My Plea for Civility, for the Sake of our Kids
“If each of us can learn to relate to each other more out of compassion, with a sense of connection to each other and a deep recognition of our common humanity, and more important, to teach this to our children, I believe that this can go a long way in reducing many of the conflicts and problems that we see today.” ~Dalai Lama
Pretty much anyone who knows us knows that we had a bully problem (my blog piece about it can be found here). It’s done, it’s dusted, we dealt with it and we are stronger for it. Except this is life and life is never quite that clean cut. The best friend of our oldest son is a sweet kid who also happens to be the brother of one of the girls who was bullying our daughter, Aisleen. Needless to say it’s been complicated to keep their friendship from being poisoned but it’s important so we’ve tried hard to do that and, to their credit, so have the boys. Yesterday Liam, our oldest, came home from school and asked if we could give his friend’s sister, who I call G on this blog, another chance and my initial reaction was “no way, no how, not happening.” But we sat down and he explained why he was asking, I’ve gotta say, he swayed me a little. The kid is good at persuasion, which I sometimes find maddening.
We’ve always recognized the fact that the girl in question was bullying in order to protect herself, that she was the follower. We know this because the leader threatened her with social isolation if she didn’t go along with the torment. Liam told me yesterday that her torment is not over, the lead bully is still at work on her–of course, because bullies are stubborn like that. Then he told me that he and his friend wanted to confront the bully and tell her that the way she treats (or treated, in our case) their sisters is unacceptable and that they were there to stand between her and their sisters. Liam, his friend, and G were hoping that Aisleen would be friends with G again, hoping that her friendship could help carry G through her decision to cut the bully off. Because Aisleen has shown such remarkable judgement throughout this ordeal I handed the decision over to her and she decided to give G another chance. I told her I wanted her to go into it cautiously, that G had to earn her trust back and that, at the first sign of it starting up again, she had to jump ship. I can’t say I’m thrilled about this development but I understand it. Kids gotta fly, right? If she falls we’ll be here to pick her back up and help her see the lessons she can learn. If she doesn’t fall, if this works out, then she will know that she made a decision out of compassion that helped another person. Life with kids is never dull!
Usually I’m not one to come down on someone else’s parenting choices–an exception is when those decisions start to affect my kids. A lot of people have made a lot of changes in their lives because of this bully with the glaring exception of the bully and, of course, her parents. I don’t know if they’re in denial about her behavior of if they truly think her behavior is acceptable–which brings me to my greater point. Kids get endless amounts of lectures about how to treat one another, how to speak to one another, how to behave. But talk is cheap and kids know that. I am stunned when I see adults acting in the exact opposite way kids are told to act, it makes me cringe because I know the examples we provide to our kids only go so far and the influence of the folks outside our control is powerful stuff. There are adults engaging in exactly the kind of behavior that we condemn in children–the internet, and the anonymity it offers, only makes it that much worse. How many times have you read an article, or watched a video on youtube, and then scrolled down to the comments and felt like you needed a shower? If I make a comment on a thread somewhere my rule of thumb is to never write something I can’t show to my kids. Period. I’m sure I’ve broken that rule now and again because of my sarcastic nature but, by and large, it’s one I stick to because I think it’s important. My hubby doesn’t understand why I bother because a comment on the internet probably never changed anyone’s mind. But my thing is that I know kids read that stuff and, if all they see is adults treating other adults in ways meant to demean and belittle, then I think they’ll feel a little more okay with doing the same to their peers. Just for the purposes of full disclosure, I tend to be less forgiving towards politicians on my private FB page (which my kids are not allowed to look at) but I have the same rule of thumb when arguing with people on FB–keep it clean.
I don’t know what motivates Aisleen’s former bully. I don’t know if she does it because she has low self-esteem, because she’s insecure, because she’s patterning behavior or maybe she just thinks it’s fun. What I do know is that there are lot of kids who bully, a lot of kids being hurt by those bullies and, while we may say that it is unacceptable for kids to behave that way, actions speak louder. As long as we, as adults, continue to treat our peers with disrespect, either in the virtual or non-virtual world, kids will continue to use that as a justification for cyber-bullying or non-virtual world bullying. I’m just so sick of seeing kids hurt by other kids, sick of hearing about how children spend nights crying themselves to sleep because of another child’s cruelty. It’s got to stop and we have to recognize the part that each of us plays in fostering or fighting that cruelty. We’re adults, we should act like it. Rant over, I will now step down off my soap box . . .