On Kindness and Anti-Bullying Programs

23opedimg-popupSusan Engel and Marlene Sandstrom write about how schools can create an effective anti-bullying program.

I'm skeptical that schools can really teach kindness and stop bullying. Jonah's school sent the kids to daylong classes about bullying at the local community college last year. He came home with some cheesy handouts and slogans. I'm sure that the mean kids memorized the slogans like every other kid in the class, but never registered that their behavior needed work.

Kindness really needs to be taught at home from an early age. Sharing toys and talking to the weird kids is just as important as memorizing spelling words and going to Little League. But it's hard work, wrenching a fire truck from a toddlers hand and giving it to a friend. It's hard work telling your kid that they don't have to be best friends with the weird kid, but they do have to be courteous. And mean kids generally have mean parents.

We've put a lot of work into teaching our kids to be kind, but sometimes I worry that we've gone too far. Being nice hasn't helped my friends in the workplace. The mean ones somehow rise to the top of their professions. Karma never seems to kick into gear like one hopes. Well, we've circled our wagons and are keeping the mean ones at bay, because that's important to me.

9 thoughts on “On Kindness and Anti-Bullying Programs

  1. “Being nice hasn’t helped my friends in the workplace.”
    It only works if you mean it. You have to reach down into the core of your being and find something about the person you genuinely like, something that makes you feel like being nice.
    Unless you’re in Hollywood. Different set of rules.

  2. “Jonah’s school sent the kids to daylong classes about bullying at the local community college last year.”
    I think that’s part of the problem, right there–the full day program. There may be certain things where that is a useful format, but I don’t think that it’s generally an effective format for training. For a lot of areas, it’s much more effective to do a little bit at a time over several weeks, to give time for practice and for the material to sink in. Spaced repetition is the way to go.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaced_repetition
    Our kids’ school tries to teach character stuff (my five-year-old says his favorite virtue is temperance), but I think it’s a great help that the class sizes hover around a dozen, so the teachers really are in a position to individually steer children in the direction that they need to go.

  3. “Being nice hasn’t helped my friends in the workplace. The mean ones somehow rise to the top of their professions.”
    So what? The nice ones can sleep at night, don’t need therapy, and won’t have to pay a companion to stay with them when they are too old to work. Character trumps achievement as far as long-lasting happiness and personal satisfaction are concerned. See Osceola McCarty.

  4. In my experience , the mean kids who grow into mean adults never seem that happy.I guess maybe they do well career-wise in cases, but if you are not content and have few or no real friends, what’s the point? Also I know some incredibly nice and honest people who have done incredibly well in their careers.
    And I agree with totally with the idea that mean kids often have mean parents! The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

  5. Well, the kid who’s been bullying my daughter (and another quarter of the 3rd grade class, she is something!) has very nice parents. And my #2 got in huge trouble for having been sucked into a bullying incident (by a very charismatic kid who recruited him) and he, of course, has absolutely swell and inoffensive parents! So I’ve been on both sides of this as a parent.
    My daughter’s school has been pretty good on this, vigorous in correcting bullies when they have been aware of them. It seems a lot better than when I was in school (and got bullied) and the general attitude was that kids who were receiving had to suck it up.

  6. I think that adults who preach the suck-it-up school of being bullied are the most likely to be the parents of bullies. It is a warning sign of an adult who believes in force, and the threat of force (whether physical or psychological.) In effect, this adult does not want to parent or teach the younger generation.
    I have kids of different ages, in different schools. So far, I would say that the most important factor in taming the bullying culture is…the adults in the school. If they consistently, and predictably, send the message that bullying Will Not Be Tolerated, the instances of bullying will drop. Bullies don’t want to cause trouble for themselves, after all. They want to increase their in-group status and power.
    Kids watch what adults do, not what they say. I am leery of schools which approach bullying as a problem originating in the children, without adult influence. Adults determine the school’s structures and expectations, and determine any consequences for misbehavior. Sending children to a day-long training session will do no good, if the teachers and aides at school won’t step in to correct cruel behavior.

  7. This wasn’t bullying per se, but my daughter and I were invited to a birthday party where the 8-year-old birthday girl told my daughter, “You’re lucky to have been invited!” and other stuff in that vein. The little girl is not my absolutely favorite person, but her mom and grandma were obviously working on her, and I expect she will be different by the time they’re done. To repeat a cliche, every generation our civilization is invaded by barbarians. We call those barbarians “children.”

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