Mount Vernon, NH teenagers murder a mother, and seriously injure her sleeping child; a 15-year-old teenager commits suicide after being the victim of school bullies; a New Jersey college student commits suicide after classmates post an intimate video of the student.
The response? The Mount Vernon teens are currently on trial, the bullies of the 15-year-old student are being charged, and a Seattle journalist starts the “It gets better” campaign to stamp out bullying of gay teens. Are these responses appropriate? Yes. Are they enough? Not even close.
I feel it’s safe to say that we are a band-aid society. We are a society that’s [relatively] quick to react to an adverse event. However, our reaction merely addresses the event itself without delving deeper. In other words, we can keep placing band aids on the wounds, but at some point we should examine and repair that which is continuously causing the wound.
Dan Savage, Barbara Coloroso, and even the President are taking positive steps to address the issue of bullying. Barbara’s book “The bully, the bullied, and the bystander” offers insight into the workings of a bully, and how individuals can protect themselves against such action. Dan has started a campaign, similar to many other national campaigns, to also provide education, assistance, and support to victims of bullies. These are all wonderful steps which will hopefully improve the self-esteem of bullying victims. But this is still not enough.
Ponder this thought for a moment – our educational system teaches children how to read, write, perform complex mathematical and scientific equations; but it is not designed to teach children how to be humans. If a child acts out in school they are typically dealt with on a 1:1 basis – either through the guidance department or principal’s office. They are ousted from their community, and not permitted to return until they have calmed down. In classrooms all across America you will find your various cliques, each socializing amongst themselves and seldom crossing over. Children throughout our country join violent gangs as they feel wanted and accepted.
At what point in time should we teach children how to deal with their emotions? At what time should we teach them coping skills such as distractions, relaxation, or expressing their feelings in alternative ways? Don’t get me wrong – I am by far the opposite of a tree-hugging liberal. However, I’m a realist and this is the reality of the situation. Children are impressionable, and although physical wounds heal – emotional wounds often don’t. It starts with the child who is not allowed to play a game with their peers in kindergarten; or the one child showing off their expensive toys.
For your consideration I offer a solution, something I’ve been pushing now for well over a decade but to no avail – We need to create an educational track that teaches children about being a human at the various stages of their development. For example – in kindergarten children should start learning alternatives to acting out. They need to learn coping skills such as taking a deep breath, talking about how they feel (not really exploring in-depth as this may be too early in their stage of development), or utilizing a distraction such as drawing or coloring. As children age future classes can challenge students to explore their emotions even further. All too often I hear children reply “I don’t know” when asked a question about their feelings – my response: “Unless I’m asking you about the quantum mechanics of wormholes as they exist within the universe, then I don’t know is not an appropriate response. Unless you were having an out-of-body experience at the time – I’m pretty certain you were there to experience the emotion which is causing you distress at this time.”
There are millions and millions of families who teach their children how to conduct themselves appropriately. However, we need to take the approach that children can still learn more. We need children to understand that some of the things they witness at home are not ok – such as domestic or sexual violence. We need to assist children in dealing with emotional distress in an appropriate way – and to seek a solution rather than a quick band-aid fix.
I’ll stop here for now, but will return at some point to elaborate further. Though as a society I would encourage all to work on the root of a problem, and not just the temporary fix.