Last year, I read headlines about a Brooklyn, NY teacher being fined $10,000 by New York City’s Department of Education for encouraging a third grade student in her classroom to hit his bully back. The 13-year veteran teacher denies the allegations, saying that the boy misunderstood what she was trying to say. Of course, as a parent, I have to wonder what really went down in that classroom.
Lately the issue of bullying has been on my mind. My children are very young, but recently I noticed that a young boy in my son’s preschool class seems to be a bit too bossy for my taste, and at times a little aggressive. My son has been telling me that he never gets to pretend to be a particular superhero at school because this boy says that he can’t. I looked my son right in the eyes and told him, “that boy can’t tell you who you can and cannot be. If you want to be that superhero, go right ahead. If that kid says you can’t, you tell him you can be whoever you want to be, and don’t ever let anyone tell you who you can’t be” He smiled and said, “okay, mommy.”
I am not a violent person. I never have been. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, attended public schools, and I have never been in a fight my entire life. I have been ready to fight, but thankfully I have always been able to keep my hands to myself and resolve issues with my words.
As parents, my husband and I want to raise children who are kind and gentle. I want my kids to see the best in people, treat others with respect, and stand up for what’s right. That said, we also plan to teach them to hit back if they’ve been hit. Now, we haven’t taught my son that yet because he is so young, but it is coming. For now I tell him to tell the kid, in a really loud voice, not to hit him because it’s not okay, and then to go and tell the teacher. I also told him to do the same thing if that kid hits another kid in the class. But, there will come a day when we will tell him that if he tries to talk to a peer to handle a conflict with words but his peer decides to hit him – well, he should hit the kid back. Same goes for our daughter.
It’s unfortunate, but when a kid lets another kid hit him, and it happens repeatedly, turning the other cheek simply sends a message to all the other kids that picking on this kid is okay because he won’t do anything. That is often how bullying begins. I don’t want my kids hitting people. I want them to use their words. If I managed to grow up in the inner-city without ever ending up in a fist-fight, surely I would like the same for my kids growing up in suburbia. However, I want my children to have the confidence and courage to defend themselves when necessary. I also want them to have the discipline to know when self defense is necessary. That is why my son takes martial arts lessons and my daughter will too. No one has the right to just beat up on them. I’m not sure what really happened in this classroom in Brooklyn, but I sure hope this teacher didn’t have a kid stand up in front of her class so another kid could hit him back. Talk about a teachable moment gone wrong.
My hope is that words will work. My hope is that my kids can avoid ever hitting anyone, for any reason. Yet, I know the reality of the world we live in. I know that people might mess with them because their kindness will be mistaken for weakness. And, if and when that day comes, I am letting everyone know that my kids will fight back.