Sticks And Stones

A seven year-old girl is having plastic surgery in an attempt to stop the bullying she currently endures because of her ears.  Over the past few years there is a spotlight on bullying with more and more reports of teen suicides and runaways which are attributed to bullying.  What is causing the apparent escalation in bullying, is it becoming an epidemic, or just receiving more attention these days?

I’m not convinced instances of legitimate bullying is on the rise, and I have three reasons.  But first I’d like to offer a disclaimer, lest I be charged with a pro-bullying attitude.  I think bullying is wrong.  Bullies need to be dealt with in such a way that they understand it will not be tolerated.  However, I probably have a lower standard of what constitutes legitimate bullying than most people.  I don’t think every instance of name calling or teasing or even physical interaction is bullying.  Sometimes those things are unfortunate aspects of growing up.  But, once a particular person is sought out in order to harass them, I think you are just about over the line.  And of course any physical interaction preceded by continued harassment would constitute legitimate bullying, but sometime kids fight.

The 24hr news cycle has made some people paranoid.  It is hard to watch the news in a given day without hearing about murders, rapes, bullying, kidnappings, etc.  According to the FBI, the violent crime rate (the number of incidents and not just the percentage rate) has been on the decline for the last 20 years despite an increase in population by 57 million people.  But you wouldn’t know it by following local or national news agencies.  Being constantly bombarded with bad news gives the sense of increased risk.  So with the constant attention bullying gets, especially now that it is a hot-topic ratings generator for the media, it is no surprise that people are reacting as if bullying is becoming an epidemic.

Relaxed standards can also inflate the number of bullying incidents.  If more and more actions now qualify as bullying behavior that previously didn’t before zero-tolerance policies had been adopted, the result is an increased number.  For example, say the speed limit on a certain highway is 65 mph, and the police enforcing the limit only stopped and ticketed drivers when they exceeded 73 mph; and an average of 100 speeding tickets are issued per week.  But now the Chief decides he wants his officers to stop and ticket drivers who exceed 69 mph.  The number of speeding tickets will increase, but there are not necessarily more people speeding.  In the same way, if years ago kids with glasses were called “four-eyes” it was chalked up to school yard teasing.  Now similar taunts are classified as bullying, the incidents have not increased, but rather more behaviors now  qualify as bullying where they didn’t before.

Finally, and what I believe to be most responsible  — parents of the bullied.  Kids today are seen as fragile little egg shells.  Some parents would send their children to school in bubble wrap if possible.  As much as a negative response Amy Chua received from her book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I understand the principle she uses raising her children, even if I may disagree with some of the methods, and that is this: “Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility”.  To the detriment of their children, some parents treat them as though they cannot handle life, such as dealing with people who don’t like you.  The parent attempts to fight every battle and protect them from meanness.  As a result, the child grows up with no coping skills.  Children have a tendency for the most part to live up to expectations.  Here’s a quick unrelated example.  When my first child was young, 3-5 years-old, and would fall down while playing on a play ground and her mother was around, the tears and wailing would begin immediately.  If it was just my child and I, she would get up, brush herself off and continue on playing.  My wife reacted differently than I did when the kids fell, and the kids reacted according to the parent’s expectation.  If we as parents react as if every time our child is teased that an act of verbal terrorism has been committed, our children will react in the same way.  If we make them think that they ought to be an emotional wreck because of being teased, they will be emotional wrecks.

I do not think there is anything to worry about as far as an increase of bullying.  Having plastic surgery to prevent bullying is a fruitless endeavor, it will probably make things worse.  There will always be something for other kids to pick on, let alone being “the girl who needed surgery to get rid of her elephant ears”.  Listen, that is who this girl will become.  Right now she is the girl with big ears, and after the surgery she will be the girl who used to have big ears — same amount of teasing, different content.  Instead parents need to teach their children how to deal with others who may tease them. It’s going to happen no matter what you do, what you look like, and who you are, and they need to be prepared; and unfortunately a lot of kids aren’t prepared.  Teach them to handle it, treat them as though they can handle it, and they will be able to handle it.


  1. John Barron says:


  1. […] or a mixture of colors.  I don’t recall the black, hispanic, or asian children’s feelings being hurt.  It is precisely this presumption that does hurt children’s feelings.  When they are told […]

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