wall street journal
This Spring, the Wall Street Journal’s Nick Gillespie wrote a piece suggesting that all this talk about bullying– including documentary movies, new training programs and multiple legislative initiatives– was an all too familiar over-reaction to a few tragic but isolated incidents in which things really got out of hand.
Mr. Gillespie seemed to suggest that all of this hand-wringing about bullying is unnecessary. He argues that our children are safer today than they have ever been. He also seems to think that all this concern about bullying, and our associated attempts to make everyone feel included and affirmed, might actually be making our kids frail and weak. To Mr. Gillespie, the idea that no one should ever be left out, disappointed or laughed at seems not only unreasonable but actually undesirable.
I have to admit, I do agree with Mr. Gillespie on a couple of fronts. I remember going to birthday parties as a child and bringing a gift. I never got a goody bag, but it was okay that the birthday boy or girl received a gift rather than everyone who showed up. When I played baseball or basketball as a child, I got a trophy if my team won the championship. You did not get a trophy for participating. I am not a big fan of the idea that “everyone has to get something” and I do think these practices have left many kids feeling entitled.
Bullying, however, is a very different issue and I know it can do serious damage to a child’s feelings of self-worth and self-efficacy. It is hurtful and destructive and I believe it is on the rise. Unfortunately, I also feel we are often barking up the wrong tree with our anti-bullying efforts.
The harsh reality is our children do what we teach them to do. If we want insight into why our kids are bullying each other, all we need to do is turn on the television and watch how the adults treat each other. Pundits call each other “pinheads” and “Nazis”. Our political leaders lie or tell half-truths about their opponent’s position. Professional athletes don’t feel good enough about scoring a touchdown, they also have to stick the ball in an opponent’s face. Children see grown-ups bully our neighbors, the guy behind the deli counter, their soccer coach, or any of a host of other people we feel are not as important as we are or who have an opposing point of view. We also do our fair share of bullying our children. The lack of civility is stunning. Then we scratch our heads and wonder why our kids bully each other.
I have watched over the years as we have taken all kinds of steps to make our schools safer; installing metal detectors and cameras, employing zero tolerance policies, and on and on. Ultimately we focus almost exclusively on physical safety and rarely on other dimensions of safety…like social, emotional and moral safety. We consistently fail to realize that when people feel disrespected, marginalized or humiliated, physical violence of some sort is likely to erupt, regardless of our policies, procedures and technologies.
One benefit of anti-bullying programs is that they do shed light on the fact that how we treat each other matters, even when we are not physically hurting each other. I am afraid, however, that most of these efforts will fall short because no matter what we “tell” our kids, we consistently “show” them something else.