In Defense of Teachable Moments
I would like to thank the girls who cornered me and hailed brutal insults at me in elementary school. For, without them, I may not have developed the character and strength I gladly possess. I learned valuable lessons from those exchanges, and they have contributed to the successes I experience today. As a mother and an educator, it saddens me to see the safety bubble being placed around our children with a “zero tolerance” protocol pervading our school system. I believe this philosophy is preventing our youth from gaining important life skills, and from expressing themselves in the ways children in schoolyards have throughout history.
Of course, I am deeply saddened by families whose children have suffered or perished as a result of school violence, and empathize with those who have witnessed their loved ones fall victim to hurtful teasing. As a result of the devastating incident at Columbine, as well as far too many episodes of teenage suicide, our society has responded with what appears to be a panacea to prevent any more of these unfortunate episodes. Ignoring the potential impact of untreated depression or the stress of too much schoolwork and the pressure to succeed, the prescription is thus: wipe out all teasing, eliminate all acts of aggression.
And so, the finger has been pointed (perhaps in the wrong direction) at bullying, and the pendulum has swung way too far into the direction of paranoia. But without some level of teasing or bullying, our children are being denied crucial opportunities to learn about themselves and others. They are missing the chance to develop internal coping mechanisms as well as the occasion to negotiate difficult social situations, since we are doing it for them. I fear we are raising a generation of invertebrates, unable to deal with life’s challenges, expecting someone to come to their rescue instead of rescuing themselves.
In my experience, the only way to stop bullying is for the victim to stand up for one’s self, and personally declare boundaries for the one who is testing the parameters of appropriate social behavior. I believe it is our duty as parents and educators to arm our children with the knowledge it takes to accomplish this task.
My own son has been teased and bullied. This type of interaction is to be expected as part of typical childhood development and experience. Fortunately, I have used these events as an opportunity for my son to build his confidence, not deplete it, as well as to teach him how to diffuse precarious situations with a sense of humor. Moments of taunting have led to discussions with my child as to why others’ opinions are important to him (and why they shouldn’t be). An older kid had been making hurtful remarks to him after school every day. We discussed possible comebacks, a way for my son to have a voice and take care of himself, because the world isn’t going to. When the tormentor in question told my son, “I don’t like your stupid haircut,” my son shot back with, “I don’t like your attitude.” The kid never bothered him again. In fact, he started treating my son nicely. Standing up to teasing and bullying can be a way of earning respect from one’s peers, putting the bully in their place and laying the groundwork to nurturing self-respect as well.
We live in a time of excessive lawsuits and laws, thwarting our inherent need to develop critical interpersonal tools, and preventing us to thrive as individuals and as a society. Teasing and bullying have been a part of social interaction throughout history. Are we really going to eradicate it? I think not. And I hope not. For if we do, we erase the opportunities for our children to become self-reliant adults.
Felice Schachter, MSEd
And now for my meager thoughts…
I’ve long said and posted that zero tolerance equates to zero common sense… the realities are kids since the days of the caveman have created their own pecking order, we are after all just animals with a little more aptitude – some more than others, so the inherent and primitive need to establish a hierarchy is in my un-scientific opinion is genetic and old as time itself. We establish this order as children, as teens, as young adults and adults and somebody is always looked to to be the leader of the pack, its a herd mentality. So again in my opinion – children, lacking the sophistication of adults (generally speaking) have a more brutal method of establishing this hierarchy – it is done through bullying, fighting, teasing and posturing. It doesn’t really change a lot as we age and hopefully mature, it just becomes subtler. We never end bullying but as parent it is our job to teach our kids how to deal with it, just as our parent did and theirs before us and so on and son on. Educators and society have taken to blaming bullying for every ill a child encounters – well it has been said and bares repeating there are no bad children, only bad parents. And as recently as today I saw a story of a 7 year old child that seemingly took his own life and bullying was blamed well the story goes on the say that the parent had recently separated… could this have been the cause? A 7-year-old child’s parent split and this is not suspect but bullying at school is? To me that doesn’t add up – I’d ask about the parents – if in fact the child was being bullied where were they? To busying dealing with they own issues and ignoring the child? Bullying didn’t kill this child nor any child the failure of the parent to pay attention to their child’s life and what was happening in it is what killed them. I could go on but this is not my post and I’ve said too much already.
Perhaps I’ll continue another day.