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More about “bad” kids

A cool thing about a blog is that it’s not supposed to be polished writing. You can just dump your thoughts of the moment into it, whether or not they’ll be your thoughts of the next moment!
One of my readers took offense at my blog entry, “In Defense of Bad Kids.” She said: The “bad kids” who made you cry are not necessarily fine adults, now. There are plenty of adults who continue to act like bullies and I really don’t agree with you justifying their mistreatment of you by saying that you learned something from them worthy.
I totally agree with this comment. On the other hand, I still totally agree with what I wrote before. I don’t think this is a contradiction, however. Just an expression of how contradictory the whole subject of humans, their behaviors, and their intents is!
The reader’s comment is slightly wrong: she seems to imply that I meant physically violent behavior should be tolerated or even supported. I didn’t mean that at all, of course. No school should allow its students to be in physical danger. That’s obvious and absolute.
But I wasn’t just writing about bullies who hurt other children, rather about “different” and negative behaviors in general. My experience with my kids and working in their schools has led me to believe that the popular image of a kid who “is” a bully is overly simplistic. Bullying is often a behavior that means something else, and few kids always act that way.
Yes, I’ve known kids who seem to “be” bullies: they invariably pick on the less powerful, whether doing that through physical force or emotional coercion.
But I’ve seen more situations in which kids who are acting in a negative way have something else going on, and their behavior is the only way they know to express it. I’m not saying their behavior should be tolerated; I’m saying that it’s better to face problems than to push them away.
I’m also concerned that in trying to make things easy for our kids, we might end up making things harder. Part of the function of a school is to teach kids to get along in a society. And all societies contain people who bully others, as well as people who are likely targets for bullies. Teachers can provide a good role model for kids on all sides of the conflict, by showing them how to work on their differences in a rational, fair manner.
This is definitely not the easy way to go, especially for a school that doesn’t have to accept any student that walks in their doors. It’s easier just to make your problem someone else’s problem, then forget about it. But if you’re an educator, that’s a lousy lesson to teach your students.
I’m guessing that the most incorrigible bullies in my school probably never changed that much. No one ever taught them any differently; teachers were in general indifferent to what was causing the behavior. And if the cause was a violent home life, that’s probably more than a single teacher can take on anyway.
But my point is that it’s always worth a try to help kids, no matter how they behave, and to view their behavior in context. Our public schools are responding to budget cuts by cutting “non-essential” personnel like counselors, who are an essential piece of helping kids to work out their problems at school. And fewer personnel means fewer eyes and ears, more freedom for the bullies to get firmly entrenched in their role and the bullied to learn to accept their role as the victim.
I’ve never seen a “zero tolerance” policy have much positive effect, but I have seen skilled teachers help kids understand themselves and others in a constructive, positive way. And I hope that those kids, whatever their role was in the conflict, turn into adults who have more tools to resolve conflicts they and their children face. The words are easy to write, but the lessons are hard to learn and teach. That’s life!

Posted in Parenting, Psychology.

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