There Will Always Be Bullies

If Lord Humungus had recently moved to town and enrolled his kids at Warren G. Harding Middle School… if the Visigoths had been displaced from the plains of ancient Gaul and relocated to the parking lot in front of the GameStop… if the heads of impertinent chess club members were routinely seen on pikes in front of the He-Man Woman Haters (<-backwards "s") Club headquarters... then I would be concerned about a growing epidemic of bullying. As it is, none of those things are happening, and the bullying menace seems to be the same as it always was. And the current wave of concern over a bullying crisis seems more than a little overdone. Here’s Nick Gillespie in the WSJ:

But is America really in the midst of a “bullying crisis,” as so many now claim? I don’t see it. I also suspect that our fears about the ubiquity of bullying are just the latest in a long line of well-intentioned yet hyperbolic alarms about how awful it is to be a kid today. 

I have no interest in defending the bullies who dominate sandboxes, extort lunch money and use Twitter to taunt their classmates. But there is no growing crisis. Childhood and adolescence in America have never been less brutal. Even as the country’s overprotective parents whip themselves up into a moral panic about kid-on-kid cruelty, the numbers don’t point to any explosion of abuse. As for the rising wave of laws and regulations designed to combat meanness among students, they are likely to lump together minor slights with major offenses. The antibullying movement is already conflating serious cases of gay-bashing and vicious harassment with things like…a kid named Cheese having a tough time in grade school.

As someone who used to be a painfully awkward nerd myself (“Used to be?” says my wife as she pulls my underwear over my head), I support the efforts to stop the most vicious and relentless kind of bullying; to stop groups of kids who gang up on others, and to help kids who can’t fight back.

But, there will always be kids who are bigger than other kids, kids who are louder than other kids, and kids who are angrier than other kids. And there will always be kids who need to learn how to stand up to kids who are bigger, louder, and angrier than they are. That’s not a reason for yet another hyper-sensitive government initiative.

We’re not going to raise our children to be confident, resilient adults by teaching them that the proper reaction to being pushed down on the playground is to find the nearest Bullying Mitigation Officer and file a civil rights complaint. What we will do is open the door to a different kind of bullying, where kids who aren’t necessarily big or loud, but still angry, can game the system to be their de facto enforcer, tagging other kids with the “bully” label for stealing fish sticks off their plates or beating them at kickball. Soon, we’d have a junior version of the legal system that’s just as wasteful and bloated, and just as dominated by nuisance actions, as the grown-up version.

Preparing children for life means teaching them to take care of themselves, not waiting for the nanny state to swoop in and save them. And I’m going to keep believing that until the Department of Reality Avoidance shuts me down.

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