I homeschooled my boys for years and have always caught flack for it. However, the one group of people who rarely criticized my decision were other parents with school-aged children. More often than not, they seemed to feel compelled to offer an apologetic explanation for why they weren’t homeschooling their own kids. Why? Because they were well aware that we live in a world where sending your kid to California to learn Jui-Jitsu to defend against bullies actually makes sense, for one. It’s absurd. I don’t think anyone who doesn’t have kids in school fully realizes how awful the social situation is at a lot of schools. Even in schools where the adults aren’t part of the problem, so many kids are so poorly socialized that stopping the bullying feels like mission impossible.
(It always kills me that “socialization” is seen as a potential problem for homeschooled kids. Like the barbarians that run the social scene at many middle schools are well socialized human beings! I’ll take my odd, but genuinely good home-socialized boys over the manipulative, callous and cruel children that are running amok at our local public schools any day. Heck, my oldest has been trying to convince me to homeschool my daughters precisely so they will not be “socialized” the way the teens he attended school with were.)
I have a few theories as to why bullying has become such an outrageous problem:
1. We don’t let kids work out their own problems when they are young. Whether they are at home or in daycare, we think it’s normal to jump in right away and mediate every conflict our kids have – particularly if there’s been any hitting involved. This is not normal! People get into conflict with each other and have to learn to navigate. By jumping in right away, we deprive our kids of the chance to learn to stand up for themselves, weather having someone unhappy with us, learn not to take mean people personally and a whole host of other lessons that need to be learned in order to figure out how to get along with people. I watched a documentary once about socialization of young children in Japan. The teachers almost never stepped in to mediate conflicts between children – even when hitting was involved. What happened was what happens in the most of the rest of life: kids stuck up for each other and offered comfort and distraction to each other when feelings were hurt. persistently aggressive kids were avoided until or unless they learned to treat others properly. We need to trust our kids to figure out how to manage their conflicts while they are little rather than waiting until they are older and can do real damage to each other.
2. We model a very selfish, demanding attitude for our kids. We drive around screaming at other drivers for being in our way. We complain about waiting in lines or servers who make mistakes as if it were the most outrageous thing in the world that we should ever have to deal with anything we don’t like. We shouldn’t be surprised when our kids treat people to their face with the sort of callous, ungracious attitudes that we have been showing them their whole lives.
3. We don’t show proper empathy towards our kids when they are the ones who are hurt or need attention. Especially if they have done something they don’t like, we feel entitled to be as critical and harsh as we like. If we hurt their feelings in the process we don’t offer any comfort – we just tell them they have brought it on themselves. I’ve become convinced that many parents and caregivers (obviously not all!) are way too hard on their kids. We practically follow them around correcting their every move. We tell them not to touch walls as they walk by, apologize to strangers and scold our kids for not being aware of someone wanting to go by in a shopping cart when we’re in the store. If we ever hear them utter a sharp word or even a curse under their breath we jump all over them. If we follow our kids around, correcting ever little mistake and imperfection, they may well display a similarly critical attitude and lack of grace to other children.
4. We are judgmental and condemning of the people we see on TV, in the news, at the local store, our own families, etc. Too many people are in the habit of pointing out the flaws, errors and even simple poor taste of the people around us. Many times we do it because we think we are instructing our children in the standards we expect from them. However, more likely we are teaching them to criticize and condemn people for everything from the way they dress to the way they talk to the choices they make that we don’t approve of. In a school setting, this is called bullying.
If we want our kids to be kind, gracious and caring people, we really do need to model that behavior for them. And we need to give them more breathing room so they can self-correct, manage their own conflicts and feel OK about just being a normal, imperfect kid. Then maybe we won’t need to give kids Jui-Jitsu lessons just so they can attend 6th grade without having a nervous breakdown.