So, I guess the issue of schoolyard bullying is in the news again these days. It seems to be one of those evergreen issues that pops up from time to time. Ed Brayton has a decent post up criticizing the crocodile tears coming from the Family Research Council fretting that measures designed to protect gay kids from bullying will have the effect of forcing Christian kids to closet their anti-gay views. Brayton notes that the Family Research Council makes for a particularly unsympathetic victim in this context, but goes on to recognize that First Amendment issues make implementation of anti-bullying measures problematic. There will be tough calls balancing the desire to protect kids from harassment and intimidation against a kids right to free speech.
I respect the first amendment concerns. I don’t respect the social conservative impulse to protect the ability to marginalize gays through social pressure.
Bullying has also been in the news because of the viral Youtube video showing a smaller kid harassing a bigger kid, until the bigger kid picked up the small kid and body slams him. From the video, I have no idea of the context, but it seems like the smaller kid got what was coming to him. I suppose you’re not supposed to condone answering violence with violence, but it’s hard for me to fault the response.
But, how to teach my own kids to deal with this kind of crap? You teach them that violence is never the answer, but sometimes it seems like it is. For now, I guess I’m going with the strategy of telling them that violence isn’t the answer but somehow knowing when I’m full of crap and that they should stick up for themselves — without doing it in a way that will get them in trouble with the authorities.
If I remember my childhood correctly, “go run to an adult and tell on the bully” isn’t really a viable strategy. It may solve the short term problem, but open you up to taking even more crap from your peers. And, I think I do remember my childhood. I was skinny and smart – not a great combination for a boy growing up in the Midwest. I got picked on by a few guys because I used big words and by a few more just because I was little. One thing that helped was that I was friendly with a few of the bigger kids who were maybe a little socially inept. They liked me and didn’t take too kindly to other kids giving me a lot of crap. Another strategy was to go into a sort of passive resistance mode. I didn’t exactly fight back, but I didn’t really back down either. I just sort of dug in. And, I got into a couple of fights and didn’t especially fight fair when that happened. Doesn’t really matter how small you are when you’re on their back, throttling them in a headlock.
But, I wasn’t a tough guy by any stretch. This stuff made me dislike school some; and it ultimately jaded me quite a bit. Maybe that’s just part of growing up. Compared to some other kids I can think of, I had it easy. I suspect this pecking order, schoolyard stuff happens to most folks to one extent or another. But, to the extent we can limit the amount of crap kids have to endure from other kids without turning ourselves into some kind of a police state, I’m mostly in favor of it. The idea of my kids having to put up with some of the stuff I put up with makes me sad.
Update I should add that I wasn’t entirely blameless in the schoolyard incivility. I seem to recall picking on a couple of other kids from time to time — never one-on-one, I don’t think; but as part of a group. (Individuals are usually fairly nice; true meanness comes from groups.) And, I’m sure everyone would be shocked, but I was something of a smart ass.