Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stop Panicking About Bullies?

Nick Gillespie, at the Wall Street Journal, says we are worrying too much about bullying. There is no bullying crisis, he says. Parents are too overprotective, he says. Things are getting better, he says.

Lenore Skenazy, author of the book Free Range Kids, writes about the article on her blog:
Like Gillespie, I am appalled by true bullying and in favor of a society that does not tolerate it.
All right, what is "true bullying" as opposed to some other kind of (false?) bullying? She explains a bit further:
 ...to lump together unbearable harassment with minor teasing is just a mistake.
Right, so "unbearable harassment" is appalling and "minor teasing" is nothing to worry about. Got it. But who gets to decide the difference? If not the victim himself, then who? If a child finds his environment unbearable, who are we to say otherwise? And what about things in-between the two extremes as Skenazy describes? What about harassment that's sort of bearable? Is that worth troubling our helicopter-selves with? What about relentless "minor" teasing?

Anyway, Skenazy says she is "in a rage" by any talk of a growing bullying crisis. She picks out a very convenient quote from Gillespie's article, which says:
Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported “being afraid of attack or harm at school” declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.
Wow, everyone! Four percent?! Really? Bullying seems like it's pretty much over. Oh wait, keep reading just a tiny bit further in the WSJ article and you don't have to wonder why Skenazy chose that quote, and not the one immediately after it:
When it comes to bullying numbers, long-term trends are less clear. [NCES] reports find that 28% of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied in 2005; that percentage rose to 32% in 2007, before dropping back to 28% in 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available).
The first quote says everything is fine. In fact, things are so much better, that the problems are almost completely gone (4%! Down from 12%!). The second quote says the numbers are less clear, that around 30% of students reported being bullied, and that the number hasn't changed much in the recent past. While it means bullying may not be increasing, it certainly does not prove that things are getting much better, as Skenazy would like us to believe.

From the National Center for Education Statistics

So where did that 4% number come from? I was curious, so I went right to the source. The survey questions and the key findings of the study done by the National Center for Education Statistics are published on their website. It turns out, there are many sections in the survey. The section called "Fighting, Bullying and Hate Behaviors" includes the questions that lead to the conclusions those around-30% numbers. There is a completely different section, apart from the bullying section, entitled "Fear," under which the questions about fear of  "attack or harm" were asked. These are the questions that give us the 4% number. These questions are, by design of the study, not related to bullying. It seems those questions are referring to other kinds of violent acts.

Why is the 4% number being used in articles and blog posts on bullying? Because it's convenient for those who want to downplay the bullying problem. The trouble is, it is irresponsible and misleading. When almost one-third of children are being bullied in school, there IS a crisis.

8 comments:

  1. Kids are afraid to report! One popular saying at a high school I know of, and I'm sure at others, is "Snitches get stitches." So you aren't "just" going to get ostracized if you tell (because believe me, somehow the bullies find out who told), you are going to get hurt. Badly hurt. The stats mean zilch. There most definitely IS a crisis.

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    1. OF COURSE KIDS ARE AFRAID TO REPORT. My younger brother is a bus patrol on a bus with other bus patrols who abuse their power, so he reported the bus patrols and the teacher in charge of the bus patrols turns around and TELLS THE POWER ABUSIVE BUS PATROLS THAT MY BROTHER RATTED THEM OUT. And now my brother's being bullied!
      Also I remember when I was in elementary school and I was being bullied, so I told the teacher, So the teacher gave THE WHOLE CLASS A LEXURE ON BULLYING (there by revealing to everyone that I told) AND CANCELED FRIDAY BREAK FOR THE ENTIRE CLASS (punishing me for telling on my bullies)And of course there was the time that one kid through a clay pig at my head and nobody did anything! I was pretty much suicidal all of elementary school and the first half of middle school. Of course what really annoys me is when people use anti-bullying anitiative as a ruse to start striping children of their rights. Guess what, News Flash; Making it a rule that none of us can wear hoods isn't gonna end bullying. All it means is when that kid throws a clay pig at my head, I'm not gonna have a hood to protect me, so it's gonna really hurt! In fact, If you just gave children the mobility to move schools when they feel threatened, none of this hood nonsence, none of this adult stupidity crap, then bullying wouldn't be a problem anymore! When I was being bullied, I didn't care if the bullys got punished or not, I just wanted to get out of there. When an adult doesn't feel safe, an adult doesn't just stand around not feeling safe, an adult leaves the unsafe situation. But when a child feels unsafe, the child is stuck there! That's torture! No wonder kids are committing suicide, It's the only escape!

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  2. Children are killing themselves over the torture they are forced to bear at school. The problem isn't over. Fear of being shot at school has gone down, yeah, and there haven't been any huge school shootings in a while either. But as you said, that is very different than bullying.

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  3. I wonder if it would be fair to say that maybe the crisis isn't new or sudden or growing exponentially, but that it has remained fairly steady for who knows how long, AND that it is still a crisis even though a chronic rather than acute one?

    I would like to just believe everyone at face value -- but that seems naive or unrealistically optimistic... middle grounds are much muddier to navigate than the obvious extremes (of believing everything vs denying / dismissing everything).

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  4. It's all about spin, and it seems that Skenarzy and Gillespie are both using a certain spin to focus on their own desires. We all do it. Does that mean bullying has gone down? I don't think so. I think it is just as bit a problem now as when I was in high school over twenty years ago. But in a period when schools are fighting tooth and nail for approval and funding, they NEED good spin, and there are plenty of people willing to give it to them. =(

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  5. The thesis seems to be this: Kids are bullied today, but not more than we were when we were kids. Therefore it's okay.

    I wonder if the authors of these articles were never actually bullied. Those who are victims of bullying, real bullying, never grow past the hurt. I was bullied in school. I used to come home crying on a daily basis. Luckily my mom decided that was NOT okay and homeschooled me instead, but even so, I think it changed me. My mom herself was sexually harassed on a daily basis on the bus. And it weakened her confidence in herself forever. Doesn't that matter to anyone? I kind of wonder, hearing the blase attitude everyone seems to have about it, if they were bullies themselves, or just bystanders, who convinced themselves it was no big deal because that was easier than standing up for the victims.

    I refuse to accept that bullying is an intrinsic part of life and of human nature, and that we just have to toughen up and get used to it. There is so much bullying among adults nowadays that it seems normal, but it isn't.

    I do agree about one thing -- more zero-tolerance policies and glossy posters aren't going to fix a thing. We have to get to the root of the problem, and what is the root of the problem? Maybe that children who are mistreated go on to mistreat others. They receive abuse at home and come to school to share. OR, they receive abuse (which isn't called abuse, because total domination by teachers is "normal") at school, and are taking that out on others. They have so little power and freedom in school, they only way to feel strong is to put someone else down.

    I've heard the Sudbury Valley school has zero bullying. Zero. Is it just because of their great system of discipline which involves the kids themselves? Or is it, maybe, that these kids feel free and happy and so don't feel the need to bully others?

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  6. There are a couple aspects to this. Gillespie and Skenazy are probably basically arguing that kids should toughen up and a little bullying is no big deal. This side I don't agree with and is the same old annoying "tough" side.

    However Mike Males does make actual very good points about the media and political focus on bullying:


    "Why did the president summitize the already media-hyped topic of "bullying" instead of, say, youth poverty, domestic violence against children, and other crucial, ignored epidemics severely affecting young people? Because they're not popular. Nobody important, least of all the news media, wants to hear about millions of kids living in poverty or beaten and abused in their homes. This president, like previous ones, clearly doesn’t care enough about young people to take risks to raise real and uncomfortable issues on their behalf.

    In contrast, the bullying summit offered a safe, media-vetted opportunity for an easy campaign splash. The President and Michelle Obama’s videoed panderings set the tone: Bullying must be discussed only in terms of “how our children treat each other,” grownups must be flattered as moral authorities and rescuers, and officials, panelists, media reporters, and commentators were set up to comfortably cluck tongues at “student bullying” while lavishly praising themselves.

    ...it will be interesting to see if anyone stood up to challenge the White House, news media, and “experts’” conveniently narrow dogma on bullying… perhaps by saying something like: “Look, Mr. President, your administration’s own agencies document hundreds of thousands of physical, sexual, psychological, and fatal abuses victimizing kids every year—including 100,000 victimizing teens age 12-17—numbers that drastically understate the true levels, nearly all inflicted by grownups. If that’s not bullying, what’s your word for it? How can you soothe the nation by pretending that bullying is just a matter of how ‘our children treat each other’? Mr. President, even if all you want to talk about is "young persons," didn’t any of your task forces and experts inform you that vicious bullies, chronic victims, and suicidal teens don’t just pop up from nowhere—they’re disproportionately likely to have been violently and psychological abused themselves?” "


    I am NOT saying that it is okay for kids to be bullied by other kids and yes people should be doing something about it but I do agree with Males that it is a politically convenient agenda where the scape goat is also children and young people, that are easier to misrepresent and smear and that people have no problem seeing as "savage youths".

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  7. There are a couple aspects to this. Gillespie and Skenazy are probably basically arguing that kids should toughen up and a little bullying is no big deal. This side I don't agree with and is the same old annoying "tough" side.

    However Mike Males does make actual very good points about the media and political focus on bullying:


    "Why did the president summitize the already media-hyped topic of "bullying" instead of, say, youth poverty, domestic violence against children, and other crucial, ignored epidemics severely affecting young people? Because they're not popular. Nobody important, least of all the news media, wants to hear about millions of kids living in poverty or beaten and abused in their homes. This president, like previous ones, clearly doesn’t care enough about young people to take risks to raise real and uncomfortable issues on their behalf.

    In contrast, the bullying summit offered a safe, media-vetted opportunity for an easy campaign splash. The President and Michelle Obama’s videoed panderings set the tone: Bullying must be discussed only in terms of “how our children treat each other,” grownups must be flattered as moral authorities and rescuers, and officials, panelists, media reporters, and commentators were set up to comfortably cluck tongues at “student bullying” while lavishly praising themselves.

    ...it will be interesting to see if anyone stood up to challenge the White House, news media, and “experts’” conveniently narrow dogma on bullying… perhaps by saying something like: “Look, Mr. President, your administration’s own agencies document hundreds of thousands of physical, sexual, psychological, and fatal abuses victimizing kids every year—including 100,000 victimizing teens age 12-17—numbers that drastically understate the true levels, nearly all inflicted by grownups. If that’s not bullying, what’s your word for it? How can you soothe the nation by pretending that bullying is just a matter of how ‘our children treat each other’? Mr. President, even if all you want to talk about is "young persons," didn’t any of your task forces and experts inform you that vicious bullies, chronic victims, and suicidal teens don’t just pop up from nowhere—they’re disproportionately likely to have been violently and psychological abused themselves?” "


    I am NOT saying that it is okay for kids to be bullied by other kids and yes people should be doing something about it but I do agree with Males that it is a politically convenient agenda where the scape goat is also young people, that are easier to misrepresent and smear and that people have no problem seeing as "savage youths".

    (I am not accusing you of this at all, I appreciate your blog and views so much).

    ReplyDelete