In his recent Reason article, “Stop Panicking Over Bullies“, Nick Gillespie is careful to acknowledge that bullying is wrong and is not to be tolerated. That said, he goes on to argue that the the bullying crisis is, in reality, a declining problem with an overblown sense of crisis. To make his case, Gillespie used dated studies which Scottie Thomaston at Prop 8 Trial Tracker does an excellent job of challenging and setting the facts straight about. However, whether bullying is waxing or waning is hardly the point. If bullying exists, it is a problem, no qualifiers.
Ironically, it is Gillespie’s own hysteria that is most apparent as he rehashes some well-worn libertarian irritations and highlights a few new ones. He decries the abuses of helicopter parents, the New York School Board, and Congress prohibiting those under 16 from driving tractors. He suggests that anti-bullying laws are a threat to free speech and that they will lead to more lawsuits against school systems.
He warns of more bureaucracy and the further dilution of already limited resources for existing school programs. He deprecates the problem of bullying by conflating it with a culture of overprotectiveness. He states, “Now that schools are peanut-free, latex-free and soda-free, parents, administrators and teachers have got to worry about something.”
It quickly becomes clear that Gillespie is willing to trade the inherent social good of an anti-bullying campaign in deference to his need to vent his pet peeves.
He recommends that there should be distinctions between the “the serious abuse suffered by the kids in the movie Bully” and the everyday “lower-level harassment.” This reframes and trivializes bullying as kids just being kids. So I ask, who will decide for that kid if the bullying rates a two or rates a ten? How bad does it have to get before the bullying is addressed with more than a “suck-it-up” from parents and teachers? I’m sure that Gillespie could confidently assess the correct level of seriousness; however most bullied kids still experience it as a ten.
And the consequences are real. The risk to bullied students include school attendance and a performance drop, with obvious further effects. They are more likely to develop behavioral problems and to show a higher level of drug and alcohol abuse. According to the National Institutes of Health, both the bully and the victim are at higher risk of engaging in violent behavior. Most tragically, there are an increasing number of studies that find a positive link between teen suicide and bullying.
It is appropriate to worry about the cost of and resources for a program and to be mindful of the unintended consequences of anti-bullying laws. But that is not where Gillespie wants to go. For him, the real problem is overprotective parents and a meddlesome government. But denialism is not a solution, it is a run from the problem.
The problem is real and the facts point to solutions that do help. But the real tragedy is that Gillespie is putting his disdain for helicopter parents ahead of the best interests of creating a secure and positive environment for our children. It might make him feel good today but it is an irrational trade on the future.