Emma McClure | Has this generation gone too soft? 

(Not So) Hot Takes | The call to “bring back bullying”

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By Emma McClure

If you have any kids in your life, you have probably seen their hastiness to call things “bullying.” What in our parents’ generations wouldn’t have caused teachers to bat an eye, will now elicit aggressive adult intervention on the playground. 

The general social standard for bullying now extends to anything judgemental, mean, or insensitive. Is this a side effect of a society that has simply become too sensitive? What we now consider “bullying” is really just a form of social correction, and historically was recognized as such. These “bullying” remarks are a tool for socialization — a cue that an action or habit is not befitting to the social standard.

Let me be clear: This article is not a defense of physical or emotional harassment. Serious bullying has long-lasting emotional and, in some cases, physical impacts on its victims. It is also indicative of emotional distress to the bully themselves. 

StopBullying.gov defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Most legal definitions follow similar patterns, emphasizing aggression, imbalances of power, and physical harm or threat thereof as key characteristics of bullying. This behavior is undoubtedly a cause for concern, but is this limited definition actually what we consider bullying today? It seems instead that anything that hurts someone’s feelings is harmful; dangerously blurring the line between genuine acts of aggression and necessary social correction. 

Individualism is an important part of American culture, and therefore I concur with the notion that allowing people to break away from the mold can strengthen social progress. The point of promoting social corrections is not that everyone should be exactly the same or conform to every single norm. However, socialization and familiarity with social norms are important tools for future success. With such an emphasis on networking, Penn students should be especially equipped to recognize that people who can’t adhere to social standards and expectations will generally have a harder time finding success. 

Socially acceptable behaviors are not innate; we learn them through a process of action, correction, and reaction. However, much of what has always been considered correction by peers is now deemed “bullying.” The earliest efforts to instill social standards in the newest generations are being squandered by calls to end bullying. In general, it is easy to recognize that young children aren’t the most articulate group. They may not be able to effectively and kindly correct behaviors unfitting to the social norms and standards of their age group. It may sound mean, or at least insensitive, to us when kids say “ew” or “that’s so weird.” However poorly articulated these statements are, they serve an important purpose as social corrections

Moreover, these phrases represent corrections coming directly from peers who recognize an action as being against the social norms and standards for their age group, making them especially important. The ability to cooperate and communicate with peers is a marker of success for most, if not all, of childhood and adolescence, and it translates well to the working world, where serious interactions like networking or meetings are routine

Without these early corrections from peers, unsocialized behaviors persist. An example of this can be found among “Warrior Cats kids” or “wolf kids”– two of many niches of children whose behaviors are deviant from social standards. These groups are characterized by imitation of animal-like behaviors, such as howling or walking on all-fours and attempting to dress in ways that resemble wolves. Such behaviors are indisputably concerning and exhibit signs of maladaptive social development. However, many kids in these groups quickly corrected their behaviors upon the realization that their peers, seeing them howl or hiss at people, weren’t very willing to befriend them or treat their behavior as normal. 

Is calling this behavior “weird” a form of bullying? Or not wanting to be friends with the girl who hisses at people in class? What about avoiding the boy who howls on the playground? Many people now say yes, it is. The scope of bullying has expanded so far beyond what it used to, and technically still does, mean. Now, “bullying” encompasses invaluable social corrections and, in many cases, natural and expected responses to unsocialized behaviors. Instead of facing this realization with alarm for the future of the next generation, we are told to accept and affirm even alarming behaviors. 

As a result, generations to come aren’t learning the norms society will expect them to adhere to in adulthood. What happens when students who, a generation ago would have been called “weird” and then adapted to social norms, are affirmed in their behaviors, rather than being corrected? Do we really think it is good to foster a society so accepting that it not only allows but encourages socially deviant behaviors without any room for correction? How will young generations adapt to the working world, which overwhelmingly does not care about their feelings, when they face zero resistance to unsocialized and non-conforming behaviors throughout childhood and adolescence? 

Emma McClure is a freshman in the College studying Criminology from Columbus, GA. Emma is also The Social Ivy editor at The Pennsylvania Post. Her email is efmcc@sas.upenn.edu

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