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When 'bullying' is just learning how to get along

Breaking up fights in the playground could stunt children's development, according to a report by a parents' lobby group for children's rights.

A little fighting and a spot of light bullying can help children "learn the lessons of life", says the charity, Families for Freedom.

Schools are increasingly obsessed with anti-bullying strategies, claims the group. Play-fighting and real fighting are essential if children are to learn how to get along with others, how to manage relationships, and about the responsibilities of being a friend.

Tiffany Jenkins, FFF chair, says: "We are still concerned with children's welfare, but we worry that constant adult interference is stopping children learning essential life skills. In later life everyone has to deal with unwanted attention, arguments and confrontation. If children don't learn to deal with these things early in life, how will they cope later?" The report is published in the same week as a survey of seven to 11-year-olds revealed that bullying was the biggest cause of truancy. Almost 70 per cent of the children surveyed by the Observer and Short Change, the BBC's consumer programme, said bullying was their main worry.

One in 10 children admitted to truanting, and one in five of those said they skipped classes at least once a week to avoid bullies.

One boy said: "People kept shouting names at me. I wanted them to leave me alone and they wouldn't stop, so I skived off."

The FFF report argues that modern definitions of bullying fall into a trap of equating relatively harmless manipulative behaviour with serious aggression.

It says: "Making faces is not the same as systematic aggression. Name-calling is not the same as inflicting vicious injury repeatedly. These definitions trivialise serious and destructive behaviour.

"Twenty years ago name-calling, pushing and teasing happened without much fuss. Obviously we don't want to see proper bullying ignored, but these days it is increasingly rare for children to form relationships without an adult interfering."

A spokesperson for ChildLine last night dismissed as "nonsense" the idea that any form of bullying can be "somehow character- building". Over the past five years, ChildLine has received 70,000 calls from children worried about bullies.

A quarter were from children worried about name-calling or teasing, although the majority were to do with physical violence such as hitting, kicking and punching. The spokesperson said: "Name-calling and teasing are commonly dismissed by adults, but how would they feel if they went to work every day and were ignored or jeered at. We wouldn't put up with it, so why should children?"

The FFF report is part of The Kids are Alright, a series on child safety from Families for Freedom, The Worldwrite Centre, 14 Theobald's Road, London, WC1X 8PF. Tel. 0181 691 5350

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