Two weeks ago, I wrote about the school bus bullies in New York. I was so appalled by their 10-minute barrage against the 65-year-old bus monitor that it wasn’t until this past week that I could calmly think about our society’s apparent bullying epidemic.
My 9-year-old daughter came home from her summer day care the other day and asked if she could talk to me. Her tone sounded serious.
“I was bullied today,” she told me with big sad eyes. I asked her what had happened.
“There was this boy who is older than me. He was holding the door for everyone, and when I got to the door, he stuck his foot out to trip me.”
She went on to explain that later that day he purposefully spilled her milk. She didn’t know why this boy didn’t like her.
At first I wanted to hug her and tell her it would all be okay, but then I got a little angry. Why was she sitting here acting like a victim? Had we not taught her how to stand up for herself?
I explained that she would run into people who were not kind; people would say or do things that might hurt her feelings. I reminded her that it had little to do with her, but more to do with the person who was being mean.
I also told her that sometimes boys do mean things to girls they like. Getting a 9-year old to wrap her mind around that was difficult. More importantly, I told her that she needed to learn to deal with these situations. She could find ways to laugh at them, ignore them, or if they are serious in nature (someone physically hurts her or threatens to do so), she should tell a teacher.
What we call bullying today has always been around. Let’s face it, some kids are just jerks. Never before have we put so much attention on it, and I think that is part of the problem. With video cameras and social networks everywhere, we see what was once just told as a story. We are hyperaware of kids being picked on.
We have become so sensitive to being picked on that we labeled it, formed coalitions, and promised to make it end. We have taken this so far that it has become a detriment to our children. We no longer teach them how to handle a situation, we urge them to talk to an adult they trust. Eventually, all of these kids will grow up, and the jerks will likely still be jerks. How will they handle being picked on when they are the adult? We never taught them how to manage when they were children.
Don’t get me wrong, there is some behavior that goes beyond picking on or making fun of. There is legitimate bullying that occurs. This behavior isn’t resolved by laughing it off or ignoring it; it does often times require adult intervention.
Let’s not categorize every misbehavior of one child towards another as bullying. This will only lead to elevating minor offenses while never teaching our children to manage the behavior, or demoting major offenses to the same level as simple school yard mischief.
Cat Koehler is married with two children. She works full time. Read her Mondays on momaha.com