I have been involved in education for the ever since I entered kindergarten. As a student, I thought school was great when it was great and kind of was not so great when it was not. I realize that is kind of vague, but let’s just say I had some issues sometimes. We all have our educational baggage, right? We all have a story about that one kid or that one teacher or that one lunch lady. School should be a safe place that inspires learning in all students, but that is not the only thing that goes on in school. It is all learning, though. Some of it is good stuff or the book stuff; some of it builds character. And for a few kids, some of it is really bad.
Much of how we see our experiences in life is based on the lens that we bring to the moment. Children do not have natural lenses; their lenses have to be developed. Experience, other children, and adults all have an influence on the way in which children grow up to see the world and what happens to them.
Because of this, the words that we use with kids – how we teach them to see the experiences that happen to them – are very important. If we use words that are loaded with meaning to explain typical experiences, the experiences are no longer typical but blown up into something that is so much more than what they should be.
In my opinion, the word bullying is one of these words.
I know that children, teens, and even adults, experience with “aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative behavior” as well as “an imbalance of power aggressive behavior.” (See the Olweus website for more info.) I know that these things happen perhaps more often than we know about and that children are negatively impacted by these horrific experiences. And I know that these experiences stay in the memories of those involved and impact future action and decision making.
I know that this happens. I am not arguing that.
What I am arguing is that we in the education and parenting worlds now use bullying as a term to describe developmentally appropriate behaviors in children as young as kindergarten rather than disciplining the behavior and holding students accountable. They learn the terminology before they have even developed behaviors. We label behaviors as “bullying” and call students “bullies” which – in my opinion – is bullying in and of itself!
As a teacher and a parent, I am upset by this. I am upset that precious education time that could be spent on reading, math, and science – or even physical education! – is spent on teaching kids about bullying before they have become bullies (thus teaching them how to be bullies) and before they have experienced true bullying.
What is normal behavior and what is bullying? Do we create bullies by naming children who exhibit natural selfish and mean behavior as bullies? Would we, perhaps, be better off if we took away the name and the curriculum that we find about bullying and instead focusing on building resiliency in all children?
Is it normal for a teenager to stuff another teenager into a locker? Is it normal for second grade boys to shove a kindergarten girl into a snow bank? Is it normal for a fifth grader to take away a second graders hat on a regular basis?
Actually – I happen to think that it is pretty normal given the circumstances in each of the ones described above. Each of the “bullies” in the paragraph above had some issues to work out. They did not choose to work them out appropriately, but the children on the receiving end of their actions learned something (maybe years later) from the experience. Without those life experiences, the people who those children became may not have become who they are today.
I may not have become who I am today.
The first sibling set in the Bible – Cain and Abel – picked on each other, had jealousy, and even had so many issues that Cain killed Abel. This is not going away. As long as there are people, there will be hurtfulness and pain inflicted on each other. The question is not how to prevent the victims from getting hurt – even though that would be great (just not realistic) – the question is how will the victims walk away better. I realize that the Cain and Abel analogy breaks down in this case as Abel did not walk away.
I saw the poster to the left at a speech meet yesterday in the school’s cafeteria. I nearly laughed out loud. We are now selling anti-bullying kitsch? Do we really think that kids who wear these wristbands are somehow kinder to others because they are wearing the wristbands? Since when did something on our wrist change our behavior? And that is what we should be focusing on with this whole problem, right? Changing behavior.
Our focus in education should not be naming the behavior as bullying and discussing concepts such as bullying circles. Instead, our focus should be on building resiliency. Bad things are going to happen in life, and we cannot stop them from happening all the time. In fact, we should not stop them. The real question is what will we do with the bad things that happen to us. How will we react in the situation? What will we learn from it? How will the experience change us? And how will we choose to act?
Also – please do not think that I am advocating for less accountability for those whose actions harm others. In fact, I am calling for more accountability. Somewhere along the way, our schools have lost any credibility when it comes to classroom and playground discipline. I recently had a conversation with a friend who shared about some kids making a mess in the lunchroom. Guess who cleaned up their mess? The lunch ladies! This is outrageous and deplorable to me. We need to empower our schools and school officials. As parents, we need to stop swooping in and rescuing our kids from necessary consequences and actually discipline them at home as well as support their schools in disciplining them.
I have devoted this entire week’s blog posts to exploring bullying situations. In each situation that I share, I am a participant in some way. I also hope to share what I – and others – learned through the them. Watch for key themes such as resiliency, prevention at the parenting level, and
I am really excited about the series. I hope that readers are as well. I realize that there is a lot of controversy around this topic. What I am hoping will come from it is a reasonable approach to raising children, educating our children, and disciplining our children rather than creating a future generation of victims rather than victors.
Related article: Taylor Swift: Taking on Her Bullies