Friday, September 01, 2006

Should Kids' Lives Be All Sweetness and Light?

Not according to Izzy Kalman, school psychologist and psychotherapist, who has developed a program to reduce bullying by teaching kids (and adults) not to be victims. "The problem is not bullying. The problem is not knowing how to handle bullying.. The most dangerous people, both to themselves and to others, are people who think like victims. Bullies don't commit suicide or shoot up schools. Victims do these things. If you think like a victim, you will be bullied by people throughout your life. You will be made miserable by your bosses and spouses and children." Click here for the text of Kalman's interview with Education World.

A companion piece from Education World about the worst kind of classroom bullies--teachers. The article reads in part:

"Educators let students know they care.
Bullies let students know who's boss.

Educators teach self-control.
Bullies exert their own control.

Educators set ironclad expectations.
Bullies rule with whims of steel.

Educators diffuse minor disruptions with humor.
Bullies use sarcasm to turn disruptions into confrontations."

The anti-bullying movement in the schools is a piece on the warm fuzzy self-esteem movement. An August 8 piece at CNN.com suggests that the self-esteem movement is just as wrong-headed as the anti-bullying programs. "Rather than imparting self-esteem, some experts believe this gives kids an unhealthy sense of entitlement.

"Self-esteem comes from those feelings you have about yourself for a job well done, for when you have achieved something," says Dr. Georgette Constantinou, administrative director of pediatric psychiatry at Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio. "It's not something you pour into your children."

My thoughts? Kids know when they're given a trophy just for showing up. If they have no incentive to work hard, they don't. So we're training an entire generation to do the bare minimum to get by then to feel entitled to the same rewards as everyone else. Is this really what we intended?

4 comments:

DrumsNWhistles said...

I agree with you on the question of whether kids should receive "participation awards". It's a dangerous trend designed to set them up for unreasonable expectations later on in life. On the other hand, my daughter has worked for 8 years to achieve (finally, this year) her awards in Irish dance which include trophies -- hard won, at that. She's learned a ton about focus and dedication and overcoming disappointment to achieve her goals. I am grateful for her experience there.

However, when it comes to bullies, I do believe there is room for education and anti-bullying education. It feels to me like Kalman is confusing teacher-dictators with the much more real issue of peer to peer bullying simply for the sake of bullying, and so his arguments fall apart for me.

My bottom line: There should be no tolerance by schools for bullying. Attention must be paid to reports of bullying. Anti-bullying education should include teaching everyone not to have a victim mentality, but to be empowered to handle situations without threats, violence, or infringing on others' rights.

DnW

The Princess Mom said...

I think we're on the same page for the most part. I read his whole online manual for parents and teachers after I wrote this entry. One of his big reasons for not interfering was that "the bully would be mad at the victim and mad at you for interfering." Personally, I've never had a problem with a child being mad at me. I'm the boss; they just have to deal.

I also haven't had a problem with my boys bullying anyone else or each other because I don't tolerate it. There was lots of bullying in my house growing up (I was the bully, so was my mother) and I'm not going to let it happen to my kids. Klaus tended to play the victim, but I think that was a low self-esteem issue. (And you should see how many trophies that boy has from karate!)

By the way, congratulations to your daughter for her hard work and persistance in Irish dance! That is an awesome accomplishment!

Lostcheerio said...

GAH -- I think you're totally right. In our adoration of our kids, it's easy to fall into praising every little thing. I do give lavish praise but I try to be very specific about what I'm encouraging.

I think the only time you should get a trophy for showing up (literally or figuratively) is in preschool.

Heather said...

I'm with DnW. There's a certain type of bully that comes to mind, and it's the kind that even adults are afraid of. It's impossible, for instance, to hold a high-level discussion/analysis session of a novel in a high school English class with a kid like this in the classroom, UNLESS you have a zero-tolerance presence yourself (as the teacher).
That being said, I completely agree, that without the flip side, the "here's how to handle a bully" empowering (though I cringe at that word) side of things, you're just raising yet another generation of victims.

However, just in the last seven years, I've seen a new issue come to light in the kid-world: "Pre-emptive anti-bully manouvers". That's the nice way to put it. "Bitchy kids" is what it looks like. I just moved from NY to AZ, so I don't know if it's just a NY thing, but MAN is it problematic, and ugly. Kids raised not as princesses, but as...well...little Gods who can do no wrong and know better than everyon--including their (often surprised) parents. They aren't bullies, but they go WAY past assertive.

Somehow we just don't seem to have an easy time finding that happy medium.