I think children might need support to be resilient against teasing, to accept that a friendship has moved on and so on. What they don’t need is every negative interaction to be labelled as ‘bullying’. If my daughter experiences any of this, and she probably will, I fully intend to help her manage her responses before I consider diving into avenging parent role!

    BTW, I know the above in no way covers severe bullying – deliberate and prolonged social exclusion and public ridicule, physical violence, theft etc – that is another matter. But that bullying is the exception and not the rule of everything described as such.

  13. helenquine July 3, 2010 at 12:57 am #

    I find the idea (that seems to be in some of the comments here, not Lenore’s post) that bullying is good thing that simply teaches valuable lessons to be astonishingly ignorant.

    I don’t like zero tolerance anything. And zero tolerance bullying approaches seem to step in where they would be better off stepping back. Part of this may be because taking any anti-bullying action is fairly new really, and schools don’t actually know what works. At the same time, societies approach to children and “wrongdoing” has been getting harsher and harsher. So it’s almost inevitable that this would result in going too far.

    Overall I’m glad that schools are taking a more pro-active and responsible approach to bullying. And I’d rather, if they’re going to cross the line, that it be in this direction rather than the other . I agree that it’s not good to protect kids from every emotional harm, but I can let my kids get involved in other groups where they can build that sort of resilience. Obviously my real preference is for some balance and common sense at schools, but bullying ruins a lot of lives and can leave lasting scars.

    Just look back at some of the threads on school sports to see how limited and situation specific bullying can change people’s experience of a whole subject.

  14. Anon July 3, 2010 at 1:04 am #

    I was an introverted and unusual child. Gifted but inattentive. As a young girl I was so repentlessly verbally abused by classmates that I dreamed of killing myself and implicating the many bullies in a note. The few adults that I talked to told me to ignore it. Bas you know, a victim that tries to ignore it initially causes escalation of he bullying. Eventually, I convinced my parents to let me go to boarding school. I escaped. Today, social networking eliminates the possibility of escape.

    In the adult world, bullying is harassment and we don’t allow it.

    My oldest, so much like me is studying martial arts. I am working very hard to prevent this introspective passive little soul from suffering.

    Childhood bumps. Learning to interact, dealing withjerks are all part of life. Relentless abuse is not and should not be allowed. It is tough to draw a line, but I have great compassion for the recent suicides resulting from inescapable bullying.

  15. Joette July 3, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    Anon wrote:

    Today, social networking eliminates the possibility of escape.

    I call baloney. This is the most easily escapable form of bullying. Turn the computer off , or at the very least, don’t give hateful people your email address, don’t log into social networking sites, and don’t give out your IM. If you have given that information to hateful people, change your email address/IM id, and make sure they don’t get the new information.

    Problem solved

  16. Patti July 3, 2010 at 1:16 am #

    I see the problem with all the focus on bullying as being an unfortunate redefinition of the word. Bullying is serious and sometimes terrifying and sometimes dangerous. But parents and sometimes teachers take every little thing as bullying rather than just normal kid stuff.

    Even with normal kid stuff, kids don’t get enough time on their own with other kids to work out the details of how to handle unhappy situations. As adults in our current over-protective world we do need to teach them the skills that many of us learned on our own because kids don’t get enough unsupervised exposure to each other to do it the old-fashioned way.

    But when it comes to bullying, real bullying, adults are still needed for more than just skills. The adults do need to set the standard that bullying is not acceptable and then help the victims find appropriate strategies all the while looking out for signs of abusive behavior on the part of the bully. I’m not saying that the adult should solve every little problem one child has with another, just lend a hand when it looks like the victim is out of his or her depth. I do believe in breaking up fights, not letting them continue to their “natural” conclusion, whatever that is. Naturally, kids who hate each other wouldn’t hang out together outside of school, but they have to when they’re in the same school.

    I don’t like the black and white treatment of bullying, either. It’s a gray thing that requires more than adults taking over and more than adults not doing anything.

  17. HappyNat July 3, 2010 at 1:16 am #

    As others have said it depends on how bullying is defined. I can think of a few kids who picked on me physically, a few punches and threats, scary at the time but it wasn’t chronic. For me fighting back wasn’t an option, 1)I was much smaller, and 2) I’ve always been a pacifist even if I didn’t know what it meant. Also, I wasn’t fast enough to run away (I found that out the hard way). So I had to learn a new way to deal with the problem.

    My parents found out about one of the kids picking on me because I had a cut and I told them where is came from. they asked me if I wanted them to contact the school, but I said I wanted to handle it myself. It took time, but I learned to use my smarts, wit, and self confidence to deflect the negative attention. Eventually I became a friendly acquaintance with the bully who gave me the cut.

    This has served me well in my adult life and I rarely feel intimidated or if I do I know how not to show my nerves. With difficult professors who other student wouldn’t approach, I’d ask questions and meet them after class. In my professional career, I’ve been a “go between” between offices that have a “tyrant” boss and relate well with the difficult supervisors. I’ve managed to do this using the same strategies I figured out in middle school.

    I know this doesn’t apply to more serious cases and some kids might not have the tools/parental support I had. Letting kids work it out themselves certainly doesn’t always apply, but in my case I learned a valuable lesson I still use today.

  18. Randy July 3, 2010 at 1:20 am #

    I am in complete agreement with Casey in one of the earlier responses to this article. Bullying (unlike quite a few of the other free-range issues we talk about here) is a problem with direct, extreme, and above all, MEASURABLE negative outcomes for both bullies and victims. These kids are much less likely to graduate from high-school / college than their peers. They’re much more likely to have severe emotional and behavioral problems as adults. Pretty much every horrible outcome that parents fear can be correlated with bullying. It’s a godawful thing that should have no place in public schools.

    I think some of the confusion in this debate comes from a lack of well-defined terms. A fight (or any other physical aggression) isn’t necessarily a bullying behavior. “Bullying” defines a particular type of RELATIONSHIP rather than any specific behavior. Very broadly, bullying describes a long-term cycle of harassment and victimization, and I have a hard time understanding how anyone could think that’s a good thing.

    These stories about how wonderful and formative it was for a victim to stand up to a bully after years of persecution make for such great stories because they’re RARE. Without serious intervention, bullies are going to continue to be bullies, and victims are going to continue to be victims. And just as an unpleasant little side note for anyone who doesn’t remember high school all that well, 3rd party observers tend to not like either one very much. They’re not friends with bullies, but they’re not friends with the victims either (check into any research using reciprocal friendship nominations).

    There’s also some confusion about resiliency factors and how they can protect kids in tough situations. Absolutely they’re essential! But they don’t appear out of nowhere in response to bullying. Kids don’t “toughen up” in response to daily harassment. The most effective elements of resilience are often provided by family, friends and teachers, and hence the critical need to involve those people quickly and effectively in any bullying intervention. Waiting for the kid to “toughen up and deal with it” is a sure-fire way to ruin (and in some cases, end) lives.

  19. liz July 3, 2010 at 1:34 am #

    A new kid came to school, and my son invited him to sit at his lunch table with other friends. My son then helped himself to something off the new kid’s lunch tray, while all the boys were writing on each other’s notebooks, including the new kid’s. That night, I got a call from school saying the new kid’s mother had accused my son of being a bully and wanted him removed from all contact with her child. I made my son go over to the house, introduce himself to the mother and apologize to the new kid. And now, four years later, they are best friends. (And I know the mother to be a reasonable person.)

    Part of the problem was that the new kid had been home-schooled right up to the day he landed in an urban middle school, and he was in shock. Didn’t know teasing from intimidation. Part of the problem is my son didn’t consider this kid’s point of view. But the big problem is the label bully. As soon as the mother used that word, the school went crazy–not considering what they knew about my son, not thinking about this new kid’s adjustment period.

    Bullying is a terrible problem–my 48-year-old brother still suffers from the bullying he received in school. But, as Lenore points out with sex offenders, if we label every squabble and shove as bullying, we draw resources away from the problems that really do need to be addressed.

  20. Kari July 3, 2010 at 1:35 am #

    I call baloney. This is the most easily escapable form of bullying. Turn the computer off

    This is similar to telling a victim of stalking to just stay home all the time. Because that’s what cyber-bullying (at its most extreme) is–it’s stalking and harassment.

    I’m not saying it’s always that bad, but if even if the bullied kid changes his/her email address and/or online profile, a determined bully (or group of bullies) will figure out how to get the person’s new contact information.

    I LOVE your advice of doing exactly the opposite of what the bully wants. It’s not always easy to figure out what that is, or to do it, but it sure is effective.

  21. Joette July 3, 2010 at 1:35 am #

    For clarification, I am in no way advocating that genuine bullying as described by Randy should be a hands off, let the kids work it out situation. Genuine bullying is just as serious as any other form of abuse and requires immediate intervention by adults, for both the bully and the victim.

    I’m talking about “every playground spat”. Playground spats are normal, healthy, and sometimes end in a physical confrontation. Labeling those situations as bullying removes the possibility of the children involved learning from the experience.

    I also think that normal childhood spats can escalate into bullying when a child who teases others realizes that his victims will be in trouble themselves if they fight back, as per zero bullying tolerance, as evidenced by my son’s situation upthread. How much fun is that, to not only torment your victim, but for the victim to get in trouble for it? That’s an outstanding outcome in the mind of a bully!

  22. Joette July 3, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    This is similar to telling a victim of stalking to just stay home all the time. Because that’s what cyber-bullying (at its most extreme) is–it’s stalking and harassment

    Please understand, I didn’t mean forever. It’s still bullying and it still needs to be address. All I meant was that cyberbullying is hardly inescapable.

  23. Jennifer Heaton July 3, 2010 at 2:26 am #

    I agree that children certainly don’t need adults to interfere in every disagreement, and that it’s good to learn to stand up to people and solve problems with others.

    However, I saw things every day in school as a child that went far beyond ordinary spats and should have been stopped. There was persistent harassment (physical, emotional, and sexual) that would have been considered a huge problem if done by adults. As it was children, and adults said “kids will be kids,” the victims knew that nothing would be done if they reported it and things would be worse next time if it was found out they had told an adult. I have never experienced the kind of ongoing cruel treatment as an adult that I (and others) did as children.

    I think it is easy for people to forget just how cruel kids in groups can be. I’m free range all the way, but it would take a lot to convince me this is something that we should take less seriously. The kids I knew were terrified to report this sort of thing to adults anyway (and mostly did not), and when one finally got up the courage to say something to an adult, to be told it wasn’t really a big deal and we should solve it ourselves made things worse.

    How exactly, should I have solved the problem of someone much bigger than I was shoving me 50 times a day? Or calling my friend “F-ing Cancer Girl” all the time because she had childhood leukemia and her hair fell out? Or describing, in detail, with much laughter and pretend sick-noises, just how my friend’s dog looked after it had been run over by a car while looking to see if my friend was crying yet? Or smashing worms into my hair on the bus every time it rained? I could go on and on with the examples. Of course I told these people to stop. Of course I tried to ignore them. It didn’t work in the slightest.

  24. Kimberly July 3, 2010 at 2:29 am #

    Cyper-bullying doesn’t just take place on line. It extends off line. In the case of coworkers daughter it extended across county lines.

    She had transfered her elementary aged children to our school, because the principal at their zoned would punish what coworker thought was normal childhood behavior.

    Their zoned school was in another district. After 6th grade coworker decided her daughter should go to her zoned JH. Some girls in our district took offense at this abandoment. THey sought out other kids in the daughter’s new school. They messaged them that co-worker’s daughter was a slut who would (list of sexual act here anyone). They also put up everyone hates coworker’s daughter pages.

    Coworker and her husband made things very clear. The offending girls would take down their pages, they would be banned from Facebook by their parents, they would appologize – or Coworker’s

  25. Janni July 3, 2010 at 2:34 am #

    There are childhood squabbles, sure–but bullying as real, deeply harmful abuse is real too, and a separate thing entirely, and not uncommon, and the harm it causes is real, and not something that affects only one in a million kids (the way, say, child abduction does). The number of us who have vivid memories of being actively tormented through school is high, and while I do think there are many many things adults should stay out of, I don’t think this is one of them. Maybe zero tolerance isn’t the answer, but knowing adults will actually at least try to stand up for you when none of your peers will … it’s the only thing that helped some of us through.

    It’s sort of like the difference between carrying a pocketknife and carrying a loaded automatic weapon to school. We all agree suspending kids for the pocketknife (the childhood squabbles that yes, kids need to learn to handle for themselves) is over the top. But when someone smuggles a gun into the classroom, we agree it’s time for adults to intervene.

    I think it’s the same way with bullying too. Except that serious bullying is likely far more common than bringing a gun to school. It’d be lovely to see stats actually, but I’d be surprised if more schools than not didn’t have serious bullying going on.

    Indeed, it could be argued that we’d do well to take all the energy we put into improbable/long-shot dangers (like child-abduction) and direct it at this distressingly common form of abuse instead.

  26. Kimberly July 3, 2010 at 2:34 am #

    Something weird happened and revisions from my post got cut off.

    Coworker and her DH gave the other parents a choice – parent and make your daughters stop harassing their daughter or they would press charges of stalking and harassment. They also threatened to seek charges against the parents if the harassment didn’t stop. Their position was the parents were paying for the internet access and knew of the harassment. If they didn’t parent and stop their daughters they were actually accessories to the harassment.

    It stopped.

  27. DMT July 3, 2010 at 2:45 am #

    “Very broadly, bullying describes a long-term cycle of harassment and victimization, and I have a hard time understanding how anyone could think that’s a good thing. ”

    I agree Randy. And I agree that in those types of situations, parents/adults NEED to be involved. This includes the parents of the bully as well as teachers and parents of the victims, particularly if dealing with a physically violent scenario.

    The problem comes when zero tolerance policies take a black-and-white stance on bullying, defining bullying as any negative interaction between kids. Kids are cruel sometimes. They just are. People keep trying to make childhood a fairy tale, but not all fairy tales are pleasant. When zero tolerance policies and those who enforce them take every little spat, every little teasing episode, and any unpleasant word as “bullying” then yes, all children (the so-called “bullies” and “victims” both) miss out on valuable life lessons.

    I was teased quite a bit as a middle and high school girl, mostly because I dared to be a bit different from my white-bread, preppie, suburban high school. But, when bored with teasing me, the kids just moved on to someone else. In my later years in high school, much of it had stopped, at least to my face. While hurtful at the time, it taught me a lot about interpersonal interaction and particularly how to handle people who do not act the way you would want them to.

    But, I wouldn’t call it bullying, at least not under Randy’s definition. I certainly didn’t suffer any serious psychological consequences, and from what I’ve heard from former classmates I’ve fared quite a bit better in my life than many of my former teasers.

    Living well is always the best revenge. :)

  28. jane July 3, 2010 at 3:02 am #

    I agree with Lenore in her original blog which puts the question, “Is every schoolyard spat an example of bullying?” in the context of “problemizing everything.”

    Parents make normal girl conflict into the “mean girl” syndrome, teasing into harassment and sexual play into sexual abuse. Of course, extremes and dangers exist and interventions need to be inacted. But trying to eliminate every messy moment of childhood is unrealistic hyper-parenting which could cost children the chance to develop competence, resilience and confidence.

    A kindred soul website that is all about endorsing free range parenting satirizes hyper-parenting with stories, poems and graphics: Whether it is “bubble-wrapping kids, “sanitizing everything” or “ensuring productive playtime”, you can vent about yourself or others and hopefully help promote free range parenting. Have a great laugh at the same time!

  29. pentamom July 3, 2010 at 4:36 am #

    It’s just not true that schoolyard bullying is like “real life.” In real life, there are usually mechanisms to address dysfunctional co-workers, neighbors, etc. In a work situation, there are channels to address problems. Do they always work? No, but more often than not, employers aren’t too busy arguing over educational and social theory to realize that a dysfunctional employee just might not be good for their organization. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen. And then, unlike a kid in a school, if it becomes truly a threat to your safety or truly intolerable, you can quit. Sometimes, you can involve legal authorities as well. Desirable? No. But not comparable to being in a school where you can’t leave and people think that putting up with stuff like that is part of the educational process, and you have no recourse whatsoever.

    In a neighborhood situation, a neighbor who is genuinely a threat can be charged, with, at the least, harassment, or something more serious, if something more serious is warranted. In neither case is it comparable to one person being at the mercy of another person, unable to leave, and being told “life is just like that” or “ignore him, and he’ll go away.”

  30. wellcraftedtoo July 3, 2010 at 4:37 am #

    Haven’t checked out this blog in a long time, but it’s still filled with good stuff…

    Re this column, I dunno…Seems to me the issue here is one of semantics. Bullying is a helluva lot more than just criticism or ‘picking on’ a kid once or even twice. It’s a prolonged pattern of aggressive behavior that can range from subtle exclusion to physical violence. It goes on for an extended period of time, if not years, is intentional, and is–obviously–destructive.

    So what appears to be happening is that the schools, I guess, or some of them, are starting to blur boundaries and label all sorts of conflicts as bullying that are not. That’s a problem with sloppy thinking on the part of teachers and administrators–something that is discussed all the time on this blog.

    But don’t assert without care the idea that ‘a little bullying’ is a good thing for kids. That can’t be so if one is really talking about bullying, and not some kind of more everyday conflict!

  31. Claudia Conway July 3, 2010 at 4:40 am #

    Cyberbullying is a difficult one… I read an interesting discussion of it which mentioned one profound issue being that historically, kids have at least been able to come home and escape what it called ‘the drama of school life’ – the bullying, the popularity contest.

    Communications tech extends this so that as long as the phone or web connection is on (something that I’m not sure we can understand how essential it is to kids now), the bullies can intervene.

    I think there is a role for parents, and less so schools, to educate kids to think before they send angry/bullying/threatening texts, web posts or emails (not that kids send emails, as far as I know!) because they may not realise how they come over. I’m sure you get kids who’d never *dream* of saying to someone’s face ‘You f*cking bitch, I’m going to have you killed’, sending it by text because they’re angry or they even think it’s funny – but at one remove it’s harder to appreciate the impact it has on another person, and we must make sure our kids understand the impact their little ‘joke’ or moment of temper can have – especially when they’re not there to see the reaction.

  32. pentamom July 3, 2010 at 4:42 am #

    BTW, I suffered both relentless teasing (most of my school years) and real bullying (on a couple of more limited occasions), and I agree that they’re not the same. But that’s another thing — because a kid is teased, DOES NOT MEAN that they are not also being bullied. It’s a mistake to look at a kid who gets picked on a lot and conclude that their tales of being bullied are just an over-reaction to being picked on. Both can be happening at the same time.

    But having said all that, I totally agree that treating every unfortunate situation between kids as bullying, and zero tolerance, are the wrong approach. I wonder, in fact, if the reluctance to overreact doesn’t sometimes create a situation where school officials/teachers (and perhaps parents as well) are reluctant to act against bullying, precisely *because* they don’t see the distinction.

  33. farrarwilliams July 3, 2010 at 4:45 am #

    I’m echoing what a few comments said, but…

    I think part of the problem is the all or nothing, zero tolerance style of thinking. That makes it harder for authority figures to distinguish between the things that are real problems and the things that just are kids being kids.

    Also, young kids are monitored every minute now, making it harder for adults to butt out when kids are a bad, not to mention making it harder to kids to learn how to go to adults when they genuinely need help and not when they don’t. I remember being with friends and the kids were all playing doing crazy things to each other and their toys and the moms kept interfering and refereeing. Finally, I said, “Go away, so we don’t have to see it. Come get us if anyone is bleeding!” The kids and moms agreed that we were all happier that way!

    But then when kids get older and aren’t 100% policed all the time (just locked inside with their devices), they haven’t developed through having that balance of time to themselves to figure out any natural boundaries.

    Also, because social networking tools are so new (and constantly changing) kids and adults are still working out what’s okay and what’s not. It is not escapable by turning off the computer as the bullied child sometimes doesn’t hear that much online her/hisself. Instead, they experience it at school when kids who are nasty beyond belief because of some internet rumor.

    When I taught middle school and kids bullied seriously or relentlessly, I often told them how in the real world, if they behaved that way in a job, there’s a good chance they’d be fired or even have criminal charges brought against them. I think that’s true and I think bullying has gotten more serious and worse.

    I’m not saying that young kids can’t be cruel. However, I wonder if how people are overbearing toward their children when they’re so young isn’t helping create the problem.

  34. Sky July 3, 2010 at 4:55 am #

    “Spend a few minutes watching chimpanzees on any TV show, get it through your skull that we share 98.5% of our genes with them.”

    Yeah, just not the measly 1.5 % that painted the Sistine Chapel or composed the Messiah or wrote Hamlet or invented the combustible engine or created the internet or flew to and landed on the moon.

  35. Anthony Hernandez July 3, 2010 at 5:02 am #

    @Sky, all of the above activities you describe were made possibly by agriculture, which allowed people to have leisure time and develop professional specialties. Without agriculture, none of what you describe would be remotely possible. Make no mistake about it, all of modern life owes itself to this one technology, which has been the single largest disruptor in our evolutionay history.

    Agriculture turns out to be an accident, one made possible by our (slightly) larger forebrains, which themselves are the result of a genetic mutation that weakened human jaws and placed less stress on the skull, which allowed our brains to grow bigger.

    Is the Sistine Chapel a good thing? It is an incredible piece of artwork, the cost of which could have helped a lot of people. It is a piece of artwork commissioned to glorify the single most corrupt transnational corporation ever to sully the Earth. As for the Messiah, it too is an ode to a fairy tale that was forcefully promulgated by said corrupt transnational corporation.

    Without the internal combustion engine, I daresay we’d have a much cleaner and more cloely-knit planet and no spill in the Gulf, to boot.

    Mind you, I’m not complaining about any of this (except the church), but the bottom line is that if we were born into a world with none of the above, we woul think it just as natural and cool and inevitable as the world we live in now. There is no intrinsic goodness or badness to anything whatsoever.

  36. SKL July 3, 2010 at 5:12 am #

    I’m sorry I don’t have the time to read the comments today. But I have to agree with the post. I feel there is an overall trend where we are so protective of little kids, we utterly fail to prepare them for being bigger kids. Now, my kids (3) are lucky enough to have each other to fight with. But so many kids aren’t that lucky. Kids who don’t learn how to “work it out” when little will have that much more difficulty doing so when they are older and more capable of causing/incurring harm.

    I feel a major danger here is making kids think that it is appropriate to run to adults for intervention every time things don’t go their way. My kids try this with me all the time – usually over stuff I have no business interfering in (so I don’t). My usual response is to tell the girls to work it out / be nice (both of you) / make up. But I won’t separate, punish, or litigate for them unless it gets really out of hand. Which occurs extremely rarely.

    I tell my kids that if anyone does something to them that they don’t like, they should respond verbally in a firm, strong voice saying “you may not __ me.” So far, it seems to work, although one of my kids tends to be whiney about it, at least when I’m around.

    The last thing I want to do is get into a skirmish between little Annie and little Danny. I don’t really care who had the toy first. Work it out.

    Last month, my kid started telling me fairly often that little “I” in another class was bothering her all the time. I asked the teacher about it, knowing it could be just story-telling (she’s at that age). Teacher thought it was baseless. The next day, we were at the park and my girls happily exclaimed that “my friend “I” is here” and were happily playing with him. A little accident occurred which was my kid’s fault (if anyone’s) and I gave her hell for not checking on and apologizing to “I” after stepping on him. I further told her that she has a lot of nerve telling me that kids at school are bothering her when she would step on someone and not even say sorry. I haven’t heard a word about “bad boys at school” since.

    Raising peaceful, caring kids requires parental involvement at the front end – AKA character building – not (usually) at the level of schoolyard fights.

  37. Kimberly July 3, 2010 at 5:19 am #

    At my school we don’t step into every conflict. We work with the kids so they learn to settle conflicts on their own. That said we have had kids that have been taught very bad even violent habits.

    If I know that Johnny has been taught at home – if someone is using the ball you want punch them and take it away, I’m going to be quicker to step in and settle things, Not because I want to baby your child – but because if Johnny hauls off and hits your kids – I GET WRITTEN UP. BTW that is why Johnny is “on the wall” most recesses.

  38. helenquine July 3, 2010 at 5:20 am #

    Anthony Hernandez – I don’t think the point of mentioning those particular artistic and scientific feats of humans was to glorify them above all the (very many) others. Rather to illustrate that we are nothing like chimpanzees in some of the most remarkable ways, even though we share the vast majority of their DNA.

    So suggesting that because chimpanzees (or other animals) are vicious bullies does not mean that we necessarily are condemned to be. And indeed, most adult humans aren’t.

  39. Anthony Hernandez July 3, 2010 at 5:31 am #

    Helen, we are FAR more alike than we are different. Our differences come mainly from the fact that humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos share a common ancestor. Look at bonobos and you will see that they are nothing like chimps at all in temperament. One would therefore expect humans to show a mix of chimp and bonobo behavior, which in fact we do.

    Chimpanzees fight full-on wars between tribes, however within tribes there is usually a fair amount of peace… just like in human tribes. Chimpanzee disputes are often quick, sometimes physical, and then problem dies down once the dispute is settled. One would therefore expect to see that kind of behavior in humans, and lo and behold we do. There is nothing inherently vicious about the occasional physical dispute.

    I also took care to differentiate between the occasional dispute that gets a bit physical with bullying, which is vicious and predatory behavior.

    Under either scenario, I have taught my child to do all in his power to avoid coming to blows and to do his damndest to get the hell out of there if the odds are stacked against him, especially if a grownup is involved. However, there is a big difference between saving your hide and slinking away, and I have empowered my son to stand up for himself. He has my full permission to respond forcefully if attacked and to do what he needs to do in order to be able to safely turn his back once the fight is over.

    And of course, defense and offense are different stories. Logan had best have an extremely good reason should he ever be the one to start the fight!!

  40. Lynne July 3, 2010 at 5:38 am #

    Very interested in this topic having had it come up as a focus for the next school year by our principal and PTO (of which I am an officer) and just today finding a Facebook page by students “You Know You Go To [ ______ High School] If…” that had a few posts potentially labelled “bullying.”

    I’m willing to play Devil’s Advocate and argue Jane’s point that:

    “Parents make normal girl conflict into the “mean girl” syndrome, teasing into harassment and sexual play into sexual abuse. Of course, extremes and dangers exist and interventions need to be inacted. But trying to eliminate every messy moment of childhood is unrealistic hyper-parenting which could cost children the chance to develop competence, resilience and confidence.”

    The media has put this fear into us about the few suicides that have resulted after bullying incidents and no one certainly wants that on their conscience.

  41. Andrea July 3, 2010 at 5:52 am #

    I couldn’t agree with Lynne, and Jane, more. Kids should be left to learn certain lessons on their own…but there is a point where adults should step in before it does irreparable damage. I was the victim of two different kinds of bullying, by two different kids at two different elementary schools. The first was in 3rd grade and was physical bullying, the boy pushed me around, pushed me down, hit me at every opportunity. I finally had enough and shoved him back a bit. I got detention (even though he never had) and he never bothered me again. It was a triumph of my childhood! I learned the important lesson that I really was strong enough to deal with some of my own problems, that I didn’t NEED my mommy to come solve my problems for me…even if it’s nice that sometimes she did. :)

    The second was another young man when i was in 5th and 6th grades who regularly called me racial slurs and swore at me. My teacher told me to “handle it on your own” because she was of the belief that kids should learn how to defend themselves, with no allowance for deeper issues. Nothing I tried, from verbal responses to physical ones, stopped him and it lasted for two years until we finally went to junior high and he found a new target. I sent many years after that coming to terms with my racial identity. Being of mixed race in a VERY predominantly Caucasian state didn’t help at all. At some point my teachers and the school should have intervened and stopped that situation.

    I’m very against “zero tolerance” policies for a lot of reasons, most of them have been pointed out on Free Range Kids at some point or another. But there are times when it is completely appropriate for school officials to get involved.

  42. This girl loves to Talk July 3, 2010 at 6:09 am #

    my 3 year old took a hat from another 2 year old. I was further away and the mum thought I didnt see but I did. She told my daughter to give it back then she grabbed my 3 year olds arm and gave her a good telling off.

    Yes she needed to be reprimanded but I really dont like parents who *THINK* their child is perfect and needs to be defended all the time.

    If another kid hurts my kid (not bullying, but regular playground tiffs) I tell MY KID to get up, your ok, you can choose to keep playing, OR you can play somewhere else away from that person etc.

    I have seen so many parents who act like their kid is perfect would never do anything wrong blah blah. When we realise all kids do things wrong, all kids make mistakes it will be better.

    I think parents are bully’s sometimes. A friend told my kid (who wasnt sharing a toy they way she liked) that she had no qualms in giving my kid a smack? what the?

  43. doesnotwishtobenamed July 3, 2010 at 6:18 am #

    Their is a difference between letting kids fight and letting kids be bullied.

    A bad call in a game that results in name calling or even a few punches is a fight. A kid who takes another’s toy to play with without asking and starts a disagreement is typically starting a fight. A child who walks up and pushes another kid for no apparent reason or seems to go out of his/her way to be demeaning or repeatedly single out somebody is a bully. Children should learn to handle disagreements, but should not be asked to handle bullies.

  44. chavisory July 3, 2010 at 8:07 am #

    I agree that not every playground spat is bullying, that children can argue and fight and get their feelings hurt, and it’s just part of growing up. Not always getting along with people is just part of learning about other people, and adults can’t and shouldn’t solve every spat between grade schoolers.

    But bullying? Bullying is always bad, and adults should always intervene.

    I was badly bullied in middle school, no one did anything to help, and I was left with an enduring sense that no one really cares what happens to me.

  45. LoopyLoo July 3, 2010 at 8:27 am #

    Our local school district’s zero-tolerance policy for bullying is what will allow my husband and I to send our autistic daughter to school. There’s no way in hell I would send her into a situation where other people’s little monsters would be allowed to make her life a living hell because she’s different, and I know what I’m talking about. I was just a *little* different growing up, and I was bullied mercilessly for it.

    I think a lot of the posters dismissing bullying as “kids will be kids” “let ’em work it out” etc. have never been the target of relentless, merciless bullies and don’t understand the day-in, day-out misery that comes with being a helpless, hopeless victim. Combine that with how the present feels like forever to a child and you have a recipe for disaster. I can remember being in the 3rd grade and wishing myself dead so I wouldn’t have to deal with a pack of little sociopaths who followed me home every single day.

    Some people have talked about how being bullied is great preparation for adulthood. Bullshit. If you’re harassed as an adult, you have laws and workplace policies to protect you. As a child, I had NOTHING — not even with the bullying was taking place in middle school and took the form of graphic sexual harassment from the boy with a locker next to mine. There was no escape, and no one would help me. I wound up missing so many days of school that my grades suffered — but not as much as *I* suffered.

    As an adult, I have never been bullied. Not once. So what, exactly, did everything I suffered in childhood prepare me for?

  46. Anthony Hernandez July 3, 2010 at 8:34 am #

    Loopy, as a matter of fact, I WAS bullied in school and soon learned that most bullies are cowards who respond well when someone fights back.

    I don’t care how different your kid is, you’re teaching her that other kids are “monsters” and therefore something to be afraid of, which will only paint an even bigger target on her head. Children, like dogs, can smell fear. If you want to your child to suffer less, then teach her to be as independent as possible.

  47. LBC July 3, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    I also have an autistic son and the bullying I’ve seen has been pretty depressing. For example, he was in a park playing with a cool toy airplane when a boy came up and asked if he could have a turn with the plane. My very sweet son said yes, and this other boy called his friends over. These other boys played with the plane as my son chased them around asking to have a turn himself. They ignored him and wouldn’t let him near the plane. I decided to stay out of it, thinking my son might learn something. These boys flew the plane until it rammed into some playground equipment and broke in half, then they ran away. They didn’t apologize or say thanks for being allowed to play with the airplane. My son was heartbroken at the loss of his new toy and the whole experience was really depressing. What did my son learn? That you shouldn’t share with kids at the playground? That the world sucks? Although this was one incident and not something “systematic,” I wouldn’t want this happening to my son at school, even once. These kids were acting like jerks and could benefit from learning how to behave and why. Sure, some day bigger kids will come around and do to them what they did to my son, but will anybody really learn anything from any of this? I doubt it. I’m all for adults telling kids to stop acting like jerks.

  48. Donna July 3, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    The problem is that bullying is too widely defined. Another kid says “boo” to a child and the parents scream bullying.

    Bullying is systematic physical or psychological abuse beyond normal social behavior. It is not not inviting your kid to a party. It is not refusing to be your kid’s friend. It is not routine picking on your kid. A minor fist fight on the playground is not bullying. A kid shooting off his mouth in the heat of the moment is not bullying. It’s not even really shunning a child socially unless that shunning takes on a sadistic, tormenting nature. There’s a difference between kids choosing not to interact with a particular child and choosing not to interact with a particular child while forcing other kids not to, physically assaulting the child and mentally tormenting the child. The first kid probably needs some help with social skills. The second needs some help from parents and school officials.

    “If you’re harassed as an adult, you have laws and workplace policies to protect you”

    Bull!. In certain situations you have laws and workplace policies to protect you. You boss isn’t going to protect you against every little slight and hurt feelings at work. That is one of the problems with defining everything as bullying. Your kid grows up not knowing the difference. If you run to your boss to complain about every little thing, you are going to be the one who ends up out of a job. Also, if your boss is the bully, your options are to quit or live with it. Many people can’t just quit their jobs because of bullying; feeding their families and keeping roofs over their heads is a little more important. And the laws only protect you from physical bullies. There are no laws to protect against most psychological damage.

    I also call BS on the idea that there are no adult bullies. Where do you think these kids are learning their bully behavior? Usually, once a bully, always a bully and we encounter bullies in some form every day. We just move beyond physical torment and child like mental anguish to more refined forms of bullying as we age.

  49. Donna July 3, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    “I also have an autistic son and the bullying I’ve seen has been pretty depressing. For example, he was in a park playing with a cool toy airplane when a boy came up and asked if he could have a turn with the plane. My very sweet son said yes, and this other boy called his friends over. These other boys played with the plane as my son chased them around asking to have a turn himself. They ignored him and wouldn’t let him near the plane.”

    This is a perfect example of over-defining bullying. These kids were not bullying your son. They were being jerks. There is a difference. Not every negative interaction between kids is bullying. I’m not saying that their behavior should be tolerated. I admit that I probably would have intervened once it was obvious that my kid wasn’t going to be able to resolve it herself. But the behavior was not bullying.

  50. Kimberly July 3, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    I teach at a school with both life skills and mainstreamed Autistic students. They are not bullied – bullying them is a sure ticket to outer Siberia socially. The majority of students will simply not stand for it.

    I had a new student on his first day. shout out “Look at that freak” at a 3rd grader. The 3 classes of 4th graders turned on him. He got a dressing down and an education about sensory integration from students. (3rd grader wears headphones without a cord around school because of auditory issues. )

    His classmates refused to accept the new student, until he publicly apologized to the 3rd grader and asked his forgiveness.

  51. njfoodallergy July 3, 2010 at 10:54 am #

    “This is a perfect example of over-defining bullying. These kids were not bullying your son. They were being jerks. There is a difference. Not every negative interaction between kids is bullying. I’m not saying that their behavior should be tolerated. I admit that I probably would have intervened once it was obvious that my kid wasn’t going to be able to resolve it herself. But the behavior was not bullying.”

    Are you kidding? That was a perfect example of bullying. The kids ganged up on this boy. Bullying is going after someone who cannot defend him/herself readily. Bullies are wolves that go after the weak — the autistic kid, the weird kid, the small kid, etc. It’s not two kids of equal footing arguing over who goes next on the slide.

    One thing that people I don’t think anyone has pointed out — if adults don’t intervene, then it’s implied that bullying is acceptable behavior. If a kid fights back successfully, the bully just moves on. So the victim learned something, but all the bullying learned was that he/she needs to pick a better target. Is that what we want? Allow these bullies to grow to adulthood thinking its ok? We probably can’t do much for a lot of these kids, but I am sure some of these bullies can be helped if an adult becomes involved.

    I was the victim of bullies as a kid, with the approval of the teacher, ’cause I had to learn to deal with it myself. Another girl in my class was the focus of bullies and her life became worse when the teacher labeled her a “lemon” when she couldn’t do a “simple” math problem. So while I don’t like the overkill with the bullying — like labeling a kindergarten kid with sexual harassment for kissing another child — I am more sympathetic to those who are trying to stop the bullying.

    “The media has put this fear into us about the few suicides that have resulted after bullying incidents and no one certainly wants that on their conscience.”

    There are a heck of a lot of other kids who are suffering but will/have not committed suicide. I don’t think the anti-bullying should be done just because of suicides or because of the shooting spree of kids who had been bullied. There are normal, average, everyday kids who need some help too.

  52. njfoodallergy July 3, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    I have to add that that zero tolerance is often just words on a piece of paper for a lot of school districts. My daughter was bullied by a kid last year who bullied all the girls and also the boys smaller than him. He stole money from one girl, which she got back when one of the bigger boys helped her. The lunch aide & teachers knew about this & nothing was done. When he hit my daughter, nothing was done. I told her to hit him back if he did it again. & I am sure if she had, she’d be the one in trouble.

  53. bmj2k July 3, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    @ Anthony Hernandez- I couldn’t agree more. Nor could I disagree more with someone else’s contention that ” That might have been a useful approach several thousand years ago, but not today.” Humans may have developed physically, our intelligence has increased, but basic human nature has not changed. “. Violence is *not* a normal part of being an adult.” In terms of physical violence, that ismostly true, but “adjusted” adults have sublimated violence to competition, and we live in a very competetive world.

  54. Virginia July 3, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    What a horrible article. I have yet to hear of an incident where a school actually overreacted to “bullying” or defined what I’d consider a normal playground spat as “bullying.” Unlike many of the ridiculous “zero-tolerance” policies in our schools, my observation is that the anti-bullying rules and attitudes in my kids’ elementary school were actually very helpful. My kids have suffered significantly less school bullying than I had at their age, and no, I don’t think that’s made them weaker or less resourceful human beings. It seems to me that the “problemizer” here is Helene Guldberg, not the schools.

  55. Jennifer July 3, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

    LBC brings up a really good point, and that is to think about what children are actually learning from these interactions. From interactions like the one she reports (which many people here would not say is bullying, since it was not ongoing) I learned:

    1. Kids are mean. Be very wary of them.

    2. Adults will not help you.

    These are not exactly great lessons from a free range perspective. They didn’t help once I became an adult. In fact, it took me years to unlearn them.

  56. DMT July 3, 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    @njfoodallergy, I disagree. Here’s a definition I found of bullying that should help make the distinction: “Bullying is an act of repeated aggressive behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally. Bullying is characterized by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person.”

    This wasn’t a case of systematic targeting. This was a case of a few kids being jerks. I doubt their intention was to mentally or physically hurt the child in order to gain power over him. More likely, they found a cool toy that they wanted all to themselves.

    And remember, one of the boys asked first if he could play with the plane. The child said yes. I’m not saying that gave the boys the right to hog the toy and then destroy it, but it’s also not like they stole it right out of the boy’s hands either.

    @Jennifer, I think you and LBC make good points about what children are learning from these interactions. But why not use the situation as a talking point for the parent and child? For example, why not ask the child what he learned and then discuss it?

    Btw, I picked up a great lesson from this example: not everyone will treat your property the way you want them to therefore you need to be wary of who you are loaning it to. Heck, I know some adults who could use this lesson.

  57. LoopyLoo July 3, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

    Donna: “Bull!. In certain situations you have laws and workplace policies to protect you. You boss isn’t going to protect you against every little slight and hurt feelings at work.”

    I’m not talking about every little slight or hurt feeling. I’m talking about unrelenting bullying, and that has never been tolerated in any workplace that I’ve been a part of. Nor has the sort of sexually-based bullying that I endured for years — apparently endorsed by my homeroom teacher in school who shrugged that “boys will be boys”. That sort of behavior in the workplace would lead to investigations, firing, and probably lawsuits. As a 12-year-old in a “kids will be kids” environment, I was utterly defenseless.

    @Anthony Hernandez: I am not “teaching” my daughter anything about other children. She is two. She is barely verbal and unaware of other children, period. We have a few years before I need to worry about how other children are going to treat her but I am deeply grateful to live in a place where the school dist. takes a hard-line “zero tolerance” policy towards bullies.

  58. Jennifer July 3, 2010 at 10:52 pm #

    @DMT I think you’re right that talking about the incident would be a good idea. The thing is, the lesson you say you got from the example (to be careful who you lend things to) seems to lead to the conclusion that it’s a bad idea to be kind and generous with your toys to anyone you don’t know well and trust. It leads to distrust toward almost everyone. And going through the world having to distrust everyone leads to the kind of suspicion and paranoia that I’d rather not foster.

    I’d rather my kids learned that it’s good to be kind and generous, but that if they find out their kindness and generosity are being abused, there are rules and people that will help them.

  59. kymlee July 3, 2010 at 11:04 pm #

    I definitely don’t think every disagreement on the playground is bullying. My problem is with teachers and admins who insist that kids tell an adult when someone is picking on them. I’ve worked in many schools and its almost always the kid defending themselves who gets in trouble. This reinforces the negative behavior by the offender and the kid defending himself learns that the teachers and admins do nothing. I always say they want it both ways: they don’t want kids fighting so they tell them to tell an adult. But when the kids tell an adult, the adult does nothing.

    So I resolved the issue with my son by telling him that he absolutely has the right to defend himself. The only time hitting is ok is if he’s hit first. If all the other kid is doing is taunting him, he needs to ignore it or walk away. I also explain that walking away isn’t always easy but getting angry or crying only gives his power to the bully.

    In more severe cases, where parents talk to the teaches and admins about their child being bullied, the school really should have some action plan for dealing with it. Too often they hide behind the “but I didn’t know/see” line but I’m pretty sure the bullying has to get pretty darn bad for a parent to step in. We don’t have to be so extreme and reactionary. Deal with the real problem and we’ll be fine.

  60. pentamom July 3, 2010 at 11:23 pm #

    Loopyloo — exactly. The distinction between running for help at every little slight, and real bullying, is *exactly* what this post is about, ISTM. So, no, kids shouldn’t be taught the lesson that in school life, or real life, someone will intervene for you every time someone does something you should like. But neither is it a constructive lesson that you can be subjected to indefinite, high-level harassment, and no one will help you out, because that’s “real life.” Because, in most cases, it *isn’t” “real life.*

  61. DMT July 4, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    “The thing is, the lesson you say you got from the example (to be careful who you lend things to) seems to lead to the conclusion that it’s a bad idea to be kind and generous with your toys to anyone you don’t know well and trust.”

    Thanks for illustrating my point about talking it over with the child. We adults seem to forget that children do not reason the same way we do. Their perspectives and experiences are different at the age of eight than they are at 41.

    If you still want your child to be kind and generous (a concept, btw, I completely support), then talking about the incident with the child can certainly help facilitate that takeaway point about the situation.

  62. chavisory July 4, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    Anthony Hernandez–making sure that a very vulnerable child is protected from bullying–whether by keeping her out of school if necessary or making sure that the school has a strong and enforceable anti-bullying policy–is NOT teaching her that “people are monsters.” It is the opposite. Teaching her that other people are monsters is what NOT protecting her from bullying would do.

  63. Anthony Hernandez July 4, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    Which begs the obvious question: What can you do to make sure your child is not vulnerable in the first place?

    Also, there is a HUGE difference between a DISPUTE (acute and situational) and persistent BULLYING (chronic), as both the original post and my other posts should have made blindingly obvious to you. To be perfectly blunt, if you lack the common sense to figure that out without my having to say it this explicitly, then I respectfully submit that you’ve left some money on the table in the form of ways in which you could have made your child both more independent and less vulnerable.

    As I type this, my 8.5 year old son is at the laundrymat one block away learning self-reliance, responsibility, and anticipating the reward for a job well done. I daresay that is teaching him an amazing amount about his own abilities and the fact that he has rights and responsibilities like anyone else.

    What’s your kid up to?

  64. ebohlman July 4, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    I think pentamom truly identified the essential characteristic of bullying: it’s an interaction where one kid is at the mercy of one or more other kids. It’s not an interaction between equals, as teasing or even fighting might be. It’s an interaction where the bullies are taking unfair advantage of their victims (e.g. size differences, ability to persuade the crowd).

    Also, bullying has nothing whatsoever to do with conflict-resolution skills. A bully isn’t a kid who doesn’t know how to resolve conflicts; he’s one who deliberately provokes conflicts for his own enjoyment.. Unchecked, such behavior can turn into criminality in adolescence and adulthood (remember in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where Dumbledore tells the Dursleys that at least Harry escaped the “appalling damage” they had inflicted on Dudley? Dudley was headed toward prison, a young death, or both).

    What happened to LBC’s son wasn’t truly bullying, though it wasn’t something kids should be expected to put up with either. It wasn’t done out of malice, but rather out of negligence. They didn’t destroy his toy deliberately; rather they were unacceptably careless with it. If you’re going to borrow another kid’s toy, you’ve got to exercise much greater care with it than if it’s your own. They did something they weren’t mature enough to do.

    I think some parallels with adult-adult interactions would be instructive. Some interactions are always going to be unpleasant, but eventually get smoothed over. Some interactions rise to the level where authorities would need to get involved; genuine bullying is analogous to them. There’s a gray area where some actions aren’t criminal, but the normal adult response would be to completely distance oneself from the perpetrator. There the analogy breaks down a little, because kids generally lack the authority to do that distancing; they can’t decide to move or to quit school. So that kind of interaction probably requires some degree of adult intervention, but not to the extent that true bullying does.

    BTW, only a very small percentage of kids (even heterosexual neurotypical adolescent males) are bullies. It’s just that they do harm far out of proportion to their numbers.

  65. Nicole July 4, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    I was bullied for years. Like the horrible, single out one kids in the grade and make their life horrible type of bullying. I had a lisp, was chubby, had THICK glasses, had parents who weren’t married, etc, etc. I was different, and in my town that was akin to wearing a scarlet letter. I, at least, do not think it is being over hyped. Truancy, suicide, and academic failure are results. Bullies often grown up to be involved in the justice system, and are often abused at home.

    So, no. I think, by school administrators, it isn’t getting enough attention.

  66. baby-paramedic July 4, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    Bullying is a repeated action.
    Spat is a once off.

    I had spats in school, and I was bullied in school. As an adult (same as when I was a child) I distinguish between the two.

    At times my parents stepped in with the bullying (I can think of two occasions where they spoke to the girls parents, once when I was 5, the other when I was 14). Other times I sorted it myself, and I do honestly think my parents giving me the time to sort it myself before they stepped in, to be a positive thing.
    Now I don’t care what others say, their opinions are negligible.

    My parents taught me the skills to deal with the bullies.
    When that didn’t work they then stepped in for me, as a parent should. But first they gave that opportunity for me to grow.

  67. Sean July 4, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    I would be willing to bet that a lot of the same parents who decry bullying do bully their kids. Just a thought….

  68. LoopyLoo July 4, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    @Anthony Hernandez
    “Which begs the obvious question: What can you do to make sure your child is not vulnerable in the first place?”

    Well Anthony, as the man with all the answers, please tell me how I can make my daughter not-autistic and therefore remove her from the vulnerable population of society. I’ll wait.

    What you are completely and utterly missing here is that there will ALWAYS be a vulnerable population of children at risk of being bullied, and adults will need to intervene in order to protect them. I’m glad to hear that you were able to solve your own bullying problems with your fists, but that’s wasn’t an option for me and likely won’t be an option for my tiny daughter either. So what do you suggest to all the small, weak children who can’t physically fight back? Bring firearms? Oh wait… children HAVE done that. And that’s what finally brought about the shift in thinking about how school should handle bullying.

    And apparently I have to explain slow and careful-like that this discussion has evolved past the original post and is addressing bullying in a larger framework than the original case.

  69. LoopyLoo July 4, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    Also, what sort of person responds to the information that my daughter is two and autistic with “you’ve left some money on the table in the form of ways in which you could have made your child both more independent and less vulnerable” blah blah blah blah and “my child is AWESOME” blah blah blah blah.
    There’s a word… give me in a minute while I struggle through my “lack of common sense”… oh yeah, that would be BULLY.

    There’s other words too, but I respect Lenore too much to use them on her blog.

  70. Anthony Hernandez July 5, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    Loopy, I am not denying that your daughter has autism, nor am I denying the challenges you are facing with her, for which I am sorry.

    The point I am trying to make is that you’ve spent a good deal of words going on and on about how different/vulnerable/etc. your child is. You have responded to different replies, especially my own, by lashing out.

    I understand that you are are in a very difficult position; your ongoing posts reveal a lot of pain and frustration and I sorry for that. However, there does come a point at which the “woe is me” mentality starts to be counterproductive for both you and your child.

    I am not the only person who has pointed this out to you, either directly (as is my wont) or indirectly. I hope you can take the hint and step back from your situation long enough to take a long, creative look at your situation. There just may be something you’ve overlooked or something you could do differently… which does not make you wrong or bad, just perhaps currently unable to see a way out. And if there is one thing life has taught me, it is that there is ALWAYS a way.

  71. Robin July 5, 2010 at 1:54 am #

    In some ways the school administrators make it worse for the kids being bullied. When they complain about being abused, the bully is called in for some ‘conflict resolution”. Even if the 2 kids aren’t in the same room the bully knows exactly who it was that complained. And what do you think happens to the victim after the conflict resolution is over? You got it…they get picked on even worse. The victims realize very quickly there’s no point in complaining and the administrators can tell all the parents that the number of bullying incidents has decreased.

  72. LoopyLoo July 5, 2010 at 1:58 am #

    I’m sorry that my situation makes you uncomfortable and that you feel I’ve attacked you on multiple occasions. I don’t recall ever doing so and am puzzled by the degree of hostility that you’ve unleashed at me over a difference of opinion on school bullying policy. I am stunned that anyone would mock my toddler (“what’s YOUR child up to?”) over a disagreement, but apparently you are “direct” and that’s how you roll.

    I don’t have a “woe is me” mentality. My daughter is two, getting 35 hours a week of therapy, and we have a lot of hope for her future. What I have is the perspective of a parent of a child with special needs; if you don’t appreciate or want that perspective, please ignore my posts. I will, in the future, take care not to respond to yours.

    You might note that you started this exchange by singling out MY post and accusing me making my child’s life harder. My response to you was clarifying my daughter’s age and development phase — which you replied to by calling me stupid, mocking my daughter, and escalating bullying. Tell you what: I’ll examine my behavior if you promise to take a closer look at your own.

  73. Anthony Hernandez July 5, 2010 at 2:10 am #

    Look, the only point I am trying to make is that you came off as–for lack of a better word–a bit histrionic. And, doubtless, I came off as direct because that is very much my style. It is very impossible to convey online, but my directness is not about not caring; on the contrary, I care enough about people to give them my unvarnished opinions no matter how tough it may be. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to raise a special needs child; when I adopted, I made a point of refusing to consider a special needs child for myself because I know for a fact that I don’t have the wherewithal to take on such a challenge on my own.

    Strip away all of the exchange and it comes down to this: In my never-humble opinion, free-range parenting is a must no matter the situation. Even if a kid’s ability to be independent is compromised, whatever amount of independence s/he can handle needs to be given to her. If you have to err, err on the side of free-ranging. Yes she may be very young but that does not mean that you cannot give her freedoms, even when you know for a fact that she may get (not seriously) hurt from time to time.

    As for the bullies, I loved the post someone made about a school where any kid who bullies is quickly drubbed down by his peers and made into an outcast until s/he sees the light. Now THAT seems like an effective method. So… is there any way you could foster such a thing at your daughter’s school? There are always ideas and always ways to avoid coming down to an “us vs. them” mentality.

  74. LoopyLoo July 5, 2010 at 2:33 am #

    “In my never-humble opinion, free-range parenting is a must no matter the situation.”

    I agree, and that’s why I’m here. My husband and I were committed to giving our daughter a free-range childhood before she was diagnosed with autism, and the diagnosis has not changed my stance that she needs to be given as much Independence as possible if she’s going to be able to survive without us.

  75. sylvia_rachel July 5, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    Honestly? I’m kind of torn about this.

    On the one hand, yes, it’s totally absurd and counterproductive to treat every disagreement between kids as “bullying” and for adults to step in every single time to solve the problem. I absolutely do not support that approach.

    On the other hand, having been relentlessly bullied at school for about eight years, I am really happy that adults are now admitting to the existence of bullying and telling kids it’s not okay. I can’t tell you how much it would have meant to me, when I was nine or eleven or thirteen, if an adult — any adult — had noticed what my classmates were doing to me all day, every day, and said something — either to me or to my bullies — to indicate that their behaviour was not okay. That I did not deserve it and I didn’t have to put up with it. I didn’t want them necessarily to step in and defend me physically; but I did desperately want someone to be on my side. And nobody was.

    Now, this was partly my own fault: I could have come home from school and told my mom “Today at lunch recess my friends held me down, pulled off my boots and socks, and made me chase them around the playing field in the snow to get them back. And they laughed and laughed.” Or “I got in trouble today because my school agenda has graffiti all over it, and the reason it has graffiti all over it is that these girls in my class steal it when I’m not looking and write in it.” Or “I can’t go anywhere at school without someone whispering behind my back and then claiming they weren’t saying anything when I call them on it.” And so on and so on. But I never did. The reason I never did was (a) that by the time I was nine I was so used to it that I reckoned there was nothing to be done (the bullying went on for another five years after that); (b) that I didn’t think it counted because most of the time nobody was actually beating me up; and (c) that I knew, as all kids knew back then, that the only thing involving adults would accomplish would be to make everything worse.

    In one sense, as someone says upthread, I’m grateful for those experiences, because they taught me a lot about myself and how to survive bad sh*t. But I’m not convinced that eight years of unrelenting misery, eight years in which I understood myself as unworthy of anything better, were worth the lessons I learned from them. Because some of the lessons were good, but some of them were very, very bad.

    So … yeah, I’m torn. But I’m at least self-aware enough to realize that I am totally not the right person to judge this particular issue 😉

  76. LBC July 5, 2010 at 9:14 am #

    A very narrow definition of bullying is being used here. Bullying can include something like, say, kid #1 convincing kid #2 (a weaker, less popular, perhaps special ed kid) to do something that will humiliate kid #2 or get him in trouble, to the amusement of kid #1. The “systematic” part could be on the part of the bully (kid #1 does this to kids in school all the time) and not the part of the bullied. So even if kid #2 is only a victim of the bully one time, it does not mean there isn’t systematic bullying going on that needs to be stopped.

    I like to think that bullying programs in school are just teaching kids to look out for each other and do the right thing. These programs could be seen as a way to empower kids to be more “free range,” i.e., to learn how to get along pleasantly and move through their days with less confusion and strife. Nobody suggests (or do they?) that lessons in one’s religion are “helicopter” nonsense, despite the fact that every Sunday millions of Americans go to an institution where they listen to someone tell them to be nice to each other OR ELSE.

    One solution would be to stop using the word “bullying” for these school programs and start using the word Citizenship. Put the focus on what you’re encouraging rather than what you’re discouraging.

  77. elle July 5, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    Bully (from Merriam Webster)
    1 : to treat abusively
    2 : to affect by means of force or coercion

    You may choose to define bullying another way, but I don’t.

    The kids in question abused (though not physically) the boy/owner of the toy. Yes, at first the kid asked permission, but he & his friends saw an opportunity and took it. (I see some pack mentality going on, which is often seen with bullying). Had the owner of the toy been a bigger kids or someone they perceived as an equal — or had the borrower of the toy had a different personality — he likely would have given it back when asked or played *with* the kid & the toy, not keep the toy away.

    There may not be any ongoing relationship between these particular kids and the boy in question, but from the original post it is quite clear that this is just an example of what the boy with autism has to deal with — which is basically being abused/coerced by others who see him as weaker.

    In a school setting, situations like this should be dealt with by adults. But this is where issues that we have been discussing begin to crop up. In some schools the powers that be do not differentiate between a situation like this — where it is a group of kids vs. one kid with developmental differences — and a similar situation involving only two kids about the same age/developmental level/ size. The two kids on equal footing is not bullying, unless it is the part of a pattern, while the group of kids taking advantage of one kid is bullying.

  78. Susan2 July 5, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    I recently read “Not Much, Just Chillin’: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers” by Linda Perlstein. Something she said in a section on bullying really struck me. To paraphrase – adults often think of A bully as a single person bullying multiple kids. In reality, the situation is usually reversed – many kids ganging up to bully ONE kid. – This seemed to be the case when thinking back on my childhood. With this perspective, teachers and parents certainly should step in with bullying.

  79. Sarah Hodgson July 5, 2010 at 8:19 pm #

    Hey there- I’ve been totally astounded by the vigilante raid against bullying in our schools. “Stop Bullying in Our Schools” posters in each hallways. But the bigger issue must be to teach our children how to deal with bullying, and with the impulse to bully that will be prevalent, not just in school but for the rest of their life. As parents we need to point out bullies in the adult-set, so kids can see how bullying exists everywhere and talk them through ways to cope and interact with people who bully. My neighbor’s a bully…she (not he) is funny and sociable and popular, but she uses her humor to belittle people, even her kids, and when I point it out to my daughter it opens a wonderful discussion. The elder care lady you spoke of in your “Maybe Safety Post…” was bullying by not letting that dear old forgetful woman have one more cookie.

    I flipped through a book called “The Bully, the bullied and the bystander,” and another point is that we each possess the capacity to fulfill each role. To vilify the bully who chastises my daughter’s fine motor skills in art class, is to then have to vilify my daughter for bullying her brother. The bully in art class was a god send–my daughter is obsessed with her penmanship to avoid further embarrassment.

    My defense and focus…which I did recommend to the school is that they teach the children in third grade the three rolls that people play, point out the potential in all of us to play these rolls and teach the children a more mindful approach to dealing with their own impulses. I call it the “I, Me, or My” and I’m writing a blog about it for my own site which will post next week!

  80. DMT July 5, 2010 at 10:17 pm #

    @LBC, actually the scenarios you described in your first paragraph fit very nicely with the definition I gave. I’m just not convinced the situation you described is a clear-cut case of bullying.

    @elle, I think you make good points in your post. I still don’t agree LBC’s example was a clear-cut case of bullying. It could be, but it also could very well NOT be. The problem I have with Webster’s definition is that is too broad and could be open to interpretation.

    Bullying exists. I know two people who were bullied mercilessly in school. One dropped out at the age of 16 (he later got his GED and went on to college). He used to throw up every single morning before going to school, and his school experience affected his later interpersonal relationships. The other is homeschooling her son because she refuses to put him in a public school setting and expose him to the potential of having to go through what she went through. And both these cases went on precisely school officials refused to see these cases as bullying. So yes, bullying programs ARE needed.

    The problem comes in when we use broad definitions to describe bullying. What is “treating abusively?” Using this definition, anyone who calls someone a negative name could be labeled a bully. Ditto for #2. Using Webster’s definition, my son, at 2 1/2, could be seen as a bully because he grabbed a toy out of his 18-month-old cousin’s hand (btw, she did the same to him).

  81. Karen July 5, 2010 at 11:07 pm #

    I don’t think every playground spat is bullying–just like not every instance of a parent losing their cool with their kids is child abuse and not every instance of being hit on by the jerk in the next cubicle is sexual harrassment. The prevention programs in each of these instances should be there to raise awareness of the problem and deal with egregious and ongoing situations. They should educate and empower, not promote a culture of victomhood.

  82. LBC July 6, 2010 at 10:45 am #


    You are talking about the definition of “bullying” while I am simply talking about the definition of “bully.”

    bully 1 |ˈboŏlē|
    noun ( pl. -lies)
    a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

    The kid at the playground who took my then 5-year-old son’s airplane, refused to give it back, broke it, and ran away was a bully. There was no systematic “bullying” of my son, but the kid was a bully by any definition. If this had happened in school, I would hope that the kid would at least have been made to apologize. I’m not saying kids who do this kind of thing should be suspended from school or “labeled” as bullies, only that that they are given the opportunity to learn from a teacher (because they’re not getting from their parents, obviously) why this kind of behavior is wrong.

    One important issue is tattling. I have noticed that teachers these days seem to reward tattletales, and this is a problem that leads to the “culture of victimhood” nobody wants to encourage. Teachers need a better way to handle tattletales so that every single kid who does something slightly wrong isn’t accused of bullying. Tattling is just as bad as bullying in many cases. Kids need to learn when it’s right to tell on somebody (an emergency, something dangerous) and when they’re telling just to get someone else in trouble.

  83. esmeraldasquietlife July 6, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    ebohlman, your take is awesome- Robin, you have also brought up a HUGELY valid point- I was reading throught ALL the comments on here (as I always do on Free Range Kids, since people have such vastly differing opinions and it’s super interesting to hear the differences) and boy, I thought I was going to be the first one to say it.

    If one kid brings a complaint against another for bullying, the one who has been told on will almost CERTAINLY know who has done the telling, and will get 5000000000000x worse, though sometimes way more insidiously subtle.
    This should be fantastically obvious to people, but every commenter on here seems to be just saying “stick up for them/ let them work it out/ find a middle ground.” ….. ok, well any of these is not perfect as a solution, it’s really situational, and really not for me to make a broad sweeping generalization about conflicts I have no business in. There’s just no one right way, that I can see, to fix this issue.

    I was teased mercilessly. I was harassed and picked on and totally ostricized. I was smart, poor, chubby, weird, developed early, a vegetarian, AND wore glasses. Oh man that’s a bad combination. SO I get it- I really do. A lot of it stayed with me for waaay too long, and affected me mentally in the long term. I’ve tried not to play it off like I was the victim, even though I probably could have. I do wish I had learned to hit back, but I’ve always been kind of a pacifist. This is all totally beside the point. I say it to illustrate the “I get it” factor.

    I get it- AND I think that kids telling on eachother just usually makes things WORSE. Ok, have an adult that you feel comfortable talking about what you’re going through with. My mom helped me emotionally comb through some of it (though I didn’t reveal a lot of the worst stuff to her) but she gave me new perspectives and skills to help me cope. I asked her not to confront the mean kids and she *respected my request* which helped me trust her WAY more.
    I told other adults on occasion, and of course they confronted the bullys…. and that made it SO MUCH WORSE.
    Once a bully finds out you have told on them, they will find much more horrific and subtle ways to ostricize you.
    At camp I told on a boy who was picking on me. He managed to convince the ENTIRE CAMP (including some of the councelors) that I was mentally hadicapped. I was pandered and condecended to by everyone for the rest of the time I was there- becasue I was socially akward, it was easy for them to believe upon superficial examinations of me. It was one of the most traumatic weeks of my whole life.

    I just think that giving kids the opportunity and the skills to work it out for themselves is way more valuable than just breaking up a fight. It might come to that- but if you do, remember that any direct interference you have in a child’s socail life will SERIOUSLY affect their future interactions with that kid, so wait until you see a REALLY good reason to get involved, and encourage your kid to talk to you about it, so you can offer alternitave conflict resolution ideas, even if that means telling them to bloody a nose. In the long run it might be better for their social lives.

  84. pentamom July 6, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    You’re right that any system based on “telling” is doomed to disaster.

    What about a system based on the adults in charge knowing what the heck is going on with the kids? I know it’s an implicit assumption that all of this stuff goes on “in secret,” but I’m pretty sure much of what happened to me could have been dealt with if teachers or other responsible people would have observed that there was a kid pinned into a corner by another kid, or surrounded by other kids and made to cry. This stuff did not happen in the dark of night in hidden corners. Minimally observant people who actually thought was their JOB to prevent their own students from being victimized could have dealt with at least a fair proportion of it.

  85. pentamom July 6, 2010 at 9:37 pm #

    I mean, here’s the proposal that’s on the table — that the teachers should intervene in any and every conflict situation because that’s potential “bullying,” at the same time we’re being told that bullying always happens where it can’t be seen, or else that teachers are just too busy to keep tabs on all that stuff anyway. Well, which is it? If it’s actually possible to police behavior and “intervene” so thoroughly, then either it isn’t going on in secret, or the teachers (or administrators, or whoever it is we’re being told should be intervening all the time) actually aren’t “too busy” to deal with the less common really out of hand situation. Something isn’t adding up here. And if it really is either so secretive or so impossible to regulate, then this whole thing is a waste of time even to talk about, because there’s absolutely nothing you can do about anything. But that’s not the assumption of those who are promoting the really meddlesome “anti-bullying” kinds of things.

  86. su N July 6, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    Sorry Lenore,

    This article stinks.
    That is the kindest thing I could think to say anyhow.
    Bullying is not normal playground stuff, it is the stuff that is out of line. As good free range parents we need to teach our children that bullying (real bullying) is NEVER acceptable and should be handled immediately. As adults we should not allow others to bully us, so why teach our kids bullying is ok.
    I have never experienced a time when “regular playground antics” were treated as bullying,
    This article is sadly reactionary and over the top.
    Sorry can’t support you here.

  87. su N July 6, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    Well we can’t all agree all the time. Just my opinion and in my experience I have not really seen or heard of a real life instance where playground spats were treated as bullying. This leads me to wonder ” is this is a perceived problem that is not real?” I would like to point out the original column by Helene seem to contain more conjecture than fact. While opinion is important in colums, generally it is a good idea to include at least one real life example either from the news or from one’s own experience. Makes me wonder – how real a problem can it be if there are no examples?

  88. su N July 6, 2010 at 11:20 pm #

    I would add there seems to be plenty of examples of bullying just on this site alone.

  89. Virginia July 7, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    Regarding the theory that telling on the bullies makes the bullying worse: I don’t doubt that that *can* happen, but that has not been my experience. When I was being bullied in junior high (a gang of girls was waiting for me after school every day and slapping me until I cried), my mother finally went to the guidance counselor, despite my protests, and guess what? It stopped. When those same girls started bullying me again in the high school hallway, I went to a guidance counselor myself, and the bullying stopped. When my son was in second grade and a group of boys was constantly teasing and tormenting him because his best friend was a girl, I told first my son’s teacher (who did nothing because the behavior was occurring on the playground), and then the ringleader’s mother (whom I knew). The mother was horrified and made her son write a letter of apology, and the teasing stopped.

    I guess I have several points here: (1) All bullying situations are not the same; (2) telling on a bully (or group of bullies) can help; (3) some level of bullying is probably inevitable among children, but that doesn’t mean we have to ignore it or pretend it’s OK. As parents, by standing up for our kids when they’re young, we set an example that teaches them to stand up for themselves as they get older.

  90. Anthony Hernandez July 7, 2010 at 1:47 am #

    Speaking of standing up for our children, my son went to the local supermarket yesterday to buy a snack and take a break from riding his RipStick in the park. I was i the park with him but of course let him go the 2 blocks each way to/from the store.

    Later that day, he told me he felt uncomfortable because people were staring at him and making remarks (such as “he’s so young!”). Logan is 8.5 years old. He is small for his age compared to corn-fed white kids but perfectly average for his ethnicity (Korean).

    I heard this and was outraged. Who the f— did these people think they are? Did they honestly think they could say stuff about him in earshot and he would not notice or be oblivious? But then I realized that they were simply projecting their fears onto Logan and we had a long talk about projection and how the media works.

    I told Logan to walk with his head held high and to (nicely) challenge people to their when they stare or comment. Just because they are grownups does NOT give them any rights with him that they do not have with others and he does not need to take any kind of scrutiny from anyone or be the subject of any remarks he can hear about.

    On the plus side the checkout lady complimented him on his maturity– which almost all people do the moment they (waitfor it) actually interact with him.

  91. Kiesha July 7, 2010 at 3:50 am #

    Bullying sucks, period. A little teasing is something most kids have to put up with, but what I consider ‘bullying’ shouldn’t happen.

    From second grade to senior year, I was bullied most every day. I am short and chubby with glasses. I read (and still do) tons of books. If I didn’t have anything else to do, I was reading. I was in the talented and gifted program. I got almost all A’s through school ( a few B’s here and there in math). I answered teacher’s questions. I was probably a bit of a know-it-all. I had unruly light blonde/nearly white curly hair. I had zero fashion sense.

    All of these were apparently deserving of being made fun of. There was a group of popular girls who would make fun of me on a daily basis, mocking my hair, my glasses, anything they could. But the boys were worse. There was one boy I had a humongous crush on who would emotionally torture me every day. When I told my parents what he did, they said he only did it because he liked me, so I went to school every day sucking up his abuse because I thought he liked me.

    He pushed me down on the playground in elementary school. He constantly made fun of every aspect of me that he could. He had a friend hit me over the head with a text book sophomore year. He called my house twice and left sexually harrassing voice messages on my family’s answering machines.

    I tried every tactic known to man to get these kids to leave me alone. I ignored them, but that made them even more ambitious to finally get me to cry. I tried mocking them back, but I didn’t have the confidence to really say the things I wanted to say. I tried being even weirder to get them to leave me alone, but again, more ammunition.

    The only thing I didn’t do was physically fight back, because I was deathly afraid of getting in trouble. In my mind, hitting someone equaled detention which equaled permanent record which equaled not getting into college which equaled never getting to be a fancy-pants reporter, which was always my dream (also grounds for ridicule is that I had a goal).

    I never went back to my parents for help until the phone messages. At that point, my dad called his father and threatened to call the police. The torture stopped, but by then it was two weeks to graduation.

    Get involved. I wish my parents had been more proactive. I wanted someone to mama bear those kids. When my parents didn’t, I gave up hope and figured that my parents didn’t really love me. I’m not being over dramatic. That’s really what I thought at the time.

  92. Jenne July 8, 2010 at 12:19 am #

    One part of my childhood that I always thought of as neglect, not “free range” was my parent’s refusal to ever get involved effectively even when they knew I was bullied, as the school had exactly the policy that “kids should learn to handle it and work it out between themselves.” After 4 years of bullying, my parents only intervened when my clothing was damaged on the school bus (and the kids who did it were stupid enough to keep the buttons they pulled off). Avoiding all conflict in the playground clearly isn’t the solution, but ““Only by letting our children build up the necessary skills to deflect bullying will we prepare them for real life” only works if the situation is full of adults who a) teach such skills, and b) teach that such behavior is inappropriate in a meaningful way. Otherwise you end up with adults who don’t have a meaningful understanding of what is inappropriate behavior in others or sometimes in themselves.

  93. Jenny Islander July 8, 2010 at 7:55 am #

    No, not every playground spat is an example of bullying. However, if it would result in disciplinary action among adults, it should not ever be tolerated in children.

    I’m another one of those kids who wanted to kill myself or somebody else nearly every day during school. This went on for years. The only “advice” I ever got was, “You need to learn to deal with it; this is a normal part of growing up.” I was too solitary, too bright, too physically developed before the other girls, too interested in the wrong books and music, not interested enough in the right music or in sports, too articulate, too individual. Therefore, apparently, having a music stand shoved between my legs by a mob of giggling girls who had me pinned against a wall, having a smirking athlete shove his hand down my shirt in the school library while his buddies pointed and laughed, having rocks thrown at me from passing vehicles because I don’t even know, having a group of boys surround me and spit at me for not wanting to smile at them, and so on, and so on, and so on–well, it was my responsibility to stop all that. Right?

    One of the boys who cheered on Mister Shirt Fisher (the only person who ever got disciplined for this shit, BTW, because the librarian saw it and she hadn’t come up through the usual educator channels where they fill adults’ heads with this noxious bullshit about bullying being normal)–anyway, one of these boys bumped into me ten years later and introduced me to his girlfriend as one of the smartest kids in his class, and by the way, how’ve you been? Did he just not remember the weeks he spent following me around making jiggling motions with his hands and obscene sucking noises with his smirking mouth? Did he just think of the day his buddy had me pinned against the library circulation desk as a normal part of growing up? I was so gobsmacked by the matter-of-fact way he talked to me that I said the conventional things and escaped. But I still wonder what he might have said if I had asked him what he’ll tell his daughters, if he has any.

  94. Maureen July 29, 2010 at 12:55 am #

    For every argument saying “It’s good to let children figure out for themselves what they should do when they are bullied”, I hear the obvious corollary, which is “It’s good to allow some children to bully other children without being told that it is wrong”.

    In order for those bullied children to learn how to cope, we must allow other children to be bullies.

  95. Melodie August 8, 2010 at 6:48 am #

    First, I want to say that I love your site. I have a 3 and a 1 year old, and strive to raise them like I was, free-range. However, having been a victim of bullying and currently watching my 10 year old nephew go through the same thing, while I know it made me a stronger person today, I think if there are rules, they need to be enforced. Within reason, I mean, name calling is one thing, but my nephew has been threatened by a classmate that he was going to bring his father’s guns to school and shoot him!! This is in Canada, with much stricter gun laws, and also the school has anti-bullying rules, but the teachers and other parents are doing nothing. I agree that much on the anti-bullying rules are ridiculous and over the top, but if there is actual threat to a life, something should be done about it. And even if it is a normal part of childhood, it still hurts to watch someone you love have to go through it.

  96. kherbert August 8, 2010 at 9:26 am #

    @Melodie – What is the age of reason in your provience? I strongly suggest that parents press criminal charges against bullies like the ones your nephew is facing, when the other parents and admin fall down on the job. BTW – It probably isn’t the teachers that are doing nothing. It is the administration of the school that isn’t doing their jobs.

    I live in Texas so a threat like that has to be taken much more seriously. I have a large family in Canada, and I don’t think one owns a gun. Of 14 – 16 households in family in Texas. Only 1 doesn’t have a gun, most are hunting rifles. That is because of a custody agreement.

  97. piles May 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    I go along with the things you are indicating on this site

    we will see the few that differ not surprisingly

    i guess you only need to overlook those individuals


  1. July 8 roundup - July 8, 2010

    […] “Zero tolerance for bullying” — nice slogan, but think before endorsing [Helene Guldberg, Daily Mail via Skenazy] […]