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let anarchy prevail
January 26, 2014 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Primary school in New Zealand ditches safety rules, loses bullies in the process. But this wasn't a playtime revolution, it was just a return to the days before health and safety policies came to rule.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research project, said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds. "The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it's more dangerous in the long-run." Society's obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking, he said. Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. "You can't teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn't develop by watching TV, they have to get out there."
posted by philip-random (62 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
wrap up in cotton wool: to protect someone too much without allowing them to be independent enough (British & Australian)

From here
posted by themanwho at 11:37 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


I dunno. I grew up way back in the day before safety rules and the sort of thing this guy goes-on about, and I assure you the playgrounds were still full of bullies. Gangs of them. Maybe it's a US v NZ thing? The US seems to breed far more psychopaths than most other places.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:37 AM on January 26 [29 favorites]


It's like if we stopped issuing DUIs, the DUI rate would go to zero!
posted by simra at 11:39 AM on January 26 [15 favorites]


It's all fun and games until someone puts a pig's head on a stick
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:39 AM on January 26 [113 favorites]


Every time I have served as a substitute teacher in an elementary school PE class, I've spent all day waiting for the seemingly inevitable lawsuit that will come when little Timmy rides his scooter face-first into a wall.

As a teacher (and an adult) I'm totally fine with letting kids fall down and go boom and learn for themselves. Childhood always involves bruises. Sadly, many parents don't see things that way.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:40 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


As a teacher (and an adult) I'm totally fine with letting kids fall down and go boom and learn for themselves. Childhood always involves bruises. Sadly, many parents don't see things that way.


And then their kids win Darwin Awards within a week of arriving at college
posted by ocschwar at 11:41 AM on January 26 [5 favorites]


This is a long-standing argument (about safety and letting kids fall down and stuff) that's always interesting to hear, but particularly with regard to bullying, assuming a causal relationship here because this one school did this one thing and saw a variety of positive results seems like a giant leap. There doesn't even seem to be an attempt to explain why the rule-suspending would reduce bullying other than a vague suggestion that kids are less bored, which, even if true, suggests it's more about giving kids lots of stuff to do, and not letting them take risks, that reduces bullying.

This is just the kind of anecdotal "we should go back to the old days!" story that makes me itchy.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:47 AM on January 26 [46 favorites]


Perhaps there's more behind this article, but so far it seems like anecdata to me. There's no concrete evidence offered for why "ditching safety rules" should lead to no bullying (my own experience shows otherwise, because I grew up when these rules weren't there and sure there were bullies) or for how long this experiment has been run or what exactly it entails.

Bad journalism.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:51 AM on January 26 [5 favorites]


Maybe it's a US v NZ thing?
It is not. I was in an NZ school before safety rules.

I actually think that the article is spot-on about children needing to develop risk-taking behaviours, but to link that with reduced bullying? Highly dubious.
posted by Paragon at 11:51 AM on January 26 [13 favorites]


Man, being a parent or an educator is a just a never ending fun parade of being told by other people how Ur Doin' it Wrong. Our playgrounds were plenty unsafe, and plenty full of bullies when I was a kid. I don't buy that there's any connection.

I don't mind an intelligent conversation on "how much risk taking is healthy for kids?" but smug pat proclamations about all us stupid parents and our stupid overprotective ways just get my hackles up.

Unstructured play is a great thing, I am all for it. Depending on the age of the kid, I am also for a certain amount of risk-taking. At the same time, I am keenly aware that any injury my child sustains while taking these healthy risks will be immediately blamed on my negligence as a parent by the selfsame people who sniff about helicopter parents. And teachers are in the same trap, if not a worse one: at least I'm not responsible for 30 kids at a time.
posted by emjaybee at 11:59 AM on January 26 [17 favorites]


My understanding is that lawsuits are much more rare because the legal system in NZ bars most forms of personal injury litigation.

This was evident to us in the steamboat ride down the lake from Queenstown where the captain happily asked if our kids would like to steer the boat; that kind of attitude was super refreshing and really endeared the place to us forever.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:59 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


My understanding is that lawsuits [in New Zealand] are much more rare because the legal system bars most forms of personal injury litigation.

This is correct. There's a no-fault government-run Accident Compensation scheme. Have an accident at work, playing sport, etc? You get a payout - but you can't sue someone for causing the accident. That said, there are of course health and safety rules, and the debate over those is probably similar to other countries, with the right arguing that they're overly-restrictive and bureaucratic, and the left that they're needed to protect workers in industries like forestry and construction.
posted by Pink Frost at 12:05 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]



My understanding is that lawsuits are much more rare because the legal system bars most forms of personal injury litigation.


Yep, welcome to the wonderful world of NZ tort reform.

"ACC is the sole and compulsory provider of accident insurance for all work and non-work injuries. The ACC Scheme is administered on a no-fault basis, so that anyone regardless of the way in which they incurred an injury, is eligible for coverage under the Scheme. Due to the Scheme's no-fault basis, people who have suffered personal injury do not have the right to sue an at-fault party, except for exemplary damages." [source]
posted by Paragon at 12:05 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


IMO, bullies exist because major Western societies thrive on exploitation, ignoring boundaries, and triumphing over your peers. We do not place value on communication, community, differences, or teamwork. It's no wonder our children attack each other. They don't see kindness modeled in enough places. Too stringent playground rules are just a finger in the dam response, not the actual cause.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:07 PM on January 26 [15 favorites]


Perhaps there's more behind this article, but so far it seems like anecdata to me.

They studied eight schools. Statisticians, what would make a proper sample?

We do not place value on communication, community, differences, or teamwork.


They do nothing but that in my kid's school. Perhaps the bullying is rebellion against that?
posted by IndigoJones at 12:09 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


We had lots of unstructured play as kids, and we had lots of bullies too... but the little bastards knew they couldn't go too far, or they'd risk the rest of the feral pack ganging up and savaging them. We sorted shit out with physical violence, which was at least open and above-board, and probably much less painful than the hidden mental torture you see today. Kids are such nasty little creatures.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 12:13 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


I went back to my primary school (ages 5-12) with my daughter a few weeks back. They used to have a telegraph pole set into concrete with car tires bolted to it all the way to the top. So a possible 7 metre fall onto concrete.

It's not there any more.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:20 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


It's like if we stopped issuing DUIs, the DUI rate would go to zero!

Well, yes.
posted by mattoxic at 12:26 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


We "place value" on those thighs at my schools too. I would argue that in many school systems those are concepts that students are told are important, but they're rarely shown how to make those concepts happen in real life. We say to our kids, work in teams! It's good for you! And then we are confused when teamwork looks more like fighting and power grabs. It's no coincidence in my school that the teachers struggle with the same concepts, largely because we're underpaid and overworked. Needs aren't being met, and that leaves doors wide open for bullying.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:28 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


Let's scale this up planetwide and make our children the Sardaukar of politeness.
posted by forgetful snow at 12:32 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Whether or not dangerous playgrounds reduce incidents of bullying - which seems like a great idea for a randomized controlled study that doesn't appear to have been done yet - it's also worth asking whether dangerous playgrounds have other benefits that outweigh the risks.

Last night I watched one of the Up series, all of which end with a scene in a 60's London playground. Each and every time, I'm astonished by how dangerous, and how incredibly fun the playground looks. It puts the playgrounds of my childhood to shame.

Having grown up in a fairly rough-and-tumble rural area in the US in the 80s, with unguarded twenty foot drops and rusty ladders in the playground and and endless supply of snake-infested hiking trails and crumbly rock walls to climb, I'm often dismayed at the boring safety of the playgrounds I encounter in US cities today. At the same time, I didn't know many kids who failed to break an arm or two growing up.

Speaking just for myself, I'm grateful that I didn't grow up in the padded and plastic world my friends' kids inhabit. Not only was it more fun, but I suspect I leaned a lot of useful skills in the process. But, whether that good is worth the number of cases of brain-trauma and dental reconstruction that also go along with it isn't an easy question to answer.
posted by eotvos at 12:34 PM on January 26 [5 favorites]


Weak article. Spitballing hypotheses:

-The rules legitimized bullying within their constraints.
-The rules were used for bullying
-Children vented their aggression through previously forbidden aggressive/competitive play rather than bullying
-Children less frequently saw the exercise of dominion over others modeled by adults
-When the children were treated more often as rule breakers, they responded by breaking rules
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 12:36 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a "loose parts pit" which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

"The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It's during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school."


Remember that parent who would let his baby play with messed up stuff like screwdrivers and hammers? And then they would say "oh look at little Timmy, he's just playing with his tools...this is good parenting I'm doing!". This is what this article sounds like to me.

Also, take away all rules and people will understand that it's a free-for-all. Of course they won't tell an adult they are being bullied...because NOTHING will be done about it. But a decreased incident of reporting doesn't mean the incidents are going down.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Really! So what they are saying is that less kids reported injuries and bullying once the teachers who overlooked this were not there? Let's take away firefighters, I'm sure there will be fewer fires that way.

This reminds me of police chiefs in college towns who claim that the incidences of rapes are going down. They know this because fewer women are reporting it. And it has absolutely nothing to do with that new policy where a woman who alleges rape has the added humiliation of having to pay for her own rape kit.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:41 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


There doesn't even seem to be an attempt to explain why the rule-suspending would reduce bullying other than a vague suggestion that kids are less bored, which, even if true, suggests it's more about giving kids lots of stuff to do, and not letting them take risks, that reduces bullying.

This is just the kind of anecdotal "we should go back to the old days!" story that makes me itchy.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:47 AM on January 26 [7 favorites +


I'm not a social scientist, a teacher or even a parent -- just the guy that posted this FPP. I realize it's thin, just one article from a foreign news source ... but it struck me as immediately interesting and worth sharing, because it seems to speak to my favorite kind of truth -- the counter-intuitive kind.

From the article:

When the university study wrapped up at the end of last year the school and researchers were amazed by the results.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.


At the very least, this tells me that more study into the issue is required. Because, of course unrestricted free play won't stop all bullying (it certainly didn't in my growing up), but if significantly does so in one (or eight) situation(s), then why the hell wouldn't we check our assumptions look deeper into the issue?

The goal shouldn't be to just go back to "the good ole days", but to look critically at where we are now (the good of it and the bad) and not be afraid to resurrect some old wisdom.
posted by philip-random at 12:44 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


It's also possible that many bullies are kids who are drawn to excitement, physical prowess, competition and trouble making in general and giving those kids a bit more freedom to run wild gives them something to do that's not torturing their peers out of boredom. We weren't allowed fight other kids but we were free to do any number of dangerously exciting unsupervised things that probably scratched a similar itch. There were definitely broken bones and concussions and I did see my own tibia once but in my tiny school/town a pretty diverse group of kids got along for the most part. If we'd been locked inside together I'm sure we'd have turned on each other from sheer tedium in 10 minutes.
posted by fshgrl at 12:56 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


From my experience as an aging guy who grew up as bully bait in the era before such "health and safety" rules, BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT.

However, I did have the psychic payback of seeing one of my bullies, a star high-school quarterback, get his neck broken from a bad tackle in a practice scrimmage, and another, on a post-graduation drunken bender, fall to his death from a 3th floor balcony. It didn't help, except to cure me from wishing bad things to befall even the worst people.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:05 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Oh my god I wrote thighs, not things. That changes the meaning of everything I was trying to say there.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:11 PM on January 26 [7 favorites]


Very interesting. I could imagine an increase bullying, or undesirable risk taking, being caused by certain excessively tight safety standards. And minor injuries might teach kids to avoid violence in particular.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:12 PM on January 26


There wasn't much attention to safety when I was in elementary school. But at the same time, the "playground" was basically a flat area enclosed in a high chain link fence, very much reminiscent of the arena in Thunderdome, and with similar power dynamics. It was not at all the varied and engaging setup described here -- making me suspect that it is less a question of coddling and more about high quality experiences and physical fun. Better living through design indeed.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:17 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I think it's a huge stretch to link this change to a reduction in bullying, because I also grew up in an era of mostly unsupervised school playgrounds and plenty of bullying happened. It's a shame this seems to be the focus, because I doubt it's likely to be the most important benefit. I don't support the idea of making everything like the 'good old days' but the pendulum of risk-acceptance has swung way too far in the direction of both 'little Johnny is so precious and delicate that he must be totally protected at all times from any possibility of harm' and 'if little Johnny gets so much as a scratch, someone has to be blamed and they will pay'. I have no doubt that the legal environment in NZ helped make this experiment possible simply by removing the risk that a minor or perceived injury or negative consequence would result in massive financial or career disasters for all involved, but trying to pretend that removing supervision of kids results in no bullying is just nonsense.

I do think that he cotton-wooling of children has been one of the greatest mistakes in society and means we have failed to teach a whole generation of children about what they are capable of physically and the pleasure of being physically active. I would love to see a return to the unstructured and, yes, more risky, approach to play combined with some of the improvements to safety of play equipment such as soft-fall areas that were lacking in my childhood. One of the most favoured pieces of playground equipment in the primary school I attended was a massive globe made of pipes that, apart from the basic structure, was welded together by parents during a weekend working bee out of a huge pile of offcuts. The outer structure was filled with pipes at all sorts of angles, making all sorts of shapes to climb through and around and kids loved it. You knew you were cool when you were game to climb up the outside and stand on the top of the whole thing (probably about 4 metres high, but it seemed higher to us at he time). The only problem was that it sat on a bitumen pad and that meant falling was likely to result in injury (me often did). A good soft-fall area under it would have removed most of the risk of significant injury without removing the fun of taking the risk of falling. Were such a structure to be considered today, the required protection would make it unachievable and, in any case, suck all the fun out of it. I never saw my own tibia during my childhood, but I did see my own knee-cap twice. There was a brief moment in the video linked by eotvos that brought home to me the massive change that has happened - two kids are rolling a tyre along and one of them gets smacked in the eye with the other's hand in the process. He rubs the eye for a few seconds and carries on. In today's playground, the supervising teacher would have had to apply first aid, fill in an incident report, notify parents at least after the fact and a whole chain of action would have to be taken that it's no wonder schools themselves are afraid to let kids take risks - they can't afford the staffing cost!

I also think that the 'obesity crisis' is in part caused by a whole generation of kids that have been prevented from exploring their physicality and discouraged from being active because we're too scared they'll hurt themselves. In trying to protect them, we are consigning them to a life of obesity and chronic illness.
posted by dg at 1:22 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


I also think that the 'obesity crisis' is in part caused by a whole generation of kids that have been prevented from exploring their physicality and discouraged from being active because we're too scared they'll hurt themselves. In trying to protect them, we are consigning them to a life of obesity and chronic illness.

Well it's not like 'back in the day, all us kids would run 4 miles before going to school'. It's more like 'back in the day, we didn't have junk food that was more affordable and accessible than healthy food'.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:27 PM on January 26


Yes, of course, diet has had an impact. I'm not so convinced that we had access to a particularly healthy diet as it is understood now. I mean, we used to eat dripping sandwiches regularly (for those that don't know, 'dripping' was the fat and assorted stuff that was collected after cooking meat, particularly roasting it). Basically, two pieces of white bread, buttered then slathered with a layer of congealed fat. It's more the combination of cheap and readily available high-protein food and sedentary lifestyles than it is one or the other.
posted by dg at 1:32 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Perhaps there's more behind this article, but so far it seems like anecdata to me.

They studied eight schools. Statisticians, what would make a proper sample?


There are formulae for calculating a desirable sample size but you have to provide some values like the total population size, set confidence levels, etc. If they're collecting just school-level data, I suppose it would be easiest to produce estimates of how much total bullying at a school will be reduced by reverting to the rule-minimalist paradigm of child management, so the population would be maybe all the primary schools in NZ.

But as Linda_Holmes said upthread, this doesn't prove that the rule reversion itself is what led to a decrease in bullying, and it might be the case that it decreased due to changes that don't necessitate abandoning contemporary standards for safety. On the other hand, it wouldn't be correct either to infer that bullying couldn't possibly be reduced by these changes because bullying may still happen even with them: the changes could reduce it from a baseline in which the child-coddling practices attain.

However, what really caught my eye in the story is this:

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing..."The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It's during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school."

This strikes me as just slightly odd and incongruous. When children are left to their own devices, when they're unencumbered by rules, they become motivated and busy and engaged? That seems like a strange way to describe children in a state of play, doesn't it? Maybe they seem that way because they're pursuing their own ends freely, but it's weird to advocate for getting rid of unnecessary and oppressive rule structures because it makes kids behave like perfect little worker bees. It actually sounds like they're describing the effects of ADHD medication. Maybe I'm over-interpreting what that school official meant, though.

Of course it's possible that things like attention and motivation are just naturally augmented by greater emotional/psychological well-being, derived in part from greater opportunities for full physical exertion, and this rule reversion just contributes to children experiencing that. It's an interesting and complex story.
posted by clockzero at 1:37 PM on January 26


We did not fear strangers harming our kids 30 years ago the way we do now. Were we more safe then, or just oblivious to the kids that did get harmed?

We let kids play more dangerously, but of course those of us who are alive now are clearly not the ones who were seriously harmed by that practice. The kids who did break their necks or get run over or drowned aren't here to tell us their stories.

Kids had more outside time in the past. Is that because of helicopter parenting or because it's impossible for most families to have one caretaker at home anymore who could be there to keep tabs on the kids? Or maybe because one visit to the ER could drain the family's savings and even mean a lot of questions from CPS? Or because kids love computer games and didn't have them 30 years ago?

And while we are all experts on our own childhoods, childhood experiences vary wildly, even within the same time periods. Being an expert on your own childhood doesn't mean you really know what's going on with kids now.

These aren't simple questions, is what I'm saying. The forces that determine what a given kid's childhood is like are very complex and only a few of them are related to how "protective" their parents are.

Most parents are doing the best they can with the resources they have. It would be nice if instead of deciding that things like obesity or lack of outdoor play are their fault, we tried to see what kinds of pressures might be having an effect. It makes more sense than deciding that sometime in the last 30 years, adults unilaterally decided that kids should be overprotected for no reason at all.
posted by emjaybee at 1:42 PM on January 26 [5 favorites]


When children are left to their own devices, when they're unencumbered by rules, they become motivated and busy and engaged? That seems like a strange way to describe children in a state of play, doesn't it?

I took the inference to be that, if kids were free to take risks etc in unstructured play situations, then when they returned to class they were better "motivated, busy and engaged". In other words, let the wild spirit play for a while and later the mind will focus better ...
posted by philip-random at 1:45 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


Like many of us who grew up in the relatively unsafe playgrounds of the 1970s-1980s, I'm not entirely convinced that getting rid of rules led to less bullying. But I am interested in reading a fuller picture of exactly what the school did in terms of jettisoning rules, how they determined there was less bullying going on, and how the researchers gathered and interpreted data. I'd be interesting in reading the completed study.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:52 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


What so many commenters are missing above is that this study, the children involved and the teachers come from not the USA. NZ has vastly different community environment, social history and ways of operating within the community, than the US does. Just because US posters can't imagine this working speaks more to American culture than it does to the study.
posted by Kerasia at 2:00 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Kerasia, note that question was asked, and Paragon pointed out that he was in NZ schools before health and safety rules and there was still bullying. And I've heard plenty of accounts of UK and Irish school bullying in the old days that they are proposing to go back to.

So I'm with those that suspect that this is some combination of children realizing that there's no point in complaining because nothing will be done because there are no rules, and someone of a 'Hawthorne effect' -- that they are mistaking the positive result from adding different opportunities for the positive result of adding danger. Ie, if you instead added new, safe opportunities, you would also see a positive result.
posted by tavella at 2:14 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


(Oops, I meant to write *interested* in, not "interesting in." Sigh.)

I'm actually not American either, and I definitely am not dismissing out of hand the possibility that bullying decreased. But I do wish there were more info in the article--I am genuinely curious how the researchers and school measured their results and came to their final conclusions. That's probably an unrealistic expectation of a brief news article, though.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:21 PM on January 26


I've lived in NZ all my life (and the school mentioned in the article is about 13 miles from where I'm typing this). My wife is American. We have compared notes. That doesn't make either of us representative of our respective community environments, cultures, etc., but I personally agree with the posters above who are sceptical of these findings.
posted by Paragon at 2:23 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I'd like to know what exactly these rules were, that they got rid of.
posted by freakazoid at 2:45 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


However, what really caught my eye in the story is this:

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing..."The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It's during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school."


This strikes me as just slightly odd and incongruous. When children are left to their own devices, when they're unencumbered by rules, they become motivated and busy and engaged? That seems like a strange way to describe children in a state of play, doesn't it? Maybe they seem that way because they're pursuing their own ends freely, but it's weird to advocate for getting rid of unnecessary and oppressive rule structures because it makes kids behave like perfect little worker bees. It actually sounds like they're describing the effects of ADHD medication. Maybe I'm over-interpreting what that school official meant, though.

Of course it's possible that things like attention and motivation are just naturally augmented by greater emotional/psychological well-being, derived in part from greater opportunities for full physical exertion, and this rule reversion just contributes to children experiencing that. It's an interesting and complex story.



What I want to say regarding ALL the data which says "fewer paid teachers makes for better children" is:

SHOW ME THE DATA!!!

I'd LOVE to know how they measured increased concentration levels in school. Because honestly, this article just sounds like some principal boning hard about how his school is awesome. Well duh, he's going to say that.

SHOW ME THE DATA!!! This is research...now where is the paper?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:47 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


What so many commenters are missing above is that this study, the children involved and the teachers come from not the USA. NZ has vastly different community environment, social history and ways of operating within the community, than the US does. Just because US posters can't imagine this working speaks more to American culture than it does to the study.

I was in schools in the US, UK, and Europe for portions of my childhood, during an era when playgrounds were made of asphalt and there might be maybe one teacher on duty. There was still bullying.
posted by rtha at 2:51 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I'm also not American and grew up in NZ. I'm also skeptical about 'findings' that show significant reductions in bullying as a result of this. Although I wouldn't be surprised if there was some reduction (and how it's measured would be interesting ...), I doubt that it would be huge. For all the free-wheeling, letting kids be kids attitude of my childhood, there was plenty of bullying. Plenty.
posted by dg at 2:51 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


"The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It's during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school."

Anybody who has ever seen children busy, motivated and engaged in bullying, graffiti and wrecking things knows this is bullshit.
posted by layceepee at 3:05 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


I could see this being like wearing a helmet in American football counter-intuitively leading to more injuries. Maybe kids provoke each other more when they know a teacher will be there to break it up.
posted by subdee at 3:24 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


I have the cats and one bullies the other two. I've tried both stating firmly to her that bullying is not tolerated and I've also experimented with just letting her do whatever. Data suggest both approaches result in the same outcome.

Maybe I just need to give her more active cat activities, but she really kicks the behinds of the other two cats when I break out the old feather on a stick. Sometimes I fear incarceration will be the only solution but I'm not comfortable locking myself up just yet.

(I've also noticed bullying in many other non-human species which makes me question whether there might be some deeper causes of bullying than socialization and safety rules)
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:25 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Now reminded of that horrid and interesting old website Law of The Playground.
posted by ovvl at 3:31 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Anybody who has ever seen children busy, motivated and engaged in bullying, graffiti and wrecking things knows this is bullshit.
posted by layceepee


except that if they're "... busy, motivated and engaged" in something positive and/or neutral, they'll burn the relevant energy in that activity. The point being (and I tend to agree), young humans need to be motivated and engaged by something/anything. If it can't be something positive or neutral, then trust that it will be negative.
posted by philip-random at 3:48 PM on January 26


Kids need to be engaged pretty much all the time. If you put them in an environment where there is insufficient stimulation, they'll find something to do. If there's nothing else, they'll start destroying the place. There's too much energy inside kids and it has to be burnt off or they'll explode.
posted by dg at 4:19 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


...playgrounds were still full of bullies. Gangs of them. Maybe it's a US v NZ thing?

Australian here. Can confirm primary and secondary school were still lousy with bullies.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:44 PM on January 26


I encountered a variety of school environments and only attended ONE school in which I was not bullied. Emerson in Berkley, California.

Emerson was one of the very first schools in the country to include children with severe disabilities, such as blindness.

The school had a way of helping children not bully by teaching empathy. In the cafeteria, you helped these kids nicely if they needed it. In the halls, and walking home.

This was simply done. Because Berkley is a college town, there were professors who brought their families from all over the place, and no problems about race or ethnicity in that school or religion either.
The blind triplets were sought after playmates. Everyone helped, and I didn't have a second's meanness from anyone there.
The playground had wood-chips. There was a teacher on duty.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:45 PM on January 26


At school (primary and high school) we played bullrush (or British Bulldog as we called it) and it was pretty damn brutal.

It also made an excellent cover for bullying, because it was "just a game".
Concussions were not uncommon.
posted by Mezentian at 5:57 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I find myself wondering how the school defines "bullying", especially since I've seen a lot of places use it to mean "any form of unkindness directed at another child" rather than (as most mefites use it) "sustained, intentional actions by someone with more power in the social hierarchy against someone weaker in order to hurt or humiliate them". I think the broader and more anodyne definition is used because it works better with a lot of "you can't say you can't play"-level anti-bullying techniques. But it doesn't really describe what most kids who were sustainedly bullied experienced.

In any case - if the school uses "bullying" to mean "meanness", then it seems likely that more freedom to play would reduce bullying, because it would clear out a lot of stress-related fights and dominance stuff, and the kids who pick at each other because they're bored would have something else to do, plus unstructured play would mean that kids who don't like each other can stay away from each other, and kids who are good at kickball can be kickball stars while the kids who are good at climbing can be climbing stars.

Naturally, this wouldn't touch the deeper-seated kind of stuff where a couple of kids in each year are just utterly victimized for their race, gender-presentation, class status, etc - the stuff that folks here talk about when they describe their own experience of being bullied. That doesn't mean it's not worth doing, of course.

(I always suspect that teachers like the anodyne definition of bullying because it allows them to remain oblivious to just how badly a handful of kids get treated - they can describe bullying as if it's not mostly directly toward a few victims, as if everyone "bullies" and "gets bullied", and as if it's all on the level of a little light name-calling between social equals.)
posted by Frowner at 7:22 PM on January 26 [5 favorites]


Way to overthink things, guys. A group of schools actually take steps to improve schooling and now they're full of BS because it's not a science experiment. They never claimed it eliminated bulling completely. They never claimed it was a scientific study. They just decided to try some common sense. Good on them.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 9:13 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


But these beans are from Watties, and so, so fresh.
From the farm to the freezer to the plate.
posted by Mezentian at 10:40 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Actually, the article claims that it is part of a university study (with the implication that it's "scientific"). I looked up the university professor mentioned in the article, but didn't find any associated publication for this article.

I'm with hal_c_on. Show me the data!
posted by FrereKhan at 1:00 AM on January 27


My understanding is that lawsuits are much more rare because the legal system in NZ bars most forms of personal injury litigation.

Lawsuits are much more rare because unlike the US, New Zealand has a civilised form of healthcare. If in the US you get hurt and need a $1000 ER visit (never mind that you're being overcharged) then you need to get that $1000 from somewhere. Which means that you sue. More so for more damage. If you're somewhere with a decent healthcare system you don't need to sue anyone for the $1000 because you don't have a hospital bill.
posted by Francis at 1:43 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


So all those lawsuits where the aggrieved party is awarded tens of millions of dollars in damages, they are just wanting to pay their medical bills?
posted by dg at 3:39 AM on January 27


Those large damages get awarded when companies have already paid a lot of small settlements, and seem willing to pay ssettlements forever because it's cheaper than reforming their practices. For instance, McDonald's paid thousands of small settlements for hot coffee before the infamous ten million dollar settlement.

In other words it's more about discouraging the company from continuing to settle than it is about picking out a lucky winner of the damages lottery.
posted by subdee at 7:10 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I thought this link was interesting (and I posted it to social media myself this weekend). I didn't take it as a prescriptive recipe to solve bullying, but more as an interesting anecdotal look at a thorny issue. Of course I wouldn't go marching down to my son's school and demand that they remove playground rules because I read this one article about a school that said they fixed bullying that way. It's just food for thought. I look forward to release of the proper scientific study. And yes, I am sceptical that is improved bullying, but I could see that it might help classroom concentration.

The reason this resonated with me was that as a parent who grew up in 70s 80s UK, and now has a son in a California elementary school, the differences between them shocks me sometimes. The lack of recess time - two 15 minute recesses plus 40 minutes for lunch. Not enough time to really let off steam. The amount of rules drives me batty. There's a play structure in the 1st grade yard, but kids are not allowed to play on it in the mornings before school. When I asked why, one of the teachers told me that the kids "aren't ready to settle down and concentrate if they play on the structure before school, they get all riled up". This sounds like utter bullshit to me (but obvs I am not a teacher). I don't think all the teachers share this view, but those are the rules and reasons. Also, they cannot play on the grass in the mornings - because sometimes its wet! They cannot play outside if its raining even slightly, and instead watch movies in the cafeteria at lunchtime if it rains. This differs greatly from my UK uphill-both-ways childhood.

Finally, one I am conflicted about is the approach to solving bullying by implementing structured play at recess, in order to teach teamwork, problem-solving, and have supervision. I see the value in that, so I am not dead set against it, but I feel strongly that kids do not have enough unstructured play time, so I chafe at structuring play in recess too. Thankfully its voluntary, so I'm OK with it. But at a friend's school they implemented the same thing and its not voluntary, which pissed her off, and would incense me too. Surely the point of PE lessons is to introduce these skills - but I know many districts have cut back PE classes.
posted by Joh at 10:06 AM on January 27


"Lawsuits are much more rare because unlike the US, New Zealand has a civilised form of healthcare. If in the US you get hurt and need a $1000 ER visit (never mind that you're being overcharged) then you need to get that $1000 from somewhere. Which means that you sue. More so for more damage. If you're somewhere with a decent healthcare system you don't need to sue anyone for the $1000 because you don't have a hospital bill."

You are absolutely right, but I can tell that you are not American by the way you think ER visits are likely to cost only a thousand dollars.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:27 AM on January 29


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