Bullying – Do Children Need to be Taught to Cope Better?

I had an interesting conversation with my senior students (this is a Contemporary Issues class) this morning. We were watching the NBC Nightly News broadcast from October 20, 2013. There was a story about a student who was bullied and how it was handled, including how it is helping others around the country. Following their viewing of the broadcast, I asked them if there was anything that that caught their attention, something that they wanted to discuss further. One student raised his hand and asked, “Should we be teaching our students to cope better with bullying?” What do you think? Is this a valid question or just insensitivity?

They are, of course, aware of the case, and others like it, where a middle school student jumped from the top of the abandoned cement factory because of the bullying she endured from kids at school.  Some of them also admitted to instances in their past where they were being bullied and how they dealt with the situations. But, many of the students agreed with the first student that asked the question. Many agreed that if students were taught skills to cope with adversity in life, kids might not react so drastically.

Before I get too deep into that part of the conversation, let me also mention that the students, nearly to the person, said that bullying was a problem in society and that is has rightly gotten the attention that is deserves. Several students brought up the fact that there is a fine line between playful teasing, something that can happen between friends or family, and becoming mean – usually where bullying resides. They acknowledge that students need to be sensitive to others’ feelings and they also agreed that laws protecting those who are being bullied are necessary.

However, many of the students said that we live in a hypersensitive society. Too many people today, they felt, are too quickly offended, too quick to sue, too quick to play the victim. They said that we have become “soft” and that one of the reasons we are this way is because we have failed to develop “thick skin” when it comes to what other people do or say to us. Several examples they used (again, we watch the news) to demonstrate their point were the case where a school banned balls of any kind on the playground, the school that banned playing tag on the playground because children get hurt, or even from their own school where a former superintendent banned dodge ball because a student broke his wrist in a freak accident be stepping on a ball as he jumped out of the way. All of these cases, they felt, were from people overreacting to incidents because they were afraid that someone might sue. While these cases don’t have a direct connection to bullying, the point was well taken. Adults have been a bad example of how do deal with instances of conflict and our kids see how it has been handled and they act accordingly.

So, how do we teach our kids to have thicker skin? Better yet, how do we, as adults, begin to demonstrate that trait? Surely there is a need in our society to have thicker skin.

I am short and I get short jokes all the time. I have always been teased, maybe even ridiculed. But it hasn’t ever bothered me. It is a fact of my life. It isn’t something I can’t change so I accept it and make jokes about my own height as well. How did I develop the skill to cope with such treatment? I am not sure. But I am sure that there must be some value in teaching others the skills to cope in similar situations as well.

Admittedly, we all are different and what might set one person off doesn’t set another off. We all have different “breaking points” or we all have a threshold for tolerance. But why is that threshold so low in some and so high in others?

I would like to hear your thoughts. What do you think? Did my senior student have a valid point or was he just being insensitive?

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