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
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

    Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

    £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

    Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

    Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

    £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor