I just saw a segment on Fox News about the problem of kindergarten bullying. Yes, you read that right. We're talking about 5-year-olds. Instead of fighting over Legos, in many cases they are forming cliques for the purpose of ostracizing and tormenting selected individuals who don't dress the "right" way or possess the latest status symbols. Here's a recent New York Times article about the phenomenon.
But as disturbing as it is to hear about kindergarteners being so systematically cruel to their peers, that's not the part that I found unbelievable. Humans in their fallen, unredeemed state are nasty creatures. Hurting one another, unfortunately, is what we do. Children are no exception. So no great surprises there.
No, what I found mind-blowing was the mom who recounted her decision to let her 5-year-old daughter fight off the bullies herself so that she could learn "valuable" lessons about getting along with difficult people.
IS THAT MOM OFF HER ROCKER?
I was the target of bullies for most of my junior high years. When I was in sixth grade we moved to a rural area of Texas that was populated mostly by families that had lived there for generations. I was a buck-toothed, red-headed, fair-skinned, book-wormish outsider and that made me ripe for bullying. And it wasn't just the occasional, random comment. It was large groups of girls going out of their way to make my life miserable. I was called "bleached legs" and "rubber lips" (because of the way my protruding teeth made my lips look) and I don't know what else. I remember one particularly painful episode in home economics class when several girls in the class enacted my wedding day. They opined that instead of "Here Comes the Bride" the processional song would have to be "Here Come the Lips."
I don't know where the teacher was that day. It amazes me in retrospect how often it seems there was no teacher around.
I was 11 or 12 years old at the time, naturally shy, and the product of a family background that had already taught me the value of staying out of people's way. I was not able to defend myself against those girls, nor did I learn anything worthwhile about handling difficult people. What I learned was how to cocoon myself up into an even tighter little ball and put up a bunch more walls in an effort to keep from getting hurt again. Some of those walls are still there and I doubt they will ever come down.
But enough about me. I did not get the name of the mom on the Fox News program who was promoting letting 5-year-olds fight their own battles, but I searched online and found this recent column that sounds very similar to what I heard on television: "Sometimes It's OK to Let Your Kid Be Bullied." The author talks about not wanting to be "that" sort of mom: the one every teacher dreads because she is the ever-present "helicopter" hovering around, wanting to control and micro-manage every aspect of her child's life. Well, I've got news for you, lady: 5-year-olds need to micro-managed. They NEED their parents. No one else is going to look out for them the way we will. No one else cares that much. If we abandon them, they might as well be wandering alone in the forest, with a Big Bad Wolf hiding behind every tree.
The author of the "Sometimes It's OK" column says that when things finally got out of hand, she did step in. The verbal bullying finally turned into physical abuse on the next-to-last day of school. Nice going, Mom. But if you had done something sooner maybe your little girl wouldn't have had to go into her summer vacation with scratch marks.
Here's the deal. Children are little sinners. They are selfish and want their way. When you put several of them in a room together they are bound to have disputes. But a dispute between children who are on equal footing is one thing. The terrorizing of one who is weak by one (or more) who is more powerful, either physically or emotionally, is an altogether different thing. I don't care whether we're talking about children, or middle-aged men, or little old ladies. When the weak are being victimized, the strong are called to help. And when that happens, our children really do learn a valuable lesson.
"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."