Monday, April 23, 2012

Is bullying a crisis or a myth?

I haven't seen the movie Bully yet, but I've read plenty about it, including this article in last week's The Week. I love the format of The Week, which summarizes all media stories from each week. In this article, it presents opposing viewpoints about the issue.

So, in the first paragraph, it mentions USA Today's claim (and the movie's) that there is a bullying "epidemic" going on. It also describes a Reuters article that agrees with that dire assessment and goes further by describing the terrors of cyber-bullying as well.

The next paragraph describes the counter-point to that claim, from The Wall Street Journal. "This 'bullying crisis' is largely a myth … kids today are 'safer and better-behaved than they were when I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s.' Adolescent mortality, accidents, sex, and drug use are all down from their levels of a few decades ago. Acceptance of homosexuality is up, and the percentage of students who reported 'being afraid of attack or harm at school' has declined from 12 percent in 1995 to 4 percent in 2009."

The final paragraph provides a counter-point to the counter-point, bringing it back around to the original claim, with high-school student Katy Butler writing in that she was bullied a lot. She says 43 percent of teens say they've been bullied. Mike Huckabee agrees with her, too.

So, is Bullying a crisis or a myth? Well, why are those the only two options? Can it be neither? It's a real problem, of course, and not a myth. But "crisis" is an overblown term, since it's probably always been a problem and has most likely even gotten better recently. (And Katy Butler's touching testimony is mostly useless as evidence since it is only one anecdote.) I wish there was an easier way for the media to convey, "Hey, this is a problem and we should pay attention to it, but that doesn't necessarily mean the world is ending." Instead we get the default black-or-white views, with no sensible middle ground setting.

It's obvious bullying has always existed. But perhaps the reason we are just noticing bullying as a problem now is that our standards for violence keep changing - what we are willing to tolerate keeps decreasing. This is what Steven Pinker shows in his excellent The Better Angels of Our Nature. Basically, the same amount of bullying in the past would not have been upsetting to us.

PS. In other teen news, rates of teenage pregnancy, births, and abortions in the U.S. have fallen to their lowest level in nearly 40 years. The number of teen girls getting pregnant dropped 42% from its peak in 1990; teen births declined 35% since 1991; and teen abortions declined 59% from their peak in 1988. Also, the percentage of children experiencing unwanted exposure to online pornography declined from 34% in 2005 to 23% in 2010. So, maybe the kids are alright.

Source: The Futurist, May-June 2012.

No comments: