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Opening Arguments

Bully pulpit

Let's pull the panic back a notch or two:

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.

If he's right about our overreaction, and I suspect he is, it's understandable. The more sensitive we become about somethineg, the more strongly we react to less-and-less serious offenses. The most serious point he raises, I think, is the one about conflation. Gay bashing and nerd teasing are not close to the same thing. To lump both of them and everything in between under the same bully label elicits exactly the kind of backlast the article represents. As more and more people reach the same obvious conclusion, legitimate instances of bullying might get lost in the mounting indifference.