Jonathan Martin and the Soft, White, Private School Question

The New York Times

By RON LIEBER
A report for the N.F.L. detailed harassment of Jonathan Martin, third from left, by Richie Incognito, second from left.Bill Feig/Associated PressA report for the N.F.L. detailed harassment of Jonathan Martin, third from left, by Richie Incognito, second from left.

N.F.L. lineman Jonathan Martin encountered a Miami Dolphins team culture that was sick at its core. But was his private-school upbringing partly responsible for his inability to cope with the locker-room bullying he encountered there?

“I figured out a major source of my anxiety,” he wrote to his mother during his ordeal, according to the 140-page report on his ordeal that an outside law firm released on Feb. 14. “I’m a push over, a people pleaser. I avoid confrontation whenever I can, I always want everyone to like me. I let people talk about me, say anything to my face, and I just take it, laugh it off, even when I know they are intentionally trying to disrespect me. I mostly blame the soft schools I went to …”

Then, in a message to his father a week later: “I suppose it’s white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek.”

These comments press all sorts of buttons for private school parents, who worry that by trying to buy their way up to what seems like a better education, they’re robbing their child of the hard knocks every kid ought to experience. By invoking race, Mr. Martin, who is African-American, seems to suggest that private-school culture stands for training or retraining students of color to be meek young adults who don’t speak up or fight back.

But what sort of softness was he talking about? And how exactly does “white private school conditioning” manifest itself?

Mr. Martin, who is 24 years old, and his parents declined to expand further on his words in the report. He attended the private John Thomas Dye School in Los Angeles for fifth and sixth grade. Ray Michaud, the headmaster there, also declined to respond to Mr. Martin’s comments, citing a school policy on talking about alumni and things they do or say after they leave.

Harvard-Westlake, which has produced many Hollywood stars and a handful of other professional athletes, was Mr. Martin’s next stop. “Harvard-Westlake simply offers our strong support for Jonathan Martin and his family during this difficult time,” its president and chief executive, Rick Commons, wrote by email. When I asked him whether his response was the very sort of other-cheek-turning that Mr. Martin described, he said that it was an “interesting follow-up” but did not comment further.

Both schools were willing to disclose some numbers in an effort to address the demographic charge specifically. At Harvard-Westlake, 19 percent of the student body receives need-based financial aid and 43 percent of students are not white. That compares favorably with national numbers that the National Association of Independent Schools tracks: Students of color make up 28 percent of the population at all private schools nationwide; 23 percent of students at member schools received need-based aid. John Thomas Dye is less diverse than average, with students of color making up 23 percent of its student body. Just 8 percent of them receive financial aid.

“Our schools are not the sort of impervious bastions of WASP culture and privilege that they were at the inception of independent schools,” said Caroline Blackwell, the vice president for equity and justice for the National Association of Independent Schools. “And so for a lot of people, they continue to have this idea that doesn’t really match the reality.”

These institutions like to be called independent schools nowadays, in part because “private” raises the question of just who they’re excluding. Independence speaks to their strengths, as they stand apart from the educational culture of test-taking and rigidity and, at their best, build close-knit communities centered around character as much as academic achievement.

Perhaps Mr. Martin was using “soft” as an antonym for “real,” as in the real world that private-school students might not encounter enough. But what would it mean for private schools to feel more real? Ms. Blackwell wondered about this, too. She is African-American and a product of private schools herself. She’s also made her career in them, working in the past as a counselor, admissions officer and multicultural affairs director, including 17 years at theUniversity School in Nashville. She ran the local human relations commission there before going to work for the independent schools association.

Ms. Blackwell wondered, as many private school parents might have when they read Mr. Martin’s words in newspaper accounts of the league’s report, whether he was calling out the sort of deliberately constructed communities that many private schools specialize in creating — built on intense attention to children’s feelings and the imprinting of values that support a commitment to civility.

Schools like that are not much like the world that many parents live and work in, where people are disposable, loyalty no longer matters much and every person is scratching away for themselves. But those mothers and fathers don’t necessarily want their 9-year-olds going to school in it. “My experience of independent schools is one where a premium is placed on problem solving in civil ways — dealing with conflict in ways that prefer conversation and discussion as opposed to fighting and aggression,” Ms. Blackwell said. “We would teach students to be assertive without necessarily being aggressive.” If she’s right, that’s hardly turning the other cheek.

It’s not clear whether that sort of teaching went on at Harvard-Westlake or John Thomas Dye, since nobody there wanted to talk about it. But Ms. Blackwell doesn’t think it’s fair to ask the product of any school to serve as proof of its educators’ success or failure if the test is to withstand what Mr. Martin did. “Preparing kids for the vitriol and hostility of a locker room, that’s not our intention,” she said. “Nor is it the intention of public schools or other types of schools, regardless of where they are, to simulate the worst sort of cultural experience to see if the kids can endure.”

If you’re a product of a private school or a parent at one, what do Mr. Martin’s words mean to you?


 

Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist for The New York Times. He’s currently on leave to write “The Opposite of Spoiled,” a book about parenting, money, values and raising the kinds of children all parents want to push out into the world, no matter how much money they have. He hosts regular conversations about these topics on his Facebook page and welcomes comments here or privately, via his Web site.

 

Is It Bullying Or Drama?

The Huffington Post

Here’s an interesting article on bullying vs. drama.  At CSH, we work hard to have all be responsible for Goal IV, the building of community as a Christian value, as we inspire the girls to address examples of unkind behavior.  While it is most effective for the person who is receiving the negative treatment to stand-up for herself, we are also inspiring the bystander to be brave and confront the issue.  We are also encouraging the girls to reach out for help, when needed – “never worry alone.”

Posted: 11/13/2013

bullying or drama

Acting like a jerk is one thing, being cruel is another. Knowing the difference matters. Bullying is… a repeated pattern of harmful or rejecting behavior that occurs over a period of time, leaving you feeling excluded, isolated, or humiliated on a large scale. Your life feels seriously interrupted, and you can’t see an end in sight.

Drama is… the everyday difficulties that all teenagers experience, including relationship rifts with friends or people you’re dating, onetime instances of classmates being jerks, and conflicts that eventually blow over. People involved aren’t victims or perpetrators—they’re just part of the social world where mean things sometimes happen.

By Melissa Walker You missed a key shot in the basketball game last night, and this morning at school, there’s a Post-it on your locker that says “Choker!” Then in math class, two teammates say you’d better step it up at practice, and kids whisper as you walk by in the hall. You feel kicked around and can’t wait for the day to be over—but are you a victim of bullying?

“If bullying is every single mean thing that happens, then there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” says Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. But recognizing the difference between true bullying and everyday drama can help you brush off the little things, keep situations from escalating, and help you realize when something serious is going on—so you can step in and get help for yourself or a fellow student.

Case 1: Gym Intimidation Paul dreads going to phys ed. He’s always been small and skinny, but now that he’s in high school, the difference between him and other guys his age seems huge. A few of his classmates have started calling him “bird legs,” saying that his chest is “concave” as he changes in the locker room. They also take every opportunity to knock into him or push him down during class. It’s so brutal that Paul would rather serve detention than go to gym.

Bullying or Drama? If this happened once, says Jill Weber, a clinical psychologist in McLean, Virginia, it would just be drama. But since Paul is facing ongoing rejection and humiliation, it’s definitely bullying.

What to do: Paul could try being more assertive—kids who stand up for themselves don’t get bullied as much. “Direct confrontation is the bully’s kryptonite, because deep down they’re scared and vulnerable too,” says Weber. But this is physical intimidation, and if it gets bad enough, Paul should tell an adult. Since the gym teacher doesn’t seem to be stepping in, finding another teacher Paul trusts is key.

Case 2: Out Of Line… Online Jess didn’t think anything of it when she texted David, her friend Laura’s crush, about the math homework. But when Jess went on Facebook later, her heart dropped. Laura and their friend Allie had created a “We Hate Jess” page, where they accused Jess of moving in on David. Jess’s eyes filled with tears. How could her friends post such hateful comments?

Bullying or Drama? It’s both. Laura and Allie feel they’ve been wronged, so they’re not just targeting Jess for no reason. That’s drama. But “the Internet has changed bullying,” says Bazelon. When the drama between Jess and her friends goes public, anyone can join in—and that makes it a bullying situation.

What to do: Bazelon notes that even friends sometimes act meanly. But as tempting as it is, Jess shouldn’t respond online. Talking in person, on the other hand, is much more effective, because it takes the drama down a notch. Jess should contact Laura and Allie, or have a neutral friend do so, and then hear them out. Although it’ll be hard, asking her friends why they did this and telling them how it has hurt her is important. “They will all probably be friends again,” says Bazelon, “so Jess should try and talk it out.”

Case 3: Is mean on the menu? It’s lunch period on Zach’s first day at a new school, and he faces the cafeteria with absolute dread. His heart pounds in his chest as he walks slowly around the room, hoping that someone will look up at him and smile. Finally, he sees an open seat at a table with a group of girls and guys, so he asks if he can sit down. One girl stares at him and pushes the chair into the table. “No,” she says. “There’s no room.” Ouch.

Bullying or Drama? Although that girl at the table is definitely a jerk, she’d probably do this to anyone who isn’t part of her inner circle. So unless she continues to harass Zach in some way, it’s a onetime brush with drama, says Weber.

What to do: The cafeteria is a classic setting for this type of popularity-war drama, says Danah Boyd, author of the upcoming book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens—it’s like a big stage where new kids are in the spotlight, and where mean kids can get the attention they crave. The best thing to do is to bite your lip, turn around and find a seat on the other side of the room. Sure, this drama stings, but remember: It’s probably not personal—and it’s temporary.

How to stand up to drama and bullying: If you see someone caught in a cycle of drama or bullying, there are lots of ways to help. Here’s how to step up and step in.

1. Lend an ear Often it’s hard to intervene in the moment, but letting people who are struggling with bullying or drama know that they’re not alone—that you get it—can have an enormous positive impact. If you don’t know them well, even just asking “Are you OK?” can make them feel less distressed.

2. Find help If the problem is more than you can handle, be a friend—even if you don’t know the victim well—and suggest that they talk to an adult. Ask if they have someone they trust, or steer them toward someone you know. Boyd notes that just “telling a trusted adult” is kind of random—you want to choose someone who you think can really help deal with what’s going on.

3. CONFRONT the troublemaker If you have a lot of confidence, be a role model and an upstander by defending the victim when an incident occurs. Make it clear that you don’t agree with what’s going on. Try saying something like, “You’re being cruel, and it needs to stop.” Then walk away with the victim and get out your superhero cape, because that’s an awesome move!

Girl’s Suicide Points to Rise in Apps Used by Cyberbullies

The New York Times

A disturbing article about a middle school aged girl in Florida.  A good reminder to have conversations with your daughters about their use of social media, especially ask.fm, Instagram and Snapchat.  All are invited to attend Middle School Technology Night on Monday, September 16 at 7 pm for more information on the topic.

Brian Blanco for The New York Times

A memorial for 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick has sprouted at the abandoned cement plant in Lakeland, Fla., where she committed suicide.

By 
Published: September 13, 2013 723 Comments

MIAMI — The clues were buried in her bedroom. Before leaving for school on Monday morning, Rebecca Ann Sedwick had hidden her schoolbooks under a pile of clothes and left her cellphone behind, a rare lapse for a 12-year-old girl.

Rebecca Sedwick

Lance Speere for The New York Times

Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, said she had no idea that her daughter, who died this week, was being cyberbullied by about 15 middle-school children, a problem that first arose and was addressed last year.

Inside her phone’s virtual world, she had changed her user name on Kik Messenger, a cellphone application, to “That Dead Girl” and delivered a message to two friends, saying goodbye forever. Then she climbed a platform at an abandoned cement plant near her home in the Central Florida city of Lakeland and leaped to the ground, the Polk County sheriff said.

In jumping, Rebecca became one of the youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide, at least in part, after being maligned, threatened and taunted online, mostly through a new collection of texting and photo-sharing cellphone applications. Her suicide raises new questions about the proliferation and popularity of these applications and Web sites among children and the ability of parents to keep up with their children’s online relationships.

For more than a year, Rebecca, pretty and smart, was cyberbullied by a coterie of 15 middle-school children who urged her to kill herself, her mother said. The Polk County sheriff’s office is investigating the role of cyberbullying in the suicide and considering filing charges against the middle-school students who apparently barraged Rebecca with hostile text messages. Florida passed a law this year making it easier to bring felony charges in online bullying cases.

Rebecca was “absolutely terrorized on social media,” Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said at a news conference this week.

Along with her grief, Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, faces the frustration of wondering what else she could have done. She complained to school officials for several months about the bullying, and when little changed, she pulled Rebecca out of school. She closed down her daughter’s Facebook page and took her cellphone away. She changed her number. Rebecca was so distraught in December that she began to cut herself, so her mother had her hospitalized and got her counseling. As best she could, Ms. Norman said, she kept tabs on Rebecca’s social media footprint.

It all seemed to be working, she said. Rebecca appeared content at her new school as a seventh grader. She was gearing up to audition for chorus and was considering slipping into her cheerleading uniform once again. But unknown to her mother, Rebecca had recently signed on to new applications — ask.fm, and Kik and Voxer — which kick-started the messaging and bullying once again.

“I had never even heard of them; I did go through her phone but didn’t even know,” said Ms. Norman, 42, who works in customer service. “I had no reason to even think that anything was going on. She was laughing and joking.”

Sheriff Judd said Rebecca had been using these messaging applications to send and receive texts and photographs. His office showed Ms. Norman the messages and photos, including one of Rebecca with razor blades on her arms and cuts on her body. The texts were full of hate, her mother said: “Why are you still alive?” “You’re ugly.”

One said, “Can u die please?” To which Rebecca responded, with a flash of resilience, “Nope but I can live.” Her family said the bullying began with a dispute over a boy Rebecca dated for a while. But Rebecca had stopped seeing him, they said.

Rebecca was not nearly as resilient as she was letting on. Not long before her death, she had clicked on questions online that explored suicide. “How many Advil do you have to take to die?”

In hindsight, Ms. Norman wonders whether Rebecca kept her distress from her family because she feared her mother might take away her cellphone again.

“Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own,” Ms. Norman said.

It is impossible to be certain what role the online abuse may have played in her death. But cyberbullying experts said cellphone messaging applications are proliferating so quickly that it is increasingly difficult for parents to keep pace with their children’s complex digital lives.

“It’s a whole new culture, and the thing is that as adults, we don’t know anything about it because it’s changing every single day,” said Denise Marzullo, the chief executive of Mental Health America of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville, who works with the schools there on bullying issues.

No sooner has a parent deciphered Facebook or Twitter or Instagram than his or her children have migrated to the latest frontier. “It’s all of these small ones where all this is happening,” Ms. Marzullo said.

In Britain, a number of suicides by young people have been linked to ask.fm, and online petitions have been started there and here to make the site more responsive to bullying. The company ultimately responded this year by introducing an easy-to-see button to report bullying and saying it would hire more moderators.

“You hear about this all the time,” Ms. Norman said of cyberbullying. “I never, ever thought it would happen to me or my daughter.”

Questions have also been raised about whether Rebecca’s old school, Crystal Lake Middle School, did enough last year to help stop the bullying; some of it, including pushing and hitting, took place on school grounds. The same students also appear to be involved in sending out the hate-filled online messages away from school, something schools can also address.

Nancy Woolcock, the assistant superintendent in charge of antibullying programs for Polk County Schools, said the school received one bullying complaint from Rebecca and her mother in December about traditional bullying, not cyberbullying. After law enforcement investigated, Rebecca’s class schedule was changed. Ms. Woolcock said the school also has an extensive antibullying campaign and takes reports seriously.

But Ms. Norman said the school should have done more. Officials told her that Rebecca would receive an escort as she switched classes, but that did not happen, she said.

Rebecca never boarded her school bus on Monday morning. She made her way to the abandoned Cemex plant about 10 minutes away from her modest mobile home; the plant was a place she had used as a getaway a few times when she wanted to vanish. Somehow, she got past the high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, which is now a memorial, with teddy bears, candles and balloons. She climbed a tower and then jumped.

“Don’t ignore your kids,” Ms. Norman said, “even if they seem fine.”

Lance Speere contributed reporting from Lakeland, Fla., and Alan Blinder from Atlanta.

Rachel Simmons at the “Girls Symposium” – October 17 in Trumbull, CT

Here’s some information on an upcoming local symposium on girls featuring Rachel Simmons.  Many members of the Middle School faculty will attend; perhaps some parents would also like to attend.

 

FUND FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS’
2ND ANNUAL GIRLS SYMPOSIUM

Keynote Speaker
Rachel Simmons


Keynote speaker Rachel Simmons, is aNew York Times best-selling author, educator, and coach helping girls and young women grow into emotionally intelligent and assertive adults.

She will share best practices on empowering girls with confidence and courage.

The first 100 registrants will receive a free copy of The Curse of the Good Girl.

Thursday, October 17
Marriott Merritt Parkway, Trumbull

Join more than 200 educators, social service providers, parents, school resource officers and more at the Second Annual Girls Symposium.

You’ll experience expert-led presentations and workshops specially designed to help today’s girls and young women.

You’ll learn strategies you can apply in the following areas:

  • Teen dating violence and sexual assault
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Empowering girls to take on leadership roles
  • Body image and self-esteem
  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Fostering Collaboration among girls
  • And more

WHO SHOULD ATTEND

The Girls Symposium is ideal for:

    • Educators
    • Social Service professionals
    • Faith-based leaders
    • Therapists
    • School Resource Officers
    • Parents and guardians
    • Anyone who works with girls

REGISTER ONLINE

Registration is $75 per person and includes continental breakfast, lunch and materials.

Space is limited to the first 200 attendees, so register online today.

You can also print, complete and mail your registration form and check.

SYMPOSIUM DETAILS

Date: Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Location: Trumbull Marriott Merritt Parkway
180 Hawley Lane
Trumbull, Conn.
Driving Directions 

INFORMATION

Tricia Hyacinth
Program & Development Associate
The Fund for Women and Girls
thyacinth@fccfoundation.org
203.750.3223

 

 

A Bullied 11 Year Old Speaks Out

Gallery

The Huffington Post <p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/65313147″>Caine Stands Up</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/thebullyproject”>The Bully Project</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p> This bullied 11-year-old has a powerful message for his school board: “You have the power to make the changes.” In recently promoted footage from 2011’s “The Bully … Continue reading

“Stop Panicking About Bullies”

An interesting article from The Wall Street Journal on bullying.  The author claims that there are actually many fewer cases of bullying in schools than in previous years.

Childhood is safer than ever before, but today’s parents need to worry about something. Nick Gillespie on why busybodies and bureaucrats have zeroed in on bullying.

By NICK GILLESPIE

[BULLY]Getty ImagesIs America really in the midst of a “bullying crisis,” as so many now claim?

“When I was younger,” a remarkably self-assured, soft-spoken 15-year-old kid named Aaron tells the camera, “I suffered from bullying because of my lips—as you can see, they’re kind of unusually large. So I would kind of get [called] ‘Fish Lips’—things like that a lot—and my glasses too, I got those at an early age. That contributed. And the fact that my last name is Cheese didn’t really help with the matter either. I would get [called] ‘Cheeseburger,’ ‘Cheese Guy’—things like that, that weren’t really very flattering. Just kind of making fun of my name—I’m a pretty sensitive kid, so I would have to fight back the tears when I was being called names.”

It’s hard not to be impressed with—and not to like—young Aaron Cheese. He is one of the kids featured in the new Cartoon Network special “Stop Bullying: Speak Up,” which premiered last week and is available online. I myself am a former geekish, bespectacled child whose lips were a bit too full, and my first name (as other kids quickly discovered) rhymes with two of the most-popular slang terms for male genitalia, so I also identified with Mr. Cheese. My younger years were filled with precisely the sort of schoolyard taunts that he recounts; they led ultimately to at least one fistfight and a lot of sour moods on my part.

As the parent now of two school-age boys, I also worry that my own kids will have to deal with such ugly and destructive behavior. And I welcome the common-sense antibullying strategies relayed in “Stop Bullying”: Talk to your friends, your parents and your teachers. Recognize that you’re not the problem. Don’t be a silent witness to bullying.

Is America really in the midst of a “bullying crisis”? That’s doubtful, says Reason.tv’s Nick Gillespie. He tells WSJ’s Ryan Sager that over-protective parents and a rising wave of laws and regulations don’t really reflect a boom in meanness among kids. In fact, they may be safer and better behaved than ever.

But is America really in the midst of a “bullying crisis,” as so many now claim? I don’t see it. I also suspect that our fears about the ubiquity of bullying are just the latest in a long line of well-intentioned yet hyperbolic alarms about how awful it is to be a kid today.

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. The antibullying movement is already conflating serious cases of gay-bashing and vicious harassment with things like…a kid named Cheese having a tough time in grade school.

How did we get here? We live in an age of helicopter parents so pushy and overbearing that Colorado Springs banned its annual Easter-egg hunt on account of adults jumping the starter’s gun and scooping up treat-filled plastic eggs on behalf of their winsome kids. The Department of Education in New York City—once known as the town too tough for Al Capone—is seeking to ban such words as “dinosaurs,” “Halloween” and “dancing” from citywide tests on the grounds that they could “evoke unpleasant emotions in the students,” it was reported this week. (Leave aside for the moment that perhaps the whole point of tests is to “evoke unpleasant emotions.”)

And it’s not only shrinking-violet city boys and girls who are being treated as delicate flowers. Early versions of new labor restrictions still being hashed out in Congress would have barred children under 16 from operating power-driven farm equipment and kept anyone under 18 from working at agricultural co-ops and stockyards (the latest version would let kids keep running machines on their parents’ spreads). What was once taken for granted—working the family farm, October tests with jack-o-lantern-themed questions, hunting your own Easter eggs—is being threatened by paternalism run amok.

Now that schools are peanut-free, latex-free and soda-free, parents, administrators and teachers have got to worry about something. Since most kids now have access to cable TV, the Internet, unlimited talk and texting, college and a world of opportunities that was unimaginable even 20 years ago, it seems that adults have responded by becoming ever more overprotective and thin-skinned.

Kids might be fatter than they used to be, but by most standards they are safer and better-behaved than they were when I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s. Infant and adolescent mortality, accidents, sex and drug use—all are down from their levels of a few decades ago. Acceptance of homosexuality is up, especially among younger Americans. But given today’s rhetoric about bullying, you could be forgiven for thinking that kids today are not simply reading and watching grim, postapocalyptic fantasies like “The Hunger Games” but actually inhabiting such terrifying terrain, a world where “Lord of the Flies” meets “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior,” presided over by Voldemort.

Even President Barack Obama has placed his stamp of approval on this view of modern childhood. Introducing the Cartoon Network documentary, he solemnly intones: “I care about this issue deeply, not just as the president, but as a dad. … We’ve all got more to do. Everyone has to take action against bullying.”

The state of New Jersey was well ahead of the president. Last year, in response to the suicide of the 18-year-old gay Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, the state legislature passed “The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.” The law is widely regarded as the nation’s toughest on these matters. It has been called both a “resounding success” by Steve Goldstein, head of the gay-rights group Garden State Equality, and a “bureaucratic nightmare” by James O’Neill, the interim school superintendent of the township of Roxbury. In Congress, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Rush Holt have introduced the federal Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has called the Lautenberg-Holt proposal a threat to free speech because its “definition of harassment is vague, subjective and at odds with Supreme Court precedent.” Should it become law, it might well empower colleges to stop some instances of bullying, but it would also cause many of them to be sued for repressing speech. In New Jersey, a school anti-bullying coordinator told the Star-Ledger that “The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” has “added a layer of paperwork that actually inhibits us” in dealing with problems. In surveying the effects of the law, the Star-Ledger reports that while it is “widely used and has helped some kids,” it has imposed costs of up to $80,000 per school district for training alone and uses about 200 hours per month of staff time in each district, with some educators saying that the additional effort is taking staff “away from things such as substance-abuse prevention and college and career counseling.”

One thing seems certain: The focus on bullying will lead to more lawsuits against schools and bullies, many of which will stretch the limits of empathy and patience. Consider, for instance, the current case of 19-year-old Eric Giray, who is suing New York’s tony Calhoun School and a former classmate for $1.5 million over abuse that allegedly took place in 2004. Such cases can only become more common.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t kids who face terrible cases of bullying. The immensely powerful and highly acclaimed documentary “Bully,” whose makers hope to create a nationwide movement against the “bullying crisis,” opens in selected theaters this weekend. The film follows the harrowing experiences of a handful of victims of harassment, including two who killed themselves in desperation. It is, above all, a damning indictment of ineffectual and indifferent school officials. No viewer can watch the abuse endured by kids such as Alex, a 13-year-old social misfit in Sioux City, Iowa, or Kelby, a 14-year-old lesbian in small-town Oklahoma, without feeling angry and motivated to change youth culture and the school officials who turn a blind eye.

But is bullying—which the stopbullying.gov website of the Department of Health and Human Services defines as “teasing,” “name-calling,” “taunting,” “leaving someone out on purpose,” “telling other children not to be friends with someone,” “spreading rumors about someone,” “hitting/kicking/pinching,” “spitting” and “making mean or rude hand gestures”—really a growing problem in America?

Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported “being afraid of attack or harm at school” declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.

When it comes to bullying numbers, long-term trends are less clear. The makers of “Bully” say that “over 13 million American kids will be bullied this year,” and estimates of the percentage of students who are bullied in a given year range from 20% to 70%. NCES changed the way it tabulated bullying incidents in 2005 and cautions against using earlier data. Its biennial reports find that 28% of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied in 2005; that percentage rose to 32% in 2007, before dropping back to 28% in 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available). Such numbers strongly suggest that there is no epidemic afoot (though one wonders if the new anti-bullying laws and media campaigns might lead to more reports going forward).

The most common bullying behaviors reported include being “made fun of, called names, or insulted” (reported by about 19% of victims in 2009) and being made the “subject of rumors” (16%). Nine percent of victims reported being “pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on,” and 6% reported being “threatened with harm.” Though it may not be surprising that bullying mostly happens during the school day, it is stunning to learn that the most common locations for bullying are inside classrooms, in hallways and stairwells, and on playgrounds—areas ostensibly patrolled by teachers and administrators.

None of this is to be celebrated, of course, but it hardly paints a picture of contemporary American childhood as an unrestrained Hobbesian nightmare. Before more of our schools’ money, time and personnel are diverted away from education in the name of this supposed crisis, we should make an effort to distinguish between the serious abuse suffered by the kids in “Bully” and the sort of lower-level harassment with which the Aaron Cheeses of the world have to deal.

In fact, Mr. Cheese, now a sophomore in high school with hopes of becoming a lawyer, provides a model in dealing with the sort of jerks who will always, unfortunately, be a presence in our schools. At the end of “Stop Bullying,” he tells younger kids, “Just talk to somebody and I promise to you, it’s going to get better.” For Aaron, it plainly has: “It has been turned around actually. I am a generally liked guy. My last name has become something that’s a little more liked. I have a friend named Mac and so together we are Mac and Cheese. That’s cool.”

Indeed, it is cool. And if we take a deep breath, we will realize that there are many more Aaron Cheeses walking the halls of today’s schools than there are bullies. Our problem isn’t a world where bullies are allowed to run rampant; it’s a world where kids like Aaron are convinced that they are powerless victims.

—Mr. Gillespie is editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv and the co-author of “The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America.”

New Report Sheds Light On Teen Dating and Digital Abuse

February 20, 2013 2:08 PM

From Education Week

By guest blogger Mike Bock

One in four teens in a romantic relationship reported that their partners had harassed or abused them during the previous year using social media, text messages, or other forms of digital communication, a new report from the Urban Institute concludes.

But 84 percent of the teens who reported experiencing abuse in digital forums said they were also psychologically or physically abuse, suggesting cyberbullying in relationships could be a natural extension of other types of mistreatment, said Janine Zweig, one of the chief researchers of the report.

“This type of abuse seems to be another tool in the toolbox of someone who is inclined to abuse or harass their partner,” she said in an interview.

Zweig also said that digital abuse through email, text messages, and social media can sometimes be a red flag that indicates in-person abuse is occurring, and that teens’ increased access to digital communications means that abuse can easily happen away from school property.

The Washington, D.C.-based research organization recently published the complete results of the report, called “Digital Abuse: Teen Dating Harassment through Technology“, in theJournal of Youth and Adolescence. More than 5,600 middle-school and high-school students participated in the survey.

The report found that tampering with a partner’s social media account is the most prevalent form of digital abuse, with 8.7 percent of teens reporting having been subjected to it. Sending threatening messages, posting embarrassing photos, and pressure to engage in sexting also made the list.

In addition, girls report being victims of digital abuse while in a relationship more frequently than boys do, with 29 percent of female respondents and 23 percent of males reporting abuse.

While only 17 percent of the teens who report digital harassment say they experienced it during school hours, Zweig said that schools can play a bigger role in monitoring and preventing that abuse from playing out.

Since many schools and districts are taking steps to prevent cyberbullying, those measures can easily be extended to online dating abuse, she said. And since abused teens so rarely seek help—only 9 percent of them do, the report said—increased safety and prevention measures can help create a context by which teens feel more comfortable reporting abuse, said Zweig.