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
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Jonathan de Guzman of the Netherlands and Willian of Brazil compete for the ball
world cup 2014LIVE BLOG: Hosts Brazil take on the Netherlands in third-place play-off
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice