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Bullying is a trigger word these days. We have a newfound awareness that it is a real problem with real consequences, even fatal ones. But there is bullying and there is BULLYING. Physical harm, unwanted social contact (mostly cyberstalking these days), and exposure of privacy can be measured and mitigated by legal and other means. Some of these are coordinated efforts by packs of evil brats we hope will grow up and out of it. Or perhaps they will become politicians and middle management.

However, areas of lighter and lighter grey are evoking parental wrath, lawyers in tow — kids being shunned, or talked about, or having an unwanted nickname bestowed. Apparently it is an administrative responsibility to make sure every child gets to play in every clique’s reindeer games. Institutions are supposed to establish and enforce social mores down to every comment or choice of seats in the lunchroom. What has the world come to? It’s not life that has changed, but the way we respond to it.

Kids are mean. People are mean. Treating it as a problem rather than a learning experience will not build character, especially since this is hardly bullying in any sense that requires some formal response or protection. In other words, children need to develop resilience from the actions and drama others expose them to, not prevent them from experiencing it. This is how we learn to deal with people at an early age. We develop strategies for both coping with people not acting or treating us the way we want, and interacting with others in ways that are beneficial to ourselves and those around us.

The only assured way to set our children up for failure is to try and “fix it” for them.

Personally, I lived through not merely ostracism but outright bullying from 6th Grade to late high school. Every now and then I am treated the same way by adult “bullies” (though not physically). A couple years ago, I was even harassed for an hour by unwatched children while painting a house as part of a community project in my own neighborhood. Most, if not all of us, experience this in some way from time to time, and don’t call the cops or a lawyer.

But like most people, I learned to stand up for myself, ignore haters, and that if I wanted the world to be a better place, I stood up for others as well, and gave them encouragement to brave through it. I would like to think the way I treated EVERYONE with the same respect made a huge difference, and I helped people realize most of us are “outcasts” in some way and we can choose not to treat each other badly. Those who won’t listen or learn will end up the real outcasts rather than given the attention and push-back they use as fuel for their pathos.

But you can’t force that karma.

I never ran to my parents or teachers unless there was unambiguous harm or potential harm, not merely hurting my feelings. Instead, I learned that people have the freedom to be jerks. I learned that I am not entitled to be liked, especially by everyone at all times. The list of life lessons goes on and on, and I am a far better person than I would have been if a helicopter parent tried to rescue me guns blazing. The lessons I would have learned from parental intervention would be that I can (and have the right to) force people to do what I think is polite and not do what offends me, however subjective. Sound familiar?

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about these things with our children, or make teachers and other parents aware. Things can be done constructively through the wise and informal use of communication. Real life lessons can be taught or encouraged to be learned by everyone involved. But human nature and psychology — especially something like manners and general social behavior — is not an administrative or institutional issue that can be legislated or litigated without far-reaching negative implications and results.

Does jumping in to defend your child’s feelings from other children by threat of force of law make you a bad parent?

No, it makes you a horrible person. Loving a child so much to want to do such a thing doesn’t make you a parent. Parenting means teaching and helping THEM to deal with reality instead of “bully” others into liking them or giving them whatever social privileges and immunities you think they should have. Again, we’re not talking about daily beat-downs in the schoolyard or posting embarrassing pics everywhere, but trying to stop every little social slight or the fact some people just don’t get along or treat others pleasantly. By forcing such issues, we are setting children up for failure, and far worse — moulding not just a child that will remain a child, but a society obsessed with victimization and control.

In addressing a real problem, many of us have gone too far, with solutions that far outreach the issue.