Name-Calling on the Playground: Is It Always Bullying?

bullying"You're so gay!" "Retard!" "Spaz!" Those are some of the slurs your kids may be hearing on the playground, or so says a report released this week titled "Playground and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States."  Released by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, it paints a scary picture of what most children face in schools.

It states that a shocking 75 percent of elementary students say they're bullied and called names regularly. Also, almost half of the elementary school teachers say they think bullying, name-calling or harassment is a “very serious or somewhat serious problem at their school.” 

Are kids today really that mean?


I'll say upfront that I think true bullying is a serious problem that can and has gotten out of control in some cases -- reports of suicide after kids have been bullied are heartbreaking and outrageous. I think we need to do everything we can to encourage acceptance and prevent such bullying in our schools, and most importantly, in our own children. But is it really that bad out there in our schools?

As I read this report, I couldn't help but think that some of what's considered "bullying" is just kids being kids, and that we need to teach our kids to toughen up a bit. Calling someone "gay" or a "retard" isn't nice. I teach my children not to use the words, and I'd be horrified if they did. But kids have been using those words -- and worse -- on the playground since I was a kid. Most of the time kids don't even know the meaning of the words they're using, they just want to throw out a slam. Should we teach them differently? Absolutely. But is it the most pressing problem out there? I'm not so sure.

It's murky, because I want my children to learn and embrace that old wisdom about "sticks and stones," because no matter who you are or what you do, people are going to call you names or say things about you that you don't like in life -- things that will hurt.  Triumphing over those words and realizing they have no power over you is a skill most of us work on our entire lives. Seldom are we completely successful, but it's a good goal. So if on the other hand we're elevating playground insults to a national crisis, it seems a bit contrary -- not unworthy, but contrary nonetheless.

And because no matter how many programs we put in place to stop this sort of behavior, it's still going to happen. Kids are going to call names now; their kids will call each other names, and so will their kids. The best thing we can do is try to instill as much inner strength and self-confidence in them as we can, because that's the best armor they can have against what's almost inevitable. And as sad as it may be, bullies often don't outgrow their behavior. Life is full of them. So getting in some preparation dealing with them young may not be the worst thing.

Of course, there are extreme cases, and in those, I see no punishment or actions too severe to put a stop to the repeated torment of a child. But in general, the fact that some unpleasant slams are being thrown around on the playground doesn't seems as worrisome of some headlines suggest.

Do you think what some calling "bullying" is just kids being kids?

Image via Eddie S/Flickr


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