Picture it: big dog picks on small dog. Big dog barks and snaps, little dog runs off. Or, big dog barks and snaps, little dog snaps back and big dog runs off. Or maybe dogs have a bit of a scuffle, some fur flies, some teeth flash, and both dogs back off. With this last scenario at least comes the understanding that sometimes, no matter how big you are, if you get in another dog’s face you’re gonna get bitten.
For me, that’s been life. I’ve been barked at by teachers and professors, bosses, clients, friends, family, and of course, bullies. Sometimes I tucked tail and ran. Sometimes I barked back. And sometimes I bit back. I didn’t need counseling to negotiate through these situations, I didn’t need school systems to set up special committees, I didn’t need my parents to run screeching to protect me, and I didn’t need to watch films and attend lectures and have non-profit “experts” tell me and others to play nice. Kids don’t play nice, and those who play nice the least are the ones who are also the least likely to listen raptly to a film about being a bully and say “Oh, I get it! I should be good to others! I won’t be a bully anymore!” People, like dogs, are animals. The difference, of course, is that people are smarter than dogs. We have the ability to learn the complexities of interaction, and we have the ability to deal with adversity by using our brains. If someone along the way hasn’t taught us the very basic human lesson of coping we have no chance to survive friendships, love, business, insults, death, taxes, or any of the other rocks that get tossed at us over the course of eighty or so years on the planet.
Bullying has become a hot topic on talk shows, in schools, and now by lawmakers in New Jersey (http//www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2091994,00.html). No question about it, sometimes bullies go too far. But bullies in the form of kids, thugs, kings, and nations have been around forever. Why now do we suddenly feel as a culture that it’s necessary to intervene between bully and victim? Is the answer really to write laws that require school staff to step in when one student creates for another “a hostile environment by interfering with a student’s education or by severely or pervasively causing physical or emotional harm” as per the newly enacted New Jersey law? Let’s see if I have this straight: if a kid in a New Jersey school calls another kid a fatso, somebody’s going to court. No? Then what does lead to court, because for sure something will now that there’s an anti-bullying law. What are the words that will send parents and teachers and principals and bullies and most definitely lawyers to stand before a judge? Shorty? Skinny? Stupid? Flatchested? Ugly? Homo? Slut? Or any of the dozen of other jibes that fall from schoolyard mouths? The New Jersey law has been met with resounding support. But maybe we need to look little deeper: are we teaching our children to deal with life’s hardships or, by enacting such laws, are we teaching them that the slightest emotional (or physical) jab from another gives them the right to fall to pieces and initiate a lawsuit? In the real world, when they go out there and compete for jobs and pay bills and hear ugly remarks and get fired and endure illness and death and poverty, they need to learn that life isn’t always fair, and it’s rarely easy. The quicker our children learn these hard cold facts, the better.
In watching life unfold before me, I’ve noticed a fundamental shift in how people deal with children. When I was a kid, things were pretty simple: At home, my parents were boss. They said jump, I said how high. At school, teachers were boss. They said jump, I said how high. There were no boardrooms of people wringing their hands about my sensitivity or about kids pushing each other around. I got pushed around plenty in school, which quite frankly was a great educational institution and was also a zoo full of snarling weasels. The zookeepers were our teachers. If I got in trouble in school my parents didn’t come rushing in waving hands and demanding action. The teachers punished me and my parents either didn’t know about it, or if they did, they probably said I had it coming. Either way, I was fenced in by parents and by teachers, disciplined by whoever happened to be in the vicinity, and forced to figure out how to cope with the situations of my or some bully’s doing. Bully and victim both figured out how to manage their own lives thanks to rigorous boundaries supplied by adults who were paying attention and who were given the right to discipline us when parents weren’t around. The sad bottom line is that teachers have been stripped of their ability to discipline kids. In my opinion, that’s the problem, and it’s one that won’t be solved until teachers are again empowered by parents to tell children to straighten up and fly right. I grew up lucky. The adults in my life gave me a long leash. When I (or anybody else) barked too loudly, we got our asses jerked back. We were taught to behave like civilized human beings, not like dogs in the yard.
Many times teachers and parents weren’t around at all when somebody said something nasty to me. I didn’t drape myself over the furniture over it, I didn’t have government agencies stepping in to supposedly teach bullies how to behave, and I definitely didn’t run snitching to an adult that somebody wasn’t nice to me. I dealt with it. Little dog either ran off or snapped back.
Parents out there who are worried about bullying…listen up. Tell your schools to empower teachers again. Tell your schools misbehavior should not be rewarded with a week’s suspension so bullies can stay home and play video games; punishment should be on school grounds shoveling snow, painting walls, cleaning classrooms, and scrubbing toilets. Enable schools to show children there are consequences for misdeeds (polishing a urinal in seventh grade beats jail time later), and unite with teachers. Tell lawmakers you don't need them because you're going to teach some fundamentals at home: ethics, kindness, understanding, honesty, respect, hard work. Teach your children to cope with life’s ups and downs, and to grasp the concept that beating somebody up, or torturing them with emotional abuse, or dealing drugs, or breaking into houses is wrong and has consequences. If they don’t get the message, jerk the leash. Hard. Let them smell the fear, from you and from those who stand in for you in the schoolroom. And if your child is being bullied? Teach them how to deal with it, and, when necessary, to bite back.
Please don't misunderstand: I am not advocating child abuse or violence of any kind. But it might be time to employ some tried-and-true childrearing standards. My parents and my teachers taught me well: how to navigate through life, and how to stand up for myself. And yeah, sometimes they scared the crap out of me. Thank God.