Sometimes it is really difficult to figure out what to do about a problem. Being a really good parent does not mean that we always have the answers. My children have been walking to the park on their own lately. They have just recently started doing this. The park is located right down the street from our section of the neighborhood, a five-minute walk I would say. We allow them to go for thirty-minute trips, they are constantly reminded that they must stay in a group, and they carry a cell phone so that they can call me if they need me. At ten and ten and nine, I believe that this is an age appropriate activity.
Unfortunately for my kiddos and their sense of freedom and self-reliance, our neighborhood park has just been re-furbished which means that everyone wants to be there. And sadly, after three incidents now, we seem to have our own set of bullies. These two boys are older than my kids. They have grabbed their phone away from them (my daughter managed to snag it back), and they have taunted my kids and called them names on more than one occasion.
The parental reaction to this, throughout a few different friends of ours, is interesting. My husband’s reaction was to tell the girls that those boys must think that they are cute…traditional parental reaction, in my opinion. Some other male friends of mine started questioning if the girls knew where the kids lived, and wanted to go and talk to their parents. I find my reaction somewhere in the middle. I obviously don’t believe that this behavior is innocent, or that it is in any way okay for children to behave like this. If we let the little mean behaviors slip by in interactions between children, they simply escalate because kids are not stupid and they see that adults are tolerating the behavior.
To be honest, I am actually sort of broken-hearted in regards to the whole thing. Our neighborhood is one of the better ones when it comes to having a good community and interacting with our neighbors. At first, I was in disbelief that something like that could even happen in my neighborhood. My kids are left in naïve confusion over the whole thing. They haven’t been in public school since they were in first grade, so they have avoided meanness in children pretty much entirely. My daughter just does not understand why that boy would call her names. She thinks that something is actually wrong with him, and honestly maybe we all should feel the same way. Children aren’t necessarily taught to be mean, I do believe that there is a certain competitive instinct that naturally pushes them to explore unkind behaviors. The problem arises when adults allow it to happen on any level without reprimand.
I remember when I was in fourth grade or so, and I would spend my recess time walking the perimeter of our playground for exercise. I didn’t get along with any of the other children, but was forced to be out there with them, so that was how I chose to pass the time. I remember that for weeks a group of three or four of the mean girls would follow me while I walked, taunting me over and over until they got tired of it and moved on. None of the teachers staffed on the playground ever said a single word to them about the bulling, or did one thing to defend me. I would be surprised to see that happen in a public school today because we have become more aware of the dangers of bullying.
In the end, I am not going to allow my kids to go to the park by themselves anymore when public school is not in session. I may walk up there with them, and if they can point out the boys who are doing the bullying, I will address the behavior with them myself. I will also mention to the other parents I have seen there with their toddlers that I would appreciate them reprimanding the boys if they witness them being mean to anyone else. I believe that the core of the issue with bullying is that as adults we complacently allow bullies to develop by letting them get away with behaviors that we convince ourselves are not really that bad. We need to remember that all negative interactions between children need to be addressed. It is a simple solution to the problem, as adults we just need to remain diligent, and we will raise a kinder generation then our own.