The kids are all right

24th December 2004 at 00:00
Today's anti-bullying culture is in danger of producing a mollycoddled generation with a victim mindset, says Stuart Waiton

The British social attitudes survey recently published a report arguing that the age of teenage rebellion is over. This backs up a point I made a few years ago after research into the Hamilton curfew, where I concluded that, in terms of insecurities, there was no longer a generation gap. In a sense, the desire to rebel has been replaced by a sense of vulnerability, vulnerability that today affects both adults and young people.

A sense of vulnerability is one of the most powerful cultural forces today, encouraging us all in a myriad of ways to understand ourselves as people who have things done to them, rather than being doers.

Take bullying for example, which has made the headlines again thanks to the Government-backed anti-bullying week, sponsored by BBC Radio 1, which is encouraging us all to wear blue wrist bands to show that we are "aware".

On the Beat Bullying website, you will find a gaggle of celebrities clamouring to identify with this morally upstanding, victim-centred campaign. Indeed, identifying with a victim - or better still, identifying yourself as a victim - carries with it a weight of cultural validation today, which is difficult if not impossible to challenge. Unfortunately, this use of victim self-identification often comes from the top down and in the hands of politicians has some damaging implications for robust political debate and for democracy itself.

Take a recent headline, "Bullied, patronised and abused," which referred not to children, but to women MPs who revealed "the truth about life inside Westminster".

Past Labour women MPs would no doubt have had to deal with a certain amount of boorish behaviour in Parliament, but few if any of these women - who, after all, are in an extremely powerful position - would have identified themselves as "victims".

Or take the despicable example of Frank McAveety, the then Minister for Culture and Tourism, who this year took two anti-war protesters to court for shouting at him, making him feel "scared and intimidated".

Politicians often promote the idea of the need for positive role models today, and if the role model they are seeking is weak, fragile and constantly runs to teacher to tell tales, then they appear to be doing a pretty good job of it themselves.

In schools, of course, children are also being encouraged to view themselves in this way and pupils in Scotland as young as five years old are having bullying awareness classes as part of their personal and social education. Hopefully, most teachers will maintain their common sense when discussing these issues, but with the institutionalisation of bullying "education", predicated upon the notion that any amount of name- calling is a form of abuse, a common-sense understanding of childhood difficulties is perhaps more difficult today than ever before.

Similarly, when children and parents are being educated about the damaging impact of conflicts between pupils, and schools are being sued for not protecting children better, a form of bureaucratic intolerance is likely to develop in schools, where every minor incident is taken as seriously as the rare extreme cases of bullying.

In reality, most children are not seriously bullied at school, and similarly most young people are not "abusers", as today's supposedly child-friendly, anti-bullying campaigners are implying. Unfortunately, through these Government and school-sponsored campaigns, young people are being encouraged to view themselves as vulnerable victims of their peers'

unpleasantries. The capacity of children to learn how to deal with one another is being undermined.

Thankfully, not everyone has adopted to the culture of vulnerability and praise must be given to the sheriff who ridiculed Frank McAveety, telling him that "if this was the most frightening thing he has experienced in his career, then he must live a very sheltered life". In a society full of conflicts and difficulties, the last thing children need is a "sheltered life".

If headteachers in Scotland, as some I know have done, reject this view of young people as being fundamentally vulnerable and encourage them to be more robust, we may yet create a future generation which is prepared to rebel against our self-pitying politicians.

Stuart Waiton is director of

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