I mentioned that I was not a victim of bullying growing up. Nor was I a bully (I’m pretty sure).
Yesterday, I read this article questioning the line between bullying and sexual harassment.
I just wonder sometimes if the number of bullying awareness campaigns or the language they use haven’t lead to some oversensitivity on our parts.
Don’t get me wrong: Bullying is bad, and can be a serious offense that we need to protect our children from. I just don’t know that “zero tolerance” policies, and reductive “down with bullies” messages are effective.
Here’s an example of the problem with anti-bullying campaigns:
Flora comes home, says, “I’m being bullied.”
Me: By whom? (Okay, I probably said By WHO?!)
Flora: Donnie. (Not his real name.)
Me: Did he put his hands on you?
Me: Did he call you names?
Me: What’s going on?
Flora: Well, he talks to himself. And he doesn’t play with anyone.
Me: Well who cares? You worry about yourself, and let the little boy worry about himself.
Flora isn’t being bullied, she’s just bothered by this little boy. (And, yes, Flora needs to worry more about her own self instead of others. We’re working on it.) As a commenter writes on the Slate opinion piece I reference above, “The definition of bullying in schools is in danger of becoming so broad that it loses all meaning. In some states bullying is defined as something that makes a student uncomfortable or that makes them feel demeaned.”
I have a very physically affectionate 4-year-old. She hasn’t learned personal space boundaries yet. We continually remind her to keep her hands to herself, to ask someone before she hugs him or her, and to be aware of her body and others’ space. In a zero-tolerance grade school, she’s going to have problems learning about appropriate touch.
What has to be emphasized is that bullying is an ongoing campaign of harassment, either verbal or physical. If someone calls you a name ONCE, that’s not bullying. Unwanted touching ONCE is assault, and should be dealt with, but it’s a one-off, not bullying.
I was appalled recently to have Twitter discussion with several people (most of whom I know IRL) about their experiences being harassed and bullied. Their experiences sounded terrible, including borderline rape.
What Flora is experiencing isn’t terrible. It’s just annoying. But the language she is being taught (at school) about being annoyed or bothered is “bullied”. So that’s what she’s going to tell us.
Of course, on the other hand, when does joking around or playing grab-ass in the high school hallway become a problem? Do we move the line from zero to two? Or what?