Bullying: Crisis or panic?

Don’t panic about bullying, writes Nick Gillespie in the Wall Street Journal.

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.

“Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage,” things are getting better for children, Gillespie writes. In particular, school victimization rates are way down, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 1995, 12 percent of students said they feared “attack or harm at school” That declined to 4 percent in 2009.

Twenty-eight percent of children said they were bullied in 2005, according to NCES. That rose to 32 percent in 2007, then returned to 28 percent in 2009. That’s not a raging epidemic, writes Gillespie, though “new anti-bullying laws and media campaigns might lead to more reports” in the future.

Bully, a documentary showing victimized children and ineffectual adults, opened yesterday. It’s a powerful, disturbing movie, writes LA Times reviewer Kenneth Turan.

In one scene, a school administrator tells a victim that he’s just as guilty as the bully because he was insincere when he accepted the bully’s insincere apology.


About Joanne


  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Panic, I suppose.

  2. It’s worth noting that Gillespie is an unabashed and unrealistic libertarian who takes the contrarian view on everything in order to get people to blog about him. If you bite on one of his silly pieces, you’ll find yourself tied up in knots trying to understand how having 28% of kids who are willing to admit to being bullied is not an epidemic.

    28% is serious because that is the number of kids who admit it. Many more probably do not admit it. In any case, that’s too high and people often fall for Gillespie’s fallacies, i.e., “28% is not serious!”

    Unfortunately, it is serious.

  3. concerned says:

    28% is not an epidemic? Sounds like one to me.

  4. Sean Mays says:

    Maybe I agree with you Michael, but when Gillespie says 28 or 32% isn’t a raging epidemic – I wonder what is? I mean, the Black Death wiped out about 33% of England the first time through. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of raging epidemic. It did the same thing to Athens during the Peloponnesian War. We speak about the Obesity Epidemic and the numbers are just around that. We have various drop-out epidemics around the 40%’s or so. Dismissing it this way is calous IMHO, no matter what the rest of the arguement is.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      I was only given two choices.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      28% or 32% would be a raging epidemic. As with so many things, “God is in the details.” What was used here as a criterion for bullying? Was it “whenever I walk by Joe Jerkhead’s locker, he laughs at me” or “whenever I walk by Joe Jerkhead’s locker, he punches me” or something in between?

      If we’ve got 28% of the later, it’s a major crisis. If it’s 28% of the former, I’m not going to worry about it.

  5. palisadesk says:

    In my experience, it’s neither a crisis nor an occasion for panic. Bullying, like poverty, has always been with us, and attempts to eradicate it entirely are likely to fail due to the intractability of human nature.

    What has changed about bullying is less its frequency, or severity, as its reach and intensity. When I taught at an urban jungle middle school in the 90’s, kids would hide in bathroom stalls and even in recycling bins to avoid their tormentors, but at least once they were off school property and safely at home, they had respite. With cyber-bullying, this is no longer the case. So it is less a matter of bullying being more frequent as it is of the intensity being ratcheted up by the use of social media. The public nature of some of this is devastating to some children — much more so than simple threats of physical harm would be.

    Frontline</I had a provocative documentary a couple of years ago entitled "Growing Up Online" which included a moving segment on cyber-bullying:


    This aspect of bullying is more difficult for schools to address, since much or all of it takes place off school property and outside of school hours. On-site bullying is taken more seriously now — and addressed more effectively — than in the past, at least in my own experience. We used to blow off a lot of it as part of growing up; we now see it in a different light.

    • tim-10-ber says:

      I know that kid-on-kid bullying is the worse but is any one addressing teacher-on-student bullying or adult on child bullying? How much of bullying is done because the “bully” has been bullied by a parent, teacher, coach, aunt, uncle, etc and the “bully” is looking for someone to take their own fear’s out on? Just curious…this is a bad cycle. It isn’t right. It won’t be going away. But if schools want to help then the adults in the schools also need to be role models. Sadly, this is not the case in our schools…

      Really would like to be pointed to articles, blogs etc that address the adult-to-child bullying…


      • Despite attending high-performing schools in nice suburban areas, my kids encountered some bad apples in the teacher/admin barrels. One MS teacher, about whom we had been warned, frequently told her classes that she hated them all and wished they would die. She also had kids get sick and have accidents in her classes because she wouldn’t give permission for the kids to go to the nurse or the bathroom. The admin had been documenting problems, including lack of content knowledge, for years but she was an URM in a STEM field, so… Fortunately, most of the kids recognized that she was a jerk and an idiot and blew off whatever she said/did.

        • Deirdre Mundy says:

          In the same county, I had a 5th grade teacher who would kiss boys when they misbehaved. I also had one sixth grade teacher who made fun of me in class and encouraged the other kids to pick on me, and another who told me to ‘suck it up’ when the girl next to me kept stabbing me with the point of a compass until I bled because I wouldn’t give her the answers on the Math test.

          The reason these were ‘high=performing” schools was the sort of parents who sent their kids to them, not the teachers.

          • That was a huge factor, although I will say that my kids’ HS teachers were all excellent to outstanding, with a single exception. She was pretty uninterested in her subject and emotionally unstable, but she had a whole wall of awards and certificates because she was a favorite of the school and county admins.

  6. Forget tougher punishments and hiring more police for schools. The solution to crime and violence is in your lunchroom. http://www.alternet.org/environment/25122/?comments=view&cID=35161&pID=34156 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE

  7. Supersub says:

    Our school has been big on the anti-bullying push, and all the surveys are very loosely constructed …questions generally ask about the past schop year and definitions of bullying include one time insults.

  8. I’m also supporting the view that the devil is likely in the details. Both kids and adults need to grow thicker skins and deal with routine hurt feelings and the kind of disappointments that are part of living. I don’t consider that bullying, but I’m betting that a not-insignificant amount of that was included in the survey.

  9. Bullying is definitely a problem in our country and will continue to be a problem as long as bullying is an accepted parenting and management style. The problem isn’t our kids and is not going to be resolved by calling every unkind thing a kid does bullying and adopting zero tolerance policies. If you really want to reduce bullying in this country the first two laws we need to pass are a ban on corporal punishment and legalizing gay marriage.

    • Well Done!!!

      That was the best “April Fool’s day Comment” I’ve seen in years!!

  10. Stacy in NJ says:

    A 15 year old boy in my son’s freshman class committed suicide by hanging himself last Wednesday after school. He was being harrassed by a rather tough group of kids on a daily basis. He was white; they are black and hispanic. This dispite New Jersey’s aggressive anti-bullying policies due to the Rutgers case. The school had multiple programs and outreach type activities through out the school year.

    On so many levels, this country really sucks.

    • Ted Craig says:

      What makes you think bullying is worse here than in other countries?

      • Last I heard the United States and Somalia are the only two countries that have refused to sign the United Nations Bill of Rights for Children. More than 30 nations have banned the corporal punishment of children. We are still operating under a constitution and many state laws created when children were property.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          It’s a good thing all those countries have signed the United Nations Bill of Rights for Children or we might have awful things like child soldiers and girls having their clitoris destroyed.

          Fortunately, we know that when a government official signs a piece of paper, everything on that paper will happen. So those things are now impossible–except in the U.S. and Somalia.

        • Having spent time in Afghanistan, I will reluctantly concede that the children there are slightly better off than the children of America. I’ve also heard that children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea are particularly well off. But which specific parts of the U.S. Constitution do you believe are outdated?

          I think the reason the United States chose not to sign the UN Bill of Rights for Children is that our national debt is incompatible with Section I.2: The right to inherit a better world. It’s definitely incompatible with Section II.21: The right to a small national debt.

        • Mark Roulo says:

          I sometimes feel that the US is terribly behind the curve with respect to practicing “realpolitik.” Saudi Arabia, for example, is one of the signatories to the UN Bill or Rights for Children. This is what Wikipedia has to say on that:

          “Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention in 1996, with a reservation ‘with respect to all such articles as are in conflict with the provisions of Islamic law'[22] and considers it to be a valid source of domestic law. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which reviewed Saudi Arabia’s treatment of children under the Convention in January 2005, strongly condemned the government for its practice of imposing the death penalty on juveniles, calling it ‘a serious violation of the fundamental rights’. The committee said it was ‘deeply alarmed’ over the discretionary power judges hold to treat juveniles as adults: In its 2004 report the Saudi Arabia government had stated that it ‘never imposes capital punishment on persons… below the age of 18’. The government delegation later acknowledged that a judge could impose the death penalty whenever he decided that the convicted person had reached his or her majority, regardless of the person’s actual age at the time of the crime or at the time of the scheduled execution.”

          I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you’d agree that children have more rights in the US than in Saudi Arabia (especially girl children). Yet the Saudi’s on on the good list of countries that have signed the document. Iran signed it, too, and at least through early 2012 was still executing children.

          Well, heck. If signing and ignoring it gets one brownie points, what is the US waiting for?

          • SuperSub says:

            For the glimmer of hope that is our national ideal of human liberties to die… why bother signing a stupid document that promises less that what we have already?

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        I didn’t say I thought bullying was worse here than in other countries. Please try re-reading.

        • Ted Craig says:

          Try writing more clearly and living out lines like this:

          On so many levels, this country really sucks.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    If you have a “problem” which looks to involve grants and “programs”, the operative issue is that if some is bad, more is better and a lot is terrific.
    Like calling the drunken thrashings of a couple of late adolescents who can’t recall what happened “rape”, you expand the definition until you get the numbers you want, and you depend on the audience to think you’re talking about the really bad thing, whatever it is, that was originally meant. IOW, lying like a rug. ’cause the new definition is down in the footnotes someplace, which you inadvertently left at home and the dog ate them.
    That said, wrt the intersection of race and pee cee is going to affect an admin’s actions ref bullying, with sometimes terrible results. Not sure that happened here, but, given the atmosphere these days, it’s the default presumption until proven nine ways to Sunday not to be the case.

    • I recently read that Montgomery County, MD (suburban DC) is/will be mandating disciplinary actions to reflect the racial/ethnic breakdown of the student population. I don’t think the article clarified whether this would be done on a school-by-school or county-wide basis. In either case, such actions fly in the face of common sense and overall patterns of misbehavior.

  12. I know the answer. Pass some unenforcible and unconstitutional laws. Schools are doing such an awesome job of looking the other way so fast that there’s an epidemic of whiplash injuries. My daughter and a friend made a complaint this year that was investigated by the school. The school determined that since the child had a lack of parental guidance they weren’t going to take action. That’ll teach him a lesson.

  13. GEORGE LARSON says:

    “Last I heard the United States and Somalia are the only two countries that have refused to sign the United Nations Bill of Rights for Children. More than 30 nations have banned the corporal punishment of children. We are still operating under a constitution and many state laws created when children were property.”

    True, they are no oonger the parent’s property. They are the property of the state.