A Revolutionary Guide to Reducing Aggression between Children www.Bullies2Buddies.com Izzy Kalman, MS, NCSP (718) 983-1333
HOW WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN TO BE HURT BY WORDS
WARNING: Please don’t be upset about what I have to say. The typical adult procedures I will be describing here may not reflect your own approach to children. And if they do, understand that I am not being critical of you for doing the wrong thing. You’ve been acting with the finest of intentions, and have been following in the footsteps of your civilized ancestors. The only thing you are guilty of is trying too hard to make things better between children. Since you had no way of seeing that your actions were creating the problems you thought you were solving, there is no one to be blamed. We don’t want our children to be getting upset by words. So what do we do? We try to protect them from bad words. And that’s how our problem begins. The following is the typical scenario of what happens when children come to us complaining of being upset by another child. It is the same whether the “helping” adult is a parent or a teacher or anyone else responsible for children. I will explain what happens using three characters named Bully, Victim, and Adult. The characters named Bully and Victim are indeed the bully and victim in this example, but Bully is not necessarily always the bully, and Victim is not necessarily always the victim. (I will use the male gender for all characters only as a matter of convenience of language. The sex of those involved is irrelevant.) Step 1 – The Crime Report: Victim, sounding real hurt or angry, comes to Adult saying that Bully called him a bad name. Step 2 – The Investigation: Adult summons Bully and does an inquiry into what happened. Step 3 – The Judgment: Adult, using his superior intelligence, judgment, and experience, determines who the guilty party is – let’s say it’s Bully this time. Step 4 – The Sentence: Adult reprimands Bully and makes him apologize to Victim. Adult punishes Bully in accordance with the severity of the injury he has inflicted on Victim. This process leaves Adult feeling satisfied that he has done the right thing – teaching the kids that name-calling is wrong and protecting the virtuous victims from the wicked bullies. And the more often the incident is repeated, the more often Adult gets to feel he’s doing the right thing. But what lessons have the children really learnt from adults? I’ll make a list, though it may not be all-inclusive. 1. Being teased must be a very painful thing to endure. After all, if teasing didn’t hurt, why in the world would adults be punishing kids for doing it? 2. The more upset you are by names, the harder the Adult will punish your bully. So it really pays to get upset by teasing. 3. Bad words are a great way to manipulate adults. Adults obviously consider teasing more important than just about anything, because they will stop whatever else they’re doing to take care of the “emergency.” 4. Children should not expect to be able to handle interpersonal difficulties by themselves, but need the wisdom of adults to solve their problems for them. 5. Adults think it is good for children to be informants on each other. 6. Freedom of speech is a mythical creature – something existing in only in textbooks and spoken about in school. Adults do not believe in it and punish those who exhibit it. And what happens between the parties involved? Adult wants the kids to like each other better, to be nicer to each other, and to be sorry for having done anything hurtful. But is that what Adult has accomplished? No way! Here, again, is a list of what really goes on. 1. Victim feels righteous indignation towards Bully for hurting him so badly that Adult had to punish him. He is very happy that he was able to defeat Bully with Adult’s help. Victim will keep on the lookout for the next time Bully hurts him so he can rush to tell Adult about it and get him punished again. 2. Bully is furious with Victim for getting him in trouble, and will be alert to the next opportunity to retaliate. He will either taunt him again, or devise a way to get Victim in trouble with Adult by reporting that Victim did something mean to him. 3. Bully is also mad at Adult for judging against him and punishing him. This is not going to make Bully want to be nice to Adult. 4. Adult is mad at Bully for being a bully, and he’s doubly mad because now Bully is angry at him for disciplining him. Of course, Adult would like to be appreciated by Bully for teaching him right from wrong, but Adult can keep on wishing. These things are true whether the fighting is between siblings at home or between students in school. It happens far more frequently at home than in school. In school, children are more scared to be caught fighting, so they try to bother each other away from the watchful eyes of adults. Most school incidents actually happen not in the classroom but during the less-structured activities of lunch and recess, when kids have more freedom of movement and are less likely to be under the direct gaze of an adult. Usually, it is not the students’ own teachers who are supervising these activities, but rather other teachers or school aides. So the victims must first report the incident to the lunch and recess overseers, who then have to report the incidents to the students’ teachers. Thus, most quarrels that teachers attend to do not even occur while the kids are under their care! Matters get even more complicated when teachers report the incidents to the students’ parents, expecting them to take charge of their children and make the problem stop. Sometimes the parents are, indeed, successful in getting their kids to stop fighting in school. More often, one or more of the following occur: 1. Parents punish their child for bullying another child in school. Their child becomes mad at them for judging against him and punishing him. The parents get even madder at him for being mad at them. The child also gets mad at his teacher for turning his parents against him. 2. Both sets of parents decide their own child is right and want to defend them. The fight between two children now escalates into a feud between two families. Usually, the fight between the parents gets presented to the school principal. 3. The principal’s job becomes a nightmare when he has to reconcile feuding sets of parents. If he is not successful at this delicate job of diplomacy, at least one set of parents will become mad at him, too. If the victim’s parents feel he isn’t sufficiently protecting their child, they will be mad at him. If the bully’s parents feel he is unfairly siding against their child, then they will be mad at him. And if neither set of parents feels he is on their side, then they will both be mad at him. 4. Since the incident happened in school, the victim’s parents may blame the teacher for allowing their child to be bullied in school. The teachers don’t want to be blamed for something they feel is not their fault, so they blame the parents for doing a poor job of child rearing. Now, parents and teachers are feuding over the nonsense between children. 5. When parents and teachers feud, the principal gets in the middle. Again he has to walk a diplomatic tightrope. If he supports the teacher, the parents will be mad at him. If he supports the parents, the teacher will be mad at him. If he tries to be neutral, they will both be mad at him. 6. Since adult intervention tends to make the anger between children worse, there is a good chance that the bullying will continue. This will make the victim’s parents very upset with the school. If they don’t get satisfaction, they may resort to changing the child’s school. If they are lucky and their child is not picked on in the new school, then all is fine. If they are unlucky, the problem repeats itself in the new school. 7. Occasionally, parents become determined to fight to the end for their victimized child and will invest great amounts of time, effort, and money to sue their school system. A few such cases over the years have reached State Supreme Courts, with parents trying to make it law that schools be held responsible for their children being teased! Fortunately, no parent so far has won, for the results would be disastrous. Teasing is human nature, and while a school may be able to reduce the frequency of teasing, it is impossible to completely eliminate it. If schools could be held legally accountable for the teasing between children, the lawsuits would quickly force them to shut their doors. And then education would have to take place at home, where the abuse between children is likely to be much worse! What can we do to stop the insanity? The next step is to become aware of the misguided attitudes that underlie our responses to aggressive incidents between children.