Several months ago I was having a conversation with my nine-year-old granddaughter. I honestly don’t remember what the topic was that we were discussing, but I made a point with her that elicited this reaction, “That hurts my feelings!”
Her younger brother (seven-years-old) was listening close by, which is his favorite thing to do, and he quickly chimed in with, “You’re bullying her, Granddad.”
My granddaughter’s statement did not give me near the pause that my grandson’s did. He was simply reiterating what he’d been taught. However, I knew he hadn’t been taught that in our home (where they both are being raised). So I asked, “What makes you say I’m bullying her?”
He replied, “That’s what they teach us in school.”
That’s when I realized that my grandchildren, and their school system, had been caught in the backlash of our over-reactive society. (Why is it that if there’s any kind of social problem, who do we turn to to fix it? The schools, which is not what schools are designed or teachers are always trained to do.) Too often we stretch the band-aid too far over the sore and prevent natural growth in other areas. (I hope you follow that analogy, and that it’s not too much of a stretch.)
I immediately called a timeout to the proceedings between me and my grandchildren and had a discussion with them about bullying and my views on the topic (which will become more evident to the reader as you read the rest of this article).
It was only a few days later that I read an article entitled, “Are We Overprotecting Kids From School Problems?” It was written by Arthur Caplan, PhD, from the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University Langone Medical Center. In the article he interviews Glenn Saxe, MD, Chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the New York University Medical Center. I found the doctor’s observations spot on when compared to my experiences in working with children for the past forty years.
First of all, let me state unequivocally that bullying does exist and can be quite harmful in extreme cases. As Dr. Saxe says, “. . . when children go to school and fear being beaten up everyday . . . you simply have to protect them.”
But Dr. Saxe also adds, “I get concerned about parents wanting to protect children from exposure to all adversities.” He goes on to say that in order for children to build character that will help them work and succeed and be happy in the world, it requires exposure to life. And you and I both know that in real life, whether you’re 8, 28, 48, or 68, people sometimes say obnoxious or hurtful things. Parents (or grandparents) need to teach children how to manage hearing those kinds of things without running to their teacher about it.
The child that goes to their teacher every time someone hurts their feelings will be the adult that claims “everyone is out to get me” and plays the victim at every turn.
Dr. Saxe says, “If we are too vigilant about protecting children from all of these comments or exposure to that type of adversity, we are not doing a good job of helping them develop.”
I cannot count the number of times I was made fun of growing up, picked on by peers, and threatened by older kids. But I didn’t complain to the teacher about it or try to convince my parents to come running to my rescue. I was taught to “deal with it” assertively, not aggressively or passive-aggressively. I learned to “stand and face the storm” without being swept away by it.
While all of those experiences were painful, I’m more than grateful today that I had them because those storms were nothing compared to the storms I’ve had to face as an adult. And even though there has been a time when the storm caused me to lose my footing, I’ve yet to be swept away.
Parents, let your children hurt, let them struggle, and help them find healthy ways of coping. Teach them to “stand and face the storm.”