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Jewish World Review July 5, 2001 / 14 Tamuz, 5761

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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The socializing of kids -- IT took some prodding, but my husband and I finally found out what was bothering our first grader, Jeff. It was Christopher, a classmate who'd been poking, pushing and teasing him. At our little boy's tearful report, I confess I went into full claws-out reactionary mode. I lost no time in storming off to see the boys' teacher.

Well, she calmed me down, and together we conducted a few interviews. Soon it became obvious that little Christopher was "harassing" Jeff (quite gently, actually) because he adored him and was trying to get Jeff's attention. In fact a few weeks later Christopher ran up to Jeff as our son entered a birthday party, started play-poking and hugging him, and said to Jeff's dad - "hi, I'm Christopher - I'm Jeff's friend!"

By that time I'd withdrawn my claws. Christopher was kindly admonished to keep his hands to himself and I'd relearned, and my son had learned, a valuable lesson; Young or old, we shouldn't be oversensitive and take things in a way they were never intended.

Later in the year, my son told us that a few of the other boys in his class didn't want to play with him at recess. We finally figured out that Jeff wasn't interested in playing their games - he just wanted them to play his. Again, he had a chance to learn and apply one of life's lessons; sometimes if you want to play with the other kids, you have to play their games, not yours.

Another time our son was hurt that a few children in his class insisted on having their own way and excluding most of the other kids, including him, from their activities. But it helped when his dad and I explained that what was true in his classroom would be true in life. There would always be people he would like, people he would love - and people he would have little in common with. We told him that while he should be kind to everyone, like all of us, he would naturally and happily find his true friends not everywhere, but among the people he enjoyed and who enjoyed him.

And so our eldest child ended his first year of school a happy kid, with lots of pals, having learned much about constructively dealing with other people. I'm glad he learned such relatively easy lessons early. Because unfortunately, the trend in schools now is to teach any child who feels the merest slight that he's been treated insensitively. That he's been bullied or harassed. That he's a "victim"

Tragically, such sentiments, as a result of bullying both real and perceived, have led a few young people to go on deadly rampages. When these ruthless killers are then virtually glorified in the press over the unkindnesses they had to endure, it magnifies their victim status, and the victim status of their peers who don't kill, but who like so many adults today quickly learn to feel aggrieved by somebody or everybody.

Certainly the recent, well-publicized move on the part of many school officials to wage a war against bullying, as determined in the eyes of the beholder only, serves to justify the "victims" even more. Or consider the effort in recent months to eliminate from recess and gym class the popular, age-old game dodge ball, in which two teams try to "knock out" each other's players with a big rubber ball. The criticism? Amidst all the fun and play and squealing, the game - gasp - allows the "strong" to go after the "weak."

Of course bullying can be real and dangerous. As our culture has coarsened, it's clear that real bullying has escalated and some children are genuinely tormented. Under no circumstances should this be tolerated.

But not every form of childhood and adolescent social clumsiness, or even incivility or unkindness, is bullying or harassment. Much of it is just growing up. And we do our children no favors when we teach them to take offense at every slight perceived - or real. Instead we should train them to constructively handle the different kinds of people they will encounter throughout life, and we should allow them to learn valuable lessons about socializing, learning what kind of behavior helps them get along with others and what kind of behavior alienates them from their peers.

Unfortunately, it seems that these days we are too often teaching our youngsters to see themselves as victims first. Alas, that may sadly be preparing them too well for the adult world they will someday enter.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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