"Bully" had its opening day on Friday, and is showing in select theaters this weekend. Reason's Nick Gillespie responds in the Wall Street Journal, asking if the bullying crisis has been overhyped. While there are instances of kids being really awful to each other at school, bullying is hardly becoming an epidemic.
[I]s 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.
How did we get here? We live in an age of helicopter parents so pushy and overbearing that Colorado Springs banned its annual Easter-egg hunt on account of adults jumping the starter's gun and scooping up treat-filled plastic eggs on behalf of their winsome kids. The Department of Education in New York City—once known as the town too tough for Al Capone—is seeking to ban such words as "dinosaurs," "Halloween" and "dancing" from citywide tests on the grounds that they could "evoke unpleasant emotions in the students," it was reported this week. (Leave aside for the moment that perhaps the whole point of tests is to "evoke unpleasant emotions.")
Without dismissing school violence, Gillespie points out that turning bullying into an epidemic diverts resources away from teaching. Childhood is safe and getting safer, but people always need something to worry about. So now, instead of focusing solely on education, schools are doing things like banning words that may cause hurt feelings. Is it really better to try to protect kids from anything that will offend them, or should we teach them how to deal with being offended instead?
Being called names or teased at school is more than likely the first of many slights that people will experience throughout their lives (a person would have to lead a pretty boring life for that to be otherwise). Instead of trying to shield kids from anything that might hurt their feelings, wouldn't a more positive approach be to teach them how to deal with unpleasant people? Learning how to take hurt feelings in stride and stand up to jerks is a better life lesson than any banned word could be.