Education: Personally Speaking: Children squabble: it's a fact of life, not always a case for the helpline

Most schools have an anti-bullying policy. The head, senior management, governors, families, teachers, support staff and, not least, the children are instructed to be alert for bullying outside the school gates, in assemblies, in the classroom and the curriculum, during breaks, in the toilets, playgrounds and corridors.

Yet these look-outs are based on definitions of bullying that are very vague. Childline defines it as: "physical aggression - hitting, kicking, taking or damaging belongings. It can be verbal - involving name-calling, nasty teasing or spreading rumours. It can also be indirect - for example when someone is deliberately left out or ignored. Sometimes the bullying can take very subtle forms, such as a nasty look".

This definition trivialises serious assault by conflating it with name- calling. But apart from relativising aggression, surely a lot of this behaviour is harmless and common to all children? Kicking, pushing as well as teasing, secluding and ostracising each other is normal practice. I certainly hit, sent to Coventry, and scarred the face of my best friend. We fought less as we grew up and we still keep in touch. Children do not automatically know how to behave as a friend, they need to learn. The best way of doing so is through experience, by trying and testing the parameters of personal relationships.

Adults cannot teach this. It can hurt terribly as children turn on each other frequently. But their emotions at this age are undisciplined and part of growing up means learning to control them.

Guidelines such as those issued by the Department for Education and Employment instruct schools to assess the amount of bullying and increase awareness of it. This involves questionnaires, talks, discussion and interviews. (Questionnaires that have published their results demonstrate that most so-called bullying is teasing and name-calling.) Once the level is assessed popular advice recommends that this is followed up by quality circles and children's councils, where children are told how to discuss problems and run their own mini trials. In schools, all relationships between peers are monitored. Talk to any child about "their definition" of bullying and they will chant back in parrot fashion; "...physical, verbal or emotional abuse, what matters is how you feel". Children are full of this rhetoric, they get it every where - at school, on tea-time television, in magazines and at the local swimming pool. Even board games are dedicated to it.

Children often give the right answers and carry on anyway in their own time, squabbling. Despite this, I am seriously worried about the consequences of the sentiments, the intervention of these ideas and the scrutiny of all their relationships. I think it is time to ask whether this intensive onslaught of scare stories and advice is necessary and in particular, it is time to reflect on what we are teaching our children through these policies.

Children are given a message that they are constantly prone to abuse from everyone. It cannot be wise to tell children to scrutinise each other for nasty behaviour every minute of the day; it can breed suspicion.

Through these good intentions to prevent disputes, children do not get a chance to run their own relationships. They have no time without adults prying into their affairs. This can only shelter them and stultify their understanding about relationships. An adult can set an example but should not always be in the way. Not only does "behaviour management" foster mistrust and prevent children from exploring their own parameters of relationships, it does not allow them to sort their own problems out. Instead they learn that an adult will do that for them.

If a child is distraught, this does not mean we should stop everything to organise and sanitise their lives for them. Sometimes they need to learn to do it themselves, otherwise they may turn to us too much. We could be breeding a passive generation that turns away from their problems to the third party to resolve. I think we need to ignore some of their squabbles and allow our children the freedom to make mistakes, get in trouble and to grow up.

The writer is a researcher in child development.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links