You’ll be seeing more and more articles by hand-wringers and worriers who claim that stop-bullying programs might become too hyper-vigilant, that “normal” behaviors will now be labeled bullying and that kids will be encouraged to rat each other out.
Of course, such over-reactions might be possible, but these anxiety-ridden defenders of the way things are, look only at one side of the equation.
The worriers usually give three types of arguments:
As detailed in his article in the Wall Street Journal, “Stop Panicking About Bullies,” Nick Gillespie’s kid is okay so he thinks the rest of you wimpy parents with wimpy kids are the problem. Get strong and your kids will stop bullies.
Our country was made strong by individualists, not by big government so let’s not create a bureaucratic monster to solve a kid problem. Statistics show that childhood is safer than ever but today’s worrying parents need something to worry about and want big government to protect their interests.
We’ll go too far and create a Nazi-style socialistic state in which normal kids are labeled bullies and punished too harshly, while all kids are encouraged to become the thought-police; just like in communist or military dictatorships.
These same objections were made to programs designed to protect women from being battered by spouses or raped by dates. They’re also the same arguments made to justify not having programs to stop bullying at work.
These objections to laws and programs that stop bullies, and requirements that principals, district administrators, teachers and staff stop bullying are based on viewing a tiny possibility as if it’s the whole situation and all that matters.
Yes, these fears might be realized in a very few situations. Some normal dislikes or arguments between kids might get blown up hysterically into cases of bullying. Power hungry kids might use accusations of bullying to further their own ends.
But that’s going to be a very small percent of the daily experience of kids at school. And the responsible adults are supposed to have the intelligence and determination to minimize these injustices.
In the minds of nit-picking perfectionists, laws have to be perfect. To them, one bad possibility far outweighs the benefits from a thousand situations in which bullying might be stopped. I think that’s a ridiculous way of thinking.
Approximately 50% of kids admit to having been bullied at school and to not being protected by supposedly responsible adults. Many more report that they’ve witnessed bullying and when they’ve reported it, they got in trouble. Are we going to continue tolerating a huge amount of relentless bullying because we’re worried that we might go too far in protecting kids?
How many suicides will it take before we think the risks of not having programs that protect kids far outweigh the risks of over-reacting with programs that are too strong or too misguided?
Let’s expand our vision to similar situations of abuse and brutality to children. How many Jerry Sandusky’s or child-molesting priests does it take before we demand laws to protect kids, and courageous, right action from respectable adults?
I’d rather swing the pendulum far to the side of protecting the targets and victims of bullying, and live with the very minor consequences of the potential for some misuse of the programs.
Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller. She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures.
If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame. Amy Chua is an abusive bully.
She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.
“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.” Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
“Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
“Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.
What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?
She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet. I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”). If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
There’s almost no joy in their lives. Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise. But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning. There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.
Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost.
This is a great and necessary value. It has made our society the first world. But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.
No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks. She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection. That’s why people take it so personally. Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons. These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.
Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx. She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon. When she grew up she sued him.
A better approach:
Have you observed your children individually and carefully? One approach does not fit them all.
Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own? Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out? This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own? Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you? How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
Character is critical. All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs. What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it. You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.
By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.” In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices. In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her. That’s not the answer either.
All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.